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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Beware of Image-Maker’s Spell

The wild swings in the national Presidential preference polls suggest more than a sizable number of very undecided voters. These polls demonstrate what Ronald Reagan’s image handlers have known all along — that many people make up their minds based on the most general mental images of the two candidates.
Mr. Reagan’s image makers have be en at work since his election. They want the President to come across like John Wayne, so they have prepared televised pictures of him at the DMZ zone in South Korea, on the beaches of Normandy and meeting many of the leading athletes and music stars in the country. There is everything deliberate and systematic about this campaign. A manager of one tournament victor was called this spring by a Presidential aide and told to appear with his champion two days later at the White House to meet the President for a photo opportunity.

While Mr. Reagan was in California during World liar George McGovern was flying dangerous B-17 missions over Europe. Yet McGovern has a “soft” image because he believed in waging peace against an ever mere dangerous nuclear world. His Senatorial career was heavily committed to the “soft” image of reducing hunger and saving the family farm.

Reagan’s macho image covers a profound lazy streak. Veteran White House reporters estimate that his working day amounts to about three to three and a half hours a day. The rest of the time-he spends writing personal letters, watching daytime television, taking long lunches and napping. The public does not see that side of him, however.

It is easy to quip that a little-working President is doing the people a favor. But in Reagan’s case it helps explain how little in charge this allegedly “John Wayne” personality is over his own government. Having pledged to cut waste, fraud and abuse in a government that going to balance the budget, Reagan proceeds to generate by far the largest deficits in American history and to preside over stunning at the Pentagon and other federal purchasing agencies. What is more, according to the General Accounting Office, he is burning over $700 million a year, just through wasted energy in federal buildings, vehicles and other facilities byignoring the Ford-Carter energy conservation guidelines for the government itself.

Image campaigns function to keep Presidents from being accountable for their policies and neglect. The proper antidotes are issue campaigns. For this antidote to work, voters must decide to spend some time learning and evaluating the issues. They need to demand that the candidates drop their image game and engage serious debate.

Mondale wants urgently to debate Reagan six times. Since ahead in the polls, he shows little interest in more is Reagan than one debate. His interest is in projecting his image of toughness, patriotism and free enterprise. On the issues, though, Reagan is soft on cancer prevention programs, soft on corporate crime, soft on protecting children, soft on consumer and worker safety and very soft on corporate monopolies.

On the issues, Reagan is terribly neglectful of programs to curb soil erosion, cares little about cutting the pollution poisoning of America and can’t wait to give control over America’s public land resources at miniscule prices to giant corporations.

On the issues, Reagan’s tax and corporate subsidy policies have favored big business to the disadvantage of small businesses which are the core of free enterprise. Bailing out big banks, for example, such as Reagan’s $7 billion rescue of the gambling Continental Illinois Bank (the nation’s eighth largest bank), tells small banks that only they have the freedom to go bankrupt and tells depositors that if they want Uncle Sam as the guarantor they should put their money in banks that are too big to be allowed to fail.

So, how about it folks. Noone can cut through the image-makers spell more quickly than you can. The country, the economy, the environment, the future you help preserve or save will be your own. Issues are the nutrients of politics. To demand and savor them in the coming weeks till November is to be a tough citizen who celebrates freedom by informed voting on election day.