Washington clouds

AMBIGUITY and sharply differing opinions are abroad in the land these days -- particularly in Washington. The President's popularity is higher than at any time since the assassination attempt. Still, according to the same polls, a majority of the populace disagrees with one or more of his policies.

There is a widespread feeling of prosperity in the country. The economy is once again growing. The prospect is for continued growth and low inflation.

But large groups of Americans are enjoying much less than good times. Many auto and steel workers are unemployed. Many farmers find themselves in the middle of what, for them, is a real depression. Many of the poor and disadvantaged, particularly the blacks, feel they are not getting their share of the improving economy.

Decided and unsettling differences exist in what economists and politicians are saying about the economy.

Some hail the appearance of economic health, adding that good times should hold for some time to come.

But others say that this humming economy might well lull the federal government into not dealing effectively with the budget deficit. They predict that nothing short of immediate draconian measures will enable the government to hold down a deficit that otherwise will be responsible for incalculable future economic distress.

And then there is foreign affairs, where the ``star wars'' issue is drawing both a sharp attack and a strong defense.

Many scientists say a nuclear defense screen is unattainable.

But as the President's adviser on arms control, Paul Nitze, points out, the Soviets clearly believe that the United States might be able to produce this system. Thus, he says, the plan, of itself, has become a credible negotiating device, wholly apart from whether the system can be built. He himself thinks it can. Nitze says the Soviets believe that if the US undertakes the project, they will have to do the same -- although they don't want to spend funds for that purpose.

The ``star wars'' plan, according to Nitze, was the chief factor in bringing the Soviets to the negotiating table.

Many critics charge that this US approach destabilizes US-Soviet relations, thus increasing the possibility of a nuclear confrontation.

Defenders, including Nitze, see ``star wars'' eventually providing both the USSR and the US with a nuclear umbrella that will be able to prevent an attack from either side -- thus guaranteeing a global stability.

It is difficult for Americans to know who is right.

Indeed, the view from Washington -- and all around the US -- is very murky these days.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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