Nothing ventured, nothing owed

NO one gets anywhere in the American economy until he learns not to spend his own money. It is much the same in Washington. Any congressman who knows the difference between a junket and a gelatin dessert knows that government isn't accomplishing anything unless it is doing something it can't afford.

The caretaker down at the town tennis courts puts it rather well: ``We live in a debt-ridden society because we can't get ridden the debts.'' Nobody can win an election without going into debt. In fact, nobody can lose an election without going into debt.

Candidates in the Soviet Union have a big advantage over Americans in this regard. Mikhail Gorbachev didn't have to borrow millions of rubles to get people to vote for him. Anyway, who would he borrow them from? And all those splendid fur-hatted fellows who lost the race for Communist Party chief probably still have all their kopecks sewed up in their mattresses. Oh, they might be out of pocket for a few expensive Kremlin lunches, consisting of the Soviet equivalent of creamed chicken in a patty shell. But nothing worth putting in Pravda.

Russian candidates don't have much margin in which to go wrong. Everything is either forbidden or compulsory. So Russians have learned not to complain; not even about the weather. The weather is so much worse in Siberia.

But in the United States it is harder to tell the losers from the winners. If rumor is correct, Gary Hart was a losing candidate and owes $3.7 million. The fact that he owes so much more than losing candidate John Glenn, who is in debt only $2.8 million, makes him look a bit like a winning candidate. It might even give him ideas he ought to run again.

Debts are getting to be a badge of honor. Only important people have them. If you don't owe anybody any money, the chances are you aren't anybody to begin with.

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