Marylanders in Recession

February 23, 1992

The portrait of the Maryland electorate reflected in today's Sun Poll is a recession portrait: the picture of a people obsessed not only with a long downturn in the economy but increasingly doubtful that their society is well organized or adequately motivated to make things better.

Cynicism, pessimism and apathy -- these are the moods revealed in follow-up interviews conducted by Sun reporters. We don't mind the cynicism displayed toward the political and big business establishment; indeed, we welcome it if it becomes a vehicle for impatience and change. We don't even mind the pessimism if it too stirs voters to challenge the status quo. But we worry a great deal about the specter of apathy, especially among younger citizens, for it is apathy that is the chief weapon of those who have benefited most from the increasing maldistribution of wealth and special privilege in this country.

It is no secret that the rich have grown richer and the poor have grown poorer during this glitzy and unproductive era. The great middle class, shrinking and pinched, has in turn felt itself running in place or losing ground. This is both a white-collar and a blue-collar recession, and while statistically it is no worse than recent downturns, it is more pervasive and structural -- a situation that leads individuals to worry about their own future and the nation's future.

In the 1992 election, these currents of opinion could lead to the politics of rage and envy, both on the left and on the right. In fact, they already have. This will tempt politicians to offer panaceas and easy solutions, as witness the pandering implicit in election-year tax cuts that cannot bring any possible long-range benefit and, in fact, will increase an already stifling national debt.

Congress should be chastened when 51 percent of the population blames it for the poor state of the economy. But President Bush and business executives can hardly be comforted because their disapproval ratings are "only" in the 30 percent brackets. All these numbers portray a deep and abiding disenchantment.

The Sun Poll and follow-up interviews suggest that Marylanders want leaders who will speak cold, hard truths and rely on traditional American values of hard work, tolerance and compassion to lift this country up. These are sound priorities -- if put into practice.

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