Common Sense for 1992


January 04, 1992|By RICHARD REEVES

LOS ANGELES. — Los Angeles -- The year that was, 1991, is going to be remembered as one of the big ones. The collapse of both an idea and an empire, communism and the Soviet Union, will be big history. But 1992 could be a small year, a very common year with an emphasis on such mundane things as how you and I and our families get through the day.

That, I think, would be a good thing, especially in an election year. It is time to get back to basics, and ''common'' is a good and powerful word, distorted as the root of totalitarian ''communism,'' but a good and necessary route to things America should discuss this year: common sense and community.

And common sense tells most Americans some very tough or unpleasant things about life in the U.S. at the beginning of 1992. We may have to listen to ourselves now that we can no longer divert our attention and avert our eyes by believing that we are saving the whole world by our steadfast righteousness.

Common sense tells me this right now: America is an auction. We must bid now on the basics. So the rich not only monopolize the best houses, the best cars, the best wines and such these days, they also are buying up a range of public services, or what used to be public services, from education and urban transportation to emergency health care and police protection.

The best example of that where I now live, in Los Angeles, is public safety. A blue and white and yellow car with flashing red lights, manned by two men in blue uniforms, just rolled by my house, patrolling the neighborhood. The Los Angeles Police Department? Forget it. This was Westec, one of the private police forces homeowners bid for in the better neighborhoods around here.

You get what you pay for in the United States. Privatization. They could be shooting children in the streets -- and they are! -- and the private cops would stop only to protect subscribers' children, after checking to see if their parents' accounts were current.

Further, common sense tells me:

* We have to get the guns off the street. If that means amending the Constitution -- ''the right to bear arms'' and all that -- so be it; let's amend the Constitution.

* We have to get crack off the streets. If that means gigantic prison-treatment/work-training centers, then we should build them to help protect the people who can't afford Westec.

* We have to get the homeless off the streets. That means going back into the businesses of public housing and mental institutions. At the same time, welfare has to be linked to public-service work for the able-bodied, particularly for men.

* We have to get national health insurance, making basic health care a right rather than a privilege. At the same time, we have to ration health care for elderly patients who are obviously terminally ill.

* We have to take the responsibility, in one way or another, for the thousands and thousands of Americans born each day to women obviously unable to function as parents. That may mean taking children from mothers. But there is something insane about sending a baby home where there is no home, with a drug-addicted teen-ager.

* We have to make business leaders accountable to the rest of us. They are looting the country, giving themselves salaries beyond reason and beyond their companies' productivity. Better they should pay it in taxes before their companies go under or sell out to the Japanese.

* We have to regulate the distribution of pornography and graphic violence. Free speech or not, it is nuts to let children have ready access to it all day and all night on ordinary LTC television. People who say all you have to do is turn off the set either do not have children or do not go out to work every day.

Happy New Year! The common sense outlined above is all about defining the relationship between the community and each individual in it. With the application of some more common sense, the 1992 presidential campaign could be a dialogue on the most basic issue in a democracy, the relationship between each of us as individuals and all of us as a government.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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