Taking the high road to the White House

The three major candidates, true to tradition, formally launched their 1980 presidential campaigns over the Labor Day weekend. Some of the rhetoric already emanating from the candidates and their campaign teams in recent weeks would indicate that now, at the outset of the fall campaigning season, would be a good time for the candidates to resolve to take the high road to the White House and not let the campaign deteriorate into excessive personal attacks which produce more heat than light, which have little to do with the real issues confronting Americans, and which, in the long run, will likely turn off more voters than they attract.

Since the political conventions last month, Mr. Carter and Mr. Reagan have sought to make each other the issue. The Carter- Mondale strategy has been to depict the Republican opponent as irresponsible, a man who shoots from the hip, is careless with the facts, and is a potential threat to peace. In short, a candidate voters should not trust to have his finger on the nuclear weapons button. The Reagan attacks, in turn, have stressed Mr. Carter's inconsistency and vacillarion and have tried to leave the impression of presidential ineptness.

One sorry example of the "low road" to be avoided was Mr. Reagan's Labor Day attempt to tie President Carter to the Ku Klux Klan, telling a Michigan labor audience that while "we're up here where you are dealing with the economic problems" the President was launching his campaign "in the city that gave birth to and is the parent body of the Ku Klux Klan." Any impact the Reagan remarks might have had was no doubt blunted by Mr. Carter's sharp attack on the Klan in Tuscumbia, Alabama, that same day.

The Democratic team, too, has taken up the aggressive side of politicking by using Vice-President Mondale as the point man to hit opponents when "roughness is needed," as one presidential aide put it. However, President Carter, to his credit, has now vowed not to attack candidates by name. This at least is a step in the right direction.

Over the weekend, Congressman Anderson, too, showed he is not above taking personal potshots at opponents, calling Mr. Reagan "simplistic" and "irrelevant."

It would be far more meaningful for the voters if the candidates would spell out their own visions for America and stick to outlining how they would achieve, for instance, the economic growth and productivity everyone agrees the US will need in the 1980s. American voters are knowledgable and sophisticated enough to accept such a campaign -- and it is to be hoped the candidates will be responsible enough to give it to them.

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