What has it been all about -- this US presidential election campaign of 1980? Here follows this one observer's appraisal of what has lain behind the rhetoric, the sloganeering, and the posturing of the candidates and, therefore, what is really at stake on election day.
Since 1960 the United States has been through not one, but two substantial revolutions -- one in domestic affairs and the other in foreign affairs.
In domestic affairs the revolution consisted of a massive increase in income taxes to fund broad extensions of all categories of welfare. This included indexed social security for the retired, deeper and broader cushions under unemployment, urban renewal for the inner-city ghettos, various programs to help blacks move toward equality of opportunity with whites. Along with welfare went radical efforts to end pollution of air and water and to protect consumers against damaging chemicals in food and drugs.
In essence this domestic revolution of the '60s and '70s represented a substantial transfer or "redistribution" of wealth from those who have more (a minority) to those who have less (a majority). It was largely brought about through the initiative of Democrats -- Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
Alongside this domestic revolution was a foreign policy revolution initiated and carried out largely by republicans -- President Nixon and his foreign policy aide, Henry Kissinger. It was a major break away from the Truman Doctrine of 1946 which led the United States into both the Korean and Vietnam wars and required attempting to maintain absolute military superiority over the Soviet Union.
The Nixon-Kissinger doctrine assumed that US security was adequately protected if the US plus allied, friendly, and associated powers possessed equal or more military power than the Soviet Union and its allies and clients. The United states need not do it all alone. To expand the coalition of allied, friendly, and associated powers the Nixon-Kissinger team reopened relations with mainland China and thus allowed China's military weight to shift over from the Soviet toward the US side of the balance of power.
All revolutions breed counterrevolutions. By 1976 counterrevolutionary urges had become politically significant in both domestic and foreign policy affairs. Payers of high income taxes were protesting the burden which increased automatically with inflation. The industrial-military establishment began demanding an effort to regain that total military superiority over the Soviets which was implicit in the Truman Doctrine but discarded in the Nixon doctrine.
President Carter's 1976 campaign recognized the two counterrevolutions and his administration since has reflected a pulling back from both revolutions. He deregulated airlines, railways, and trucking. He did sufficiently less for organized labor and blacks to rouse their distrust and lack of enthusiasm. He initiated an increase in US military power. After the Afghanistan invasion, he abandoned "detente" with the Soviets for a grain embargo against the Soviets. The US-Soviet dialogue of the Nixon-Kissinger years was put on ice.
But this was not true counterrevolution. It reflected an attempt to restrain , reform, and consolidate the two big revolutions of the '60s and '70s. But it could not and did not satisfy either the income tax payers or the industrial-military community.
Ronald Reagan stepped forward then as the champion of true counterrevolution. He promised big tax cuts along with big increases in military spending -- things which could only be accomplished by either deficit spending or drastic cuts in welfare programs. Since he also promised to curb the inflation his message was aimed at pleasing the counterrevolutionaries in both domestic and foreign policy affairs.
The implications of the Reagan program have marked the final month of the campaigning. The logic of counterrevolution has penetrated into the thinking of the beneficiaries of the revolutions.This in turn has forced Mr. Reagan onto a defensive on both fronts. Instead of preaching the counterrevolution he has been reassuring the beneficiaries of social security, of welfare, of unemployment benefits. He has declared that he would not repeal pure-food and drug laws. And while he still wants big increases in defense he has decided that he is in favor of a resumed dialogue with the Soviet and would even seek to negotiate a new SALT treaty with them.
There is a world of difference between consolidating the revolutions of the past 20 years and undoing those revolutions. Mr. Carter is and consistently has been a restrainer and consolidator.Mr. Reagan started out preaching true counterrevolution. But when that threatened to alienate too many voters he swung over during October to reform and consolidation. Is that conversion from counterrevolutionary to consolidator convincing?
That is what election day will tell us.