Downsizing . . .downsizing . . . downsizing . . . downsizing ..

January 30, 1995|By MURRAY SALTZMAN DANIEL S. GREENBERG

WASHINGTON — Downsizing may be a good euphemism for weight reduction. Downsizing as a philosophy to characterize the nation's destiny leaves a lot to be desired.

Few would argue that government often becomes bloated, especially when it follows a principle of spending to the extent possible, rather than when necessary. Certainly, helping impoverished and hopeless people at society's bottom economic rung to lift themselves up through educational and employment programs is far better than giving handouts that increase dependency. No group should fear more the potential tyranny fostered by policies that promote autocratic intervention government in the personal lives of citizens than the Jewish people. It is only good common sense to encourage responsibility, independence, self-reliance and a good work ethic our citizenry. These virtues have no political labels.

Yet I fear downsizing. I fear what the future will bring for the arts and sciences, for the poor and the ill, if our motive is to lift from society the challenge and burden of caring, sharing and dreaming of nobler times. I fear a philosophy that simply wants to limit the future without a balancing vision of expanding our access to new possibilities, unleashing the ingenuity of our greatest minds, calling upon each of us to give ourselves to the nurture of our nation's greatness. I would rather see our political leadership engaged in shaping a demanding adventure for growth as we move toward a new age of unlimited possibilities. There are worlds to be explored. There are diseases to be conquered. There is beauty in music, literature, art and dance that enthralls the heart and the ineffable human imagination. Politicians who only focus on tax cutting are betraying their responsibility. There are still new horizons which we cannot yet see but toward which we must move with faith in ourselves. The leaders must see and dream and lead, with a summons to enlist all Americans in a great step toward the beckoning mysteries of the unknown.

The danger is that we can downsize so much that we end up depressing our economy and our humanity. Downsizing can produce a dark age where intellect is suspect and violence even more rife than at present because of intensifying inequities, where imagination is stunted because of regimentation, homogeneity and safety. When downsizing closes laboratories, as is happening; when orchestras, libraries and museums can no longer function because of downsizing, as is beginning to happen; when the philosophy of government is to be small and penurious, America will no longer trigger the dreams of human greatness which made us a standard by which other nations and peoples measured themselves.

Yes, let's cut the fat! But let us with daring and confidence feed the intellect, nurture the heart and challenge the intestinal fortitude. I suggest we give Speaker Gingrich a bigger map to see a larger, greater America than downsizing, by itself, will produce. The philosophy of America was articulated at our beginnings. The American visionaries chartered a course toward equality, dignity and the pursuit of happiness. Their philosophy for America had to do with upgrading, not downsizing.

Rabbi Murray Saltzman leads the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

@ Washington. -- The war on cancer started out nearly 25 years ago as a damn-the-costs, blank-check crusade blessed by a fearful public and supportive politicians. Today it's writhing under money shortages, indiscriminate chopping of government research staffs, tangles of red tape and dismal morale. What began as a noble, if unrealistic, campaign has slumped into a sad example of disinventing government.

It's hard to believe, but cancer research is so strapped for money that government physicians and scientists have been unable to obtain travel funds to bring seriously ill patients to their hospital wards for experimental treatments. Even when travel problems are overcome, the opportunities for research are restricted by massive cost-cutting reductions in the number of beds available for use in the experimental hospital on the campus of the National Institutes of Health.

The bed count stands at 416, but for financial reasons only about half are actually in use. And largely because of the frustrations of working for government, the leadership of the federal cancer establishment is riddled with voluntary vacancies, with more to come. Meanwhile, the agency is under orders to cut its staff by 15 percent over the next few years.

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