Reuniting Government

RAY JENKINS

December 29, 1991|By RAY JENKINS | RAY JENKINS,Ray Jenkins, editor of the editorial pages of The Evening Sun, retires Tuesday.

It has been my privilege to hold a ringside seat to history for the past 40 years, watching -- and telling about -- the endlessly fascinating spectacle of the leaders of our time, from city hall to the White House, struggle in the honorable combat we call politics. I now leave with a nagging fear that we have at last reached a standoff in which there will be only losers, chief of whom will be the American people.

Let me illustrate: Despite his momentary embattlement, I am fairly certain that George Bush will be reelected president a little over 10 months from now. I am more than fairly certain that at the same time Barbara Mikulski will be reelected to the United States Senate.

A large number of people will vote for both Mr. Bush and Ms. Mikulski, unaware of (or indifferent to) the fact that they are casting hopelessly contradictory votes, creating a situation which almost guarantees paralysis and permits each to blame the other for the country's problems.

Having voted for "all of the above," Americans will soon begin to say they want "none of the above." The paralysis will atrophy into cynicism.

At risk of sounding anti-American -- after all, separation of powers is embedded in the Constitution -- I maintain this should no longer be permitted. Citizens must be protected from the folly of making their government incapable of governing.

Just look back over the past 60 years. When we had presidents and congresses of the same party, momentous things were accomplished.

In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Democratic Congress created Social Security, bank insurance, unemployment insurance -- and, oh yes, won World War II. In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower and his Republican Congress created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and initiated the largest public works project in history, the interstate highway system. In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson and his Democratic Congress secured the right to vote for all Americans and created the Medicare system to relieve the haunting terror of dying neglected in old age.

By contrast many of our great failures -- Watergate, Iran-contra, and Ronald Reagan's $4 trillion national debt which will diminish the standard of living of generations of Americans -- came when we have had divided government.

There are several ways to remedy this deplorable situation, but the simplest would be to require voters to vote for a single indivisible ticket for president, senator and congressional representative. That would mean, to use Maryland's Second District as an example, a voter could not vote for George Bush for president, then Barbara Mikulski for Senator, then Helen Bentley for representative; if they wanted Mikulski for Senator, they would have to take, let's say, Mario Cuomo for president, and, let's say, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for representative. Conversely, if they wanted Bush for president, they would have to take, let's say, Alan Keyes for senator and Helen Bentley for representative.

This arrangement would apply in all 435 congressional districts across the nation. No longer would people be permitted to cast contradictory votes -- of voting for a presidential candidate who concocts a witches brew of "values" and a congressional representative who promises to deliver "pork barrel" economic needs.

Now, this scheme will be readily recognized as a jerry-built parliamentary system, and Americans are highly suspect of such foreign "isms" -- a gut-feeling which served well when we lived in sublime isolation, indifferent to the warring world.

But now things have changed. It is an indisputable fact that the standard of living of our two most recent enemies in war -- Japan and Germany -- now surpasses that in America. There are many reasons for this, but surely a major one is the more efficient governments they have under parliamentary systems.

Because of this standoff, the old virtue of American competitiveness has degenerated into a destructive vice of what rTC the second-rate novelist-ideologue Ayn Rand called "The Virtue of Selfishness."

As much as I detest what that philosophy -- it is basically the antithesis of our religious values -- I would prefer to have a president and Congress of that persuasion than the present divided government which permits each party to blame the other for the failures of both. I say that because I am convinced that in short order their proposals would lead to such economic ruin that more sensible policies -- policies akin to those of the social democracies of Europe -- would emerge.

Until we make those hard choices we will find it increasingly difficult to meet those most elementary needs -- enough to eat, a decent job, a little castle of a home, a fair assurance that one's children will get a decent chance in life. And no amount of political legerdemain can change that fact.

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