US politics -- out of sync
Something has gone wrong with the planning.
This is precisely the moment when the American economy is supposed to be visibly on the upturn.
The old rule in politics is that if you want to win an election you should arrange to have the economy visibly on the upturn beginning about six weeks before election day.
The theory behind this is that if the upturn begins much more than six weeks before election day the voters will have grown accustomed to the improvement and forget to give the party in power the credit. The other side of the coin is that if it comes within the last two or three weeks the voters won't believe it. It won't be convincing.
Well, the US is now four weeks from election day.
The economy has not performed as the Reagan White House intended it should be performing by this time, and did its best to have it performing by this time.
In Boston, where we do most of the writing for this newspaper, conditions are better than for most of the country. We who live in these parts have a fairly rosy feeling about the economy. The inner city is bustling with new construction of luxury hotels and future luxury stores (Neiman-Marcus is coming to Boston). Route 128 circles Boston with ''high-tech'' industries which seem to be doing as well as usual. One General Motors plant has just closed down but it is the only important auto plant in the area.
Down the coast employment in Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut is kept up by work on the new Trident submarines for the US Navy. Newport tourism survives beyond the normal summer season thanks to a fleet of eager contenders for the America's Cup. The race for the cup is still a year away, but Naragansett Bay is furrowed daily by a dozen eager contenders out learning the tides and other peculiarities of those waters. And in the mountains to the north there is the usual surge of sightseers for the autumn color.
But I have learned just how different this local Northeast ''normality'' is from conditions elsewhere. I went back the other day to my family's hometown, Bellevue, Ohio. Bellevue is a neat, tidy, market town halfway between Cleveland and Toledo - right in the middle of some of the finest farmland you will find anywhere in the country. Bellevue is an important railroad junction with a huge switching yard. A lot of Bellevue people still ''work on the railroad.'' And Bellevue is within commuting distance of a number of small factories, most of which ship their product to the big automobile assembly plants in Detroit.
This combination of farming, railroading, and light industry had made Bellevue into a very happy place. When I was out there two years ago it would have been hard to find a more contented place. Crops were excellent around Bellevue in 1980. The railroads were bustling. There was plenty of work in the factories.
You could see the contentment in the appearance of the town. There were no ''for rent'' or ''for sale'' signs. Why? Because the demand for housing exceeded the supply. I didn't see a single shabby or unpainted house. Lawns were trim. Houses all in fine condition. The farmers went to the bank to deposit surplus earnings, not to borrow money.
Bellevue at the end of September this year was different. I counted dozens of ''for rent'' or ''for sale'' signs. Along Main Street something was decidedly abnormal. The parking meters had been covered over with hoods saying, ''2-hour free parking.'' And there were empty spaces.
The windows of a clothing store - the biggest one in town since I first trudged by with my grandfather - were empty. It had gone out of business. There were a number of other empty storefronts. I do not remember ever before seeing an empty storefront on Main Street - not even during the depression.
Behind this are automobile plants laying off workers, less activity in the railroad yards, poor crops on the farms last year, and a poor wheat harvest this year. The corn looked promising, but the soybean plants had fewer beans to the plant than in a really good year.
None of this proves that Bellevue will depart on Nov. 2 from its normal loyalty to the Republican Party. Bellevue went Republican in the days of Abraham Lincoln and has seldom departed since from GOP ranks. But Bellevue does not remember hurting quite as badly as it is hurting right now. If I were standing for Congress on the Republican ticket I would not try to persuade the people of Bellevue that Reaganomics is good for them. I don't think I would even advise President Reagan to visit Bellevue. It might prove to be ''counterproductive.''