IF the next presidential campaign is like the last one, George Bush will probably win by another landslide. In 1988, neither candidate discussed the issues that really concern the average American family. The outcome was largely determined by a few television commercials focusing on Willie Horton, competence, Boston Harbor, the pledge of allegiance, and the ACLU. And to the despair of the Democrat's most committed supporters, their candidate treated the "L" word as if it were leprosy. Now, in the afterglow of victory in the war against Iraq, the national media are already writing off the Democrats and conceding the 1992 election to the warrior president.
These apparent certainties about 1992, however, conceal more than they reveal about the current state of national politics. Over the past decade, a tremendous gap has developed between the problems addressed by Washington politicians and the concerns of most Americans. If a bold opposition candidate would step forth and forcefully express these concerns, he or she could radically affect the outcome of the next campaign.
A majority of the voters may favor shifts in specific policies, but if these issues are not mentioned during the campaign, the resulting administration need not respond to the will of the people.
If the American people could vote directly on policies, I believe a majority would (1) close our borders to further immigration, (2) put an end to all foreign aid, (3) restrict imports of manufactured goods, (4) radically alter the health-care system along the lines of Canada's, (5) drastically simplify the federal tax system, eliminating all loopholes and "shelters," (6) protect the Social Security System by separating its accounts completely from the phony "unified" budget, and (7) cut the military bu dget and use the money saved for aid to education, affordable housing, environmental cleanup, and rebuilding of transportation facilities and other parts of the infrastructure.
Underlying many of these concerns is the average citizen's main worry - the decline of civilian-goods manufacturing industries. Unemployment, reduced wages and benefits, budget and trade deficits - these ills stem from the rapid deterioration of America's manufacturing sector.
Shoppers can see that more of the things they buy are made overseas, and they sense that this country cannot remain rich by selling armaments and farm products abroad while importing more expensive consumer products. The brand names now associated with top quality - Sony, Mercedes, Toyota, Seiko, Volvo, Nikon - are all foreign.
Japan's foremost government agency is not defense but the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which promotes efficient manufacture and export of consumer goods and restricts imports. Yet complacent Americans insist that our "free trade" policies are best despite Japan's fantastic success and our own decline.
NONE of the problems listed above have received much attention from President Bush. In the rotting cores of our major cities, the only problems the president sees are crime and drugs. The fact that drug-pushing, prostitution, and street crime are often the most attractive "jobs" available to millions of young city dwellers handicapped by a third-rate education in underfunded schools, somehow escapes his notice. He applauds the opportunities for minority youth in the armed forces while his party treats f ederal public works and other civilian job-creating programs as wasteful "throwing dollars at problems."
As each month brings more bankruptcies, layoffs, and movement of factories to low-wage countries, Bush insists that the only stimulation the economy needs is a capital-gains tax cut whose only certain result is savings for the wealthy. As for the uncontrolled immigration that makes our border patrols a joke and undermines the bargaining position of US workers, the administration parrots conservative economists' line that cheap labor is good for business, and there is always room for more in this "nation of immigrants."
ON the remaining issues - the "free market" health-care system that rewards hustlers and accountants, and provides the best medical care in the world to the minority who can afford it while tens of millions go untreated; the labyrinthine tax code that harasses the honest individual while enriching the shysters and tax preparers; the disgraceful educational system that allows politicians to claim, without shame or negative reaction, that the United States cannot meet its needs for doctors, engineers, and other professionals without bringing in immigrants; the rapid deterioration of infrastructures revealed in frequent stories of collapsing bridges, crumbling highways, and worn-out water and sewage systems - on all these issues, the president's message is the same as that of his ever-smiling predecessor: "Not to worry."
It may be true that the Reagan-Bush years have been prosperous for most Americans despite the ominous statistics. Unquestionably, the Roaring '80s were wonderful for the well-heeled media stars who report the news. But their good fortunes may have obscured from their view the hundreds of thousands of skilled workers who were losing well-paid jobs in the steel, auto, and other manufacturing industries, and being forced to take low-paid service jobs.
Bread and circuses can muffle opposition to government policies for a time, but we are running out of bread, and circuses like the Gulf victory have a short shelf life. A bold, gambling intruder on the national stage who hits the people where they live could make well-laid schemes of mousy men go astray in '92.