The United States now has a slightly less confused political situation. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts has been deleted from the running. That means there is no longer anyone in the US presidential race whom a European could recognize as being an orthodox Social Democrat. What remains is to the right of the Social Democrats.
There are three candidates remaining. Of the three, the one most to the right is Ronald Reagan, whose policies and politics at least aspire to match the modern Toryism of Margaret Thatcher in britain. Were he and his Republican Party to be elevated to office in November, the United States would presumably be treated to an experiment similar to one Britain is going through right now -- an effort to regain economic equilibrium by slowing down the welfare state, speeding up modernization of industrial plant, and checking inflation.
The serious alternative to a Reagan prospect is another four years of President Carter and the Democrats. This would mean a continuation of what has evolved in the US over the past four years.
There is no easy label for this. There is no guiding philosophy behind it or giving it a sense of direction. It is an effort to deal first with inflation and now with recession without diminishing the economic and social position of any major element in the community and without serious unemployment. Friends call it pragmatism. Critics call it opportunism.
Carter pragmatism, or opportunism, over another four years would contain the same three elements that are central in Reagan-Republican rhetoric and literature, but with reduced stress. Mr. Carter also is for less spending on welfare and social services. He, too, is in favor of modernizing the American industrial fabric. He wants to check inflation.
But in Carter literature and rhetoric these are goals mentioned quietly, not given top priority. They would be sought more by indirection than by direct action. Carter Democrats talk more about increasing employment than about modernizing factories. They stress their dedication to the social welfare of their constituents. They resist tax cutting for fear of frightening the beneficiaries of welfare and pensions.
The major difference between Reagan and Carter policies is in attitude toward taxation. Mr. Reagan is holding out to his constituents the prospect of income tax reductions on the theory that this would provide a fresh reservoir of investment capital, stimulate plant modernization, and "get America moving again." Mr. Carter, with a touch of the hair-shirt attitude, turns his back on tax reduction as being a luxury his countrymen cannot afford in these hard times. The fact is that tax reduction would mean less money for social and welfare services.
So the two major candidates can most easily be identified in terms of Thatcher Toryism. Mr. Reagan is an out-and-out and avowed advocate of applying to the United States a stiff dose of what Mrs. Thatcher is trying to do to Britain. Mr. Carter would continue to try to head toward the goals of Thatcher Toryism, without ever calling it that, or even admitting it. The Carter goal is to regain America's economic health without penalizing or reducing the living standards of the very large number of voters who benefit from welfare, social security, and often from uneconomic jobs in obsolete factories and industries.
In theory, Mr. Reagan would turn America's economic direction away from the old "sunset industries" toward the new "sunrise industries." There should be no undue extension of the life of outdated plants in a Reagan philosophy. Mr. Carter would undoubtedly preach the same gospel in private, but did extend help to the ailing Chrysler Corporation, largely to sustain employment in Detroit as long as possible -- or at least to cushion Detroit to the pain of modernizing its antique plants.
Then there is John Anderson, a candidate with considerable public appeal, but no party. He is operating on the happy but unproved theory that he might attain the presidency with no established party organization. Many have tried. George Wallace, Henry Wallace, and Theodore Roosevelt are remembered, among political historians. Of the lot who tried and failed, only Theodore Roosevelt, back in 1912, made a decisive influence on the outcome. He ran so strongly against the regular Republican candidate, William Howard Taft, that he split the Republican vote and gave the election to Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats.
Mr. Anderson does not have a clearly defined body of political and economic philosophy. He started his political career as a conventional, conservative Republican. He has moved gradually leftward. He calls himself a liberal. Probably he is on balance slightly to the left of Mr. Carter in campaign rhetoric. He would hope to take left-wing or liberal votes away from Carter on Election Day. Europeans would probably identify him as belonging almost, but not quite, to the right wing of a conventional Social Democratic party.
But Anderson is probably more important for the votes he can take away from others than for the program he would try to carry out were he to reach the White House himself. It seems highly unlikely that he will reach the White House. Therefore, if he remains in the race to the end, will he take more votes from Carter or Reagan?
Anderson may well decide whether the United States is to have an experiment with Thatcher-style Toryism in America, under Ronald Reagan, or rock along with Carter's less radical opportunism/pragmatism.
Senator Kennedy, although no longer a candidate himself, will have something to say about this. His future role at this writing has not yet been clarified. He says he remains a Democrat and that he will work for party "unity." But his enthusiasm for Carter is so muted that it could turn into actual, though disavowed, hostility. He probably has it within his power to rally the disgruntled left to the Carter cause. But unless he does campaign positively for Carter, enough left-wing Democrats might drift to Anderson to elect Reagan and the Republicans.
The net prospect seems to be that the US is headed either toward a fairly stiff dose of Thatcher Toryism under Reagan or a milder dose under Carter. The choice lies heavily with Kennedy, who may have it within his power to re-elect Carter or throw the victory to Reagan.