Washington — Before things begin to get really out of hand, we ought to recognize that presidential politics are getting off to a very inauspicious start. It won't help the nominees. It won't help the voters decide thoughtfully whom to elect.
It seems to me the way things are now going we are headed into one of the more bitter, uninformative, epithet-laden campaigns we have experienced for a long time. It is already beginning to be more divisive than the Nixon- McGovern or than the Johnson-Goldwater contest, in which the Arizona Senator was pictured as blowing up the entire planet with an atomic bomb.
Let us hope that both sides will step back and have some sober second thoughts before it is too late. At the very least such a campaign couldn't do other than feed the mood of "none of the above." It would increase the risk of throwing the verdict into the House of Representatives where the egregiously undemocratic one-state, one-vote would prevail.
Both Democratic and Republican rhetoric seems clearly offside.
The Democratic strategists -- at this stage -- seem to think that the only way to defeat Ronald Reagan is to make him personally the central issue of the whole campaign and to portray him as the embodiment of all evil and as eager to get the United States into another world war.
In their early thrusting the Republican strategists seem to think that the best way to defeat Jimmy Carter is to denigrade his character and to diminish everything about him.
Each seems to be treating the other as though he were an enemy of the nation not a choice to be the next president of the United States.
I think that most Americans are not amused and that they would want to say:
Mr. President, don't yield to that dangerous pressure.
Mr. Reagan, don't yield to that dangerous temptation.
It would be my judgment that most American voters will not respond well to such a campaign and will not relish having their choice for president marred and muddied by such irrelevant rhetoric.
Recently a reader offered the idea that, if Reagan were elected, it would be a good idea if he would invite Mr. Carter to serve as a roving ambassador to continue his work negotiating an Arab-ISraeli peace settlement. I wanted to get a DEmocratic reaction to this suggestion and I asked an eight-term Democratic congressman what he thought.
"Don't be ridiculous," he replied. "By the time this campaign is over, Carter and Reagan won't be able to speak together, let alone work together. Forget it."
Of course, it is expectable that the Democrats will want to remind voters of foolish views which Reagan has sometimes expounded on the lecture platform. The issue is what Reagan will fo if elected.
Of course, it is expectable that the Republicans will want to cite the times Carter has changed his opinions during the past four years. The issue is what the President has done during his term, how well it has worked, and whether more of the same is what the nation needs.
It is a low blow to talk about the hostages as though the PResident was at fault for their seizure or is to be blamed because there is no present means to extricate them.
But it is reckless to keep insinuating that Reagan wants to increase our military strength in order to get us into war or that he can hardly wait to shoot off a nuclear missile in order to teach the Russians a lesson.
It is just as unfair and untrue to accuse President Carter of planning to invade Iran in order to win the election as it is unfair and untrue to accuse Ronald Reagan of being eager to send American troops into combat wherever the US does not get what it wants.
If this keeps up, it will tend to turn the next two months into a miasmic, divisive presidential campaign which will cloud the choice of the next president and make it painfully difficult for him to govern at a time when effective government is urgently needed.
When such a campaign gets fairly started, is it hard to stop it. The time to do so is now before it deteriorates further.
When any nominee devotes his time dominantly to attacking his opponent instead of expounding why he himself should be elected, I suggest caveat emptor -- let the voter beware.