Tsopngas: Shaking up the Democrats

February 16, 1992

He calls himself a "pro-business liberal" and "another Greek from Massachusetts." He is for reductions in capital gains taxes and against middle-class tax cuts. He says you can't create jobs without first creating wealth. He is for the death penalty and the right to bear arms. He favors nuclear power and deplores Japan-bashing. Richard Nixon thinks he is the most responsible candidate the Democrats have to offer; Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a rival, considers him a Republican in Democratic clothing.

Shake hands with Paul Tsongas, the late-blooming favorite to win the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. If he pulls this off, watch for the Maryland primary on March 3 to determine if the former senator is anything more than a regional candidate. Though the policies of Mr. Tsongas differ starkly from the doctrinaire liberalism of Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, he can count on the same strong Greek-American network that has kept Mr. Sarbanes in public office for 23 years

To get a fix on how big a departure from Democratic nostrums the Tsongas candidacy represents, note the following from his campaign booklet:

"Democrats have always believed that their essential mission is social and economic justice. . . Underlying that mission, however, has been a rarely acknowledged but enduring notion. Wealth would be created by others and after its creation we Democrats would intervene to preserve fairness by the equitable redistribution of wealth. . .

"There is today one glaring truth. You cannot redistribute wealth that is never created. . . Without viable manufacturing, service and banking sectors, there is no country. A marriage. . . with corporate America is essential. . . if our Democratic social agenda is to have any hope of implementation."

This is iconoclastic stuff. It is why the Democratic mainstream would be relieved if Mr. Tsongas proves to be just another New Hampshire chimera. His opposition to protectionism means opposition to Gephardtism. His opposition to tax cuts for the middle class means opposition to the Democratic bill coming out of the House Ways and Means Committee. Favoring cuts in capital gains taxes and investment tax credits, he would finance them out of a "peace dividend" most Democrats would prefer to use for pump-priming public works.

Yet Paul Tsongas is no Republican. He is pro-choice on the abortion issue. He was an early advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment and legal protections for the gay community. As an proponent of an "industrial policy" that presupposes close cooperation and direction from what might be called the industrial-government complex, his approach is anathema to libertarian Republicans.

Whatever the outcome of the Tsongas campaign, Americans can be grateful that he is in the race. He scorns the sound bites and platitudes that pass for political debate. He is not afraid to tell voters that sacrifice is needed to restore the United States to a position of economic leadership. Not bad for a guy who mocks his own lack of charisma.

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