David S. Broder of the Washington Post, one of the most fair-minded and perceptive of political analysts, is earnestly pleading with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to start discussing the real issues on which the presidential election should rightly turn.
So far most of the time both have been dispensing empty rhetoric. Mr. Carter has been focusing on name-calling and Mr. Reagan has been focusing on trivialities. The danger is that one or the other may be elected for wrong reasons. The stake in this contest is too great for that. My hope has to be that the voters won't stand for it much longer, that they will either turn off the campaign or turn against both.
The Washington Star reported from Independence, Mo.:
"President Carter charged yesterday that Ronald Reagan does not believe in peace.
"Carter previously had castigated Reagan as a threat to peace. But this was the first time that the incumbent accused the challenger of not even believing in it."
"I believe in peace," the Star quoted the President.
Can Mr. Carter really believe that the choice of the next president should turn on persuading the country that while he believes in peace Reagan believes in war?
I doubt it and I do not believe the American people are going to allow themselves to be hooked on false issues slyly presented.
There is a valid issue here and it ought to be honestly presented. If Carter believes that Reagan's intention to build US military strength somewhat beyond the level the President thinks necessary means that Reagan is thereby risking war, he ought to say so and give his reasons.
Decisive American military power prevented the Soviet Union from deploying nuclear warhead missiles in Cuba. Most people believe that this military strength did not abet war but prevented it.
Other matters of substance which Carter ought to be discussing are these:
What is the evidence for his assurance that America's alliances are stronger than they have ever been?
Carter should candidly appraise his four-year record and cite to the nation what parts of his policies he would retain and what parts he would abandon.
He defeated Ford largely on the argument that the economy deteriorated during Ford's presidency. It deteriorated further under Carter's presidency. What did Carter do wrong and how would it be different if he is reelected?
I am not suggesting that Carter will not have intelligent and useful things to say on these matters but, if voters are to have an adequate basis for choosing, he ought to begin to say them.
Reagan has an equal duty. Too much of the time he has devoted the opening stages of his campaign to irrelevancies.
Does he believe that normal diplomatic relations and a closer association with the People's Republic of China are in the national interests of both our countries? He says he does. Then why is he raising subordinate issues about Taiwan which have already been settled, when attempting to reopen them will undermine the prospect of China and the US working together to common purposes?
Is Reagan furthering a useful campaign dialogue which will help the public to decide how to vote by rehashing the pros and cons of the Vietnam war? There is much to learn from the Vietnam experience, but a partisan presidential campaign is not a good time to try to learn it.
There are plenty of pertinent subjects for Reagan to begin discussing. Since he favors relying much more fully on the private sector and market forces to increase productivity and economic growth, shouldn't he lay out for us what parts of the vast spread of present federal programs he would discard and expound at what points in our mixed economy the government should intervene?
It is time for Mr. Carter and Mr. Reagan to begin their presidential campaigns.