Three Who Are Not Presidential

GEORGE F. WILL

September 19, 1991|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin last week started campaigning for president. Since then, enough time has passed to make a judgment on all three: Stop.

If Mr. Brown had a reputation for seriousness, he would have lost it in Las Vegas, addressing the Laborers International Union convention: ''Crack was invented under Reagan and Bush. They deregulated cocaine; that was their supply-side economics. Now every kid in America can buy that stuff.''

Pausing in mid-rant, he asked: ''You think that was a cheap shot? Well, in some ways it is.'' However, he says, there was U.S. aid to Panama while Gen. Manuel Noriega was in power.

Yes, but what about ''deregulation''? Asked by Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times if he meant that Presidents Reagan and Bush deliberately increased the cocaine supply through ''deregulation,'' Mr. Brown said he was just ''emphasizing the connection of breaking down regulation in a variety of areas.''

Mr. Brown is campaigning against ''a confederacy of corruption, careerism and campaign consulting.'' Alliteration worked for Republicans in 1952 (''Communism, Korea and Corruption'') and (''Acid, Amnesty and Abortion'').

But before he announces himself clean as a hound's tooth, he should note that the union before which he was performing (in the last election cycle it gave $1.4 million to congressional candidates) was described in the 1986 report of the President's Commission on Organized Crime as tainted by mob influence.

Jerry Brown helps all other candidates look relatively serious. Unfortunately, Governor Wilder needs even more help. His plan to ''Put America First'' involves three parts, the first of which is dismally familiar and demonstrably implausible, and the other two depend on it.

He would reduce federal spending by $50 billion. Half the cut would be perfectly painless, coming, you see, from eliminating something that has no constituency: ''wasteful administrative expenditures.'' Not a novel idea, that. Mr. Reagan promised a painless windfall from eliminating no particular program, just ''waste, fraud and abuse.''

Governor Wilder's other $25 billion would come from unspecified cuts of ''less necessary'' programs. If significant constituencies did not consider the programs necessary, he might risk specifying them.

Mr. Wilder is not promising to reduce the deficit. He wants to shuffle $50 billion around, giving $35 billion in surprise! tax breaks for the middle class, and $15 billion to state and local government.

Senator Harkin has a more traditional plan for paying for domestic programs: Cut the defense budget about 60 percent. It is a McGovernite tradition, except that Sen. George McGovern in 1972 promised only a one-third cut.

Mr. Harkin says, ''Stop spending $160 billion a year for Europe's defense.'' Putting a precise number on the cost of the commitment to Europe is problematic because U.S. military assets have multiple assignments. However, he is not one to let such a nuance spoil a spicy sentence. Besides, he opposed Desert Storm and his cuts would make another such undertaking impossible.

Mr. Harkin launched his campaign for more government the very day even the Swedes joined the worldwide flight from statism, voting the Social Democrats out of power. He is a senator whose base salary alone ($125,100) places him in the top 6 percent of family incomes. But his egalitarian sensibilities are lacerated by wealth and status.

Milking the self-pity of the middle class is evidently what passes for ''progressivism'' nowadays. Citizen Harkin says that class is oppressed. He says that President Bush and other plutocrats are inciting ''class against class.'' Mr. Harkin is against that, or will be when the last tumbrel has carted the last Andover graduate to the guillotine.

Lots of candidates enjoy lording it over everyone because of their humble origins. When Senator Harkin goes into his humbler-than-thou routine, backward reels the mind, to 1980, when supporters of President Reagan denounced George Bush as a ''clean-finger-nails Republican.''

In 1988, Mr. Bush and Sen. Bob Dole had a folksiness contest which Mr. Bush won (by my scoring) when he announced that he is a bowling alley kind of guy, and drove a truck around a parking lot.

This year, let's all root for any Democrat who won't touch a bowling ball or drive a truck.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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