As I write this column to appear on election day, I cannot know the outcome. But I think it is in order to say to those who vote today that no matter who wins you need not despair for the future of the republic.
The outcome may affect in some small degree you own particular personal interest.It is possible that there will be more relief to individual income taxpayers if Mr. Reagan is the winner than if Mr. Carter wins. It is probable that there will be a larger increase in the defense budget under Mr. Reagan than under Mr. Carter. It is probable that Israel's wishes will carry greater weight in Middle East policymaking under Mr. Reagan than under Mr. Carter.
But, in all these matters -- indeed in all matters either of domestic or military or foreign policy -- the differnce is going to be marginal.
In military policy, for example, the limit on the numbers of orders placed for weapons is often fixed not by attitude in Washington toward armaments but the existence of a factory able to produce a particular weapon and by the production capacity of that factory. How fast could you speed up the assembly line for heavy battle tanks? Not very fast. Such production schedules have to be set many months and sometimes years in advance.The "lead time" in nuclear weaponry can be as much as 10 years.
If a majority of you voters have preferrd Mr. Reagan over Mr. Carter, there will of course be a three-month interregnum. During that time there cannot be much activity in foreign policy. Foreign goverments might talk tentatively with Mr. Reagan's foreign policy advisers. The Soviets, the Iranians, th Egyptians, the Israelis and the allies will all be getting acquainted with the people on the prospective Reagan team. There would be no point for any of them doing any more serious business with the Carter people.
But will foreign policy change markedly? Probably not, except possibly over nuclear weapons. If you voters have decided to stay with Mr. Carter for another four years, there will be a prompt revival of the SALT II debate in the Senate. Mr. Reagan is committed to trying to negotiate a SALT III with the Soviets in place of SALT II. That would mean a long delay. The chances ar presumed in diplomatic quarters to be that the Soviets will simply refuse to do any such thing. They will probably want SALT II ratified before talking about a further stage in strategic weapons limits.
So the prospect is for quicker resumption of a dialogue over nuclear weapons under Mr. Carter than under Mr. Reagan. But the world is not coming to an end either way. Mr. Reagan's prospective advisers are as aware as Mr. Carter's are of the essential importance of avoiding a nuclear war and of the twin importance of putting as much of a lid as may be possible on the arms race. They will simply have to adjust, as Mr. Carter did, to the fact that the Soviets cannot be rushed or pushed around. They will negotiate an arms treaty when and if it suits them.
As for the domestic economy, since inflation was not caused by Mr. Carter it is not going to cured automatically by the policies of the next president. Inflation was caused originally by Lyndon Johnson's failure to fund the Vietnam war. It has been kept going and speeded by the rising price of oil, by the absolescence of major segments of the US economy (primarily automobiles and steel) leading into a decline in exports, and by policies imposed on Washington by fear of recession.
Neither Mr. Reagan nor Mr. Carter can overcome these conditions overnight or even within four years. Either man can make some headway. Federl policy can encourage plant modernization which can restore some of the lost competitiveness of US industry, although it can never regain the unusual condition which existed following World War II when the US alone possessed the ability to produce modern goods in quantity. Decontrol of energy prices wil help gradually. Mr. Carter has started the process. the next president, whoever he is, will undoubtedly continue the process as fast as Congress will permit.
The biggest obstacle to effective anti-inflation policy, the deep American fear of recession, arises out of a folk memory of the great depression of the ' 30s.Just as Germans instinctively fear inflation, Americans fear depression and unemployment. That fear blocked much of Mr. Carter's anti-inflation efforts. It will be there to obstruct future anti-inflation efforts by the next president regardless of the person in the White House.
So -- if your choice loses in today's elections, be sorry, and believe that your choice could have done more good things sooner. But don't think that it is the end for the United States. It has a wonderful capacity to absorb and survive bad government. It is enormously resilient.