People who only a few years ago were saying they wanted a president they could trust now are saying they mainly want a president the world respects. There clearly has been an escalation from the call for a president who, in the wake of Watergate, would bring public credibility back to the White House to a stated desire for a president who would bring international respect back to the United States.
Gerald Ford was successful in restoring public confidence in the presidency. the assurance he made on taking office, that the national "nightmare" now was ended, dispelled the black cloud hovering over the White House.
The Ford years, together with Jimmy Carter's near-four years, have pretty much put the trust-in-the-president question to rest.
The American people today obviously want a president who can do something about inflation and unemployment. But they also look for a leader who will show the world that he is able to cope with the complex economic problems besetting the US in order to earn the right to provide counsel on global economic matters.
Beyond this overriding issue of which candidate is more likely to restore US credibility abroad, the voters have a lot of other things on their minds.
There is still a deep public concern about what is sometimes called the "moral fiber" of america. People everywhere, even in the smallest communities, are alarmed by what they see as the steady advance of the drug culture. a probation officer in a small Michigan community said: "We've got problems with drugs in our schools, even way out here, far from the big cities. It's so easy for the youngsters to get the drugs -- that's the big problem."
The so-called "new life style" -- the new attitudes toward sex -- leaves much of the electorate quite troubled.
* There is a continuing and apparently growing fear about crime, particularly violent crime. This anxiety has also permeated small communities and even the most rural areas. On a recent vacation far from a city I found that doors were kept locked, certainly at nigh. "we do have break-ins," a neighbor said.
People generally seem to feel that too often criminals escape conviction, that the law and courts are too lenient.
* There is a widespreaad view, expressed by people of all ages, that it really doesn't make much difference who is president, that nothing very useful will be accomplished.This isn't an expression of lack of trust. People trust Jimmy Carter. They think he is an honest, decent human being. And they feel the same way about Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. Instead, a strange apathy seems to be gripping the nation, an attitude that says: "Why vote for any of the candidates? What difference will it make?"
Partly this attitude stems from voters who think the candidates are rather mediocre. And partly it comes from voters who question whether a president -- any president -- can make government work effectively enough to solve the terribly difficult problems of today.
This kind of thinking is sufficiently prevalent to indicate that the trend toward decreased voting in presidential elections might continue this fall -- despite indications of increased voting during the primaries.