The question for millions of college students is whether they plan to spend several special hours, as they would do for an average mid-term exam, studying the records of the Presidential candidates before election on November 6. They need to do this if they want to cast their ballot on facts and judgments rather than on the politicians’ persuasions knows as images, symbols and rhetoric.
Much is at stake in this election for students as students and as graduates in the coming years. This is not a Tweedledee vs. Tweedledum election, as the dominant right wing of the Republican Party accurately declares every day. The U.S. Supreme Court, that last resort guardian of our rights when the other two branches fail to do so, will be quite different over the next 25 years, depending on whether Reagan or Mondale make the next four or five (out of nine Justices) nominations.
Let’s look at the record, as Roosevelt adviser, Jim Farley, used to say:
- President Reagan went after the federal education budget (now a mere 6.5% of the military budget) with a cleaver in 1981 and 1982. Over one million students would not be in college if Congress agreed to all the cuts. In 1982 student aid would have been slashed by 60%. Due in part to student lobbies, Congress held his reductions to 20% in constant dollars from the 1980 level. But wait until next year if he is re-elected.
- Apart from the rising student debt, the booming national debt will burden especially the younger generation. Mr. Reagan has taken the $930 billion debt he inherited from past Administrations and driven it up to $1.6 trillion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that, given present government economic policies, the debt at the end of a Reagan second term (January 1989) will reach a staggering $3.1 trillion. That means 32 cents of every tax dollar you send to Washington then will go just to pay the interest on the debt. Reagan got about the budget size he wanted from Congress; he vetoed no spending bill except the one relating to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- Students are known to want a healthy environment. In the Sixties and early Seventies, many students were up front fighting for the enactment of laws designed to reduce the pollution of air, water and soil. More recently, students have opposed nuclear power and backed solar energy and energy efficiencies. President Reagan choose de-regulation here, cutting back enforcement, budgets and research dramatically in environmental programs. He poured subsidies into nuclear power, propping up a costly technology that is raising electricity rates sharply, and has shredded the solar and energy conservation programs. Pollution is just not an economic waste; it causes cancer, birth defects, emphysema and other diseases.
- Civil rights, civil liberties and women’s rights groups have issued detailed reports demonstrating the poor, often offensive, record of the Reagan government in these important though unglamorous areas. This has been a regime that is setting records for secrecy, censoring public employees and locking out citizens from participation in their own government.
- President Reagan is building a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the Duponts. He supports corporate subsidies and bailouts, like his Democratic opponent; but he also believes in weak antitrust laws, rejects proper enforcement of the auto, food, drug, product safety and worker health laws, and is withering away the corporate income tax, thus shifting more burdens to less wealthy individuals.
- Poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is increasing. Eight million more people, nearly half of them children, were added to the poverty rolls since 1980 with the percentage of Americans living in poverty moving from 13% to 15% in the same period. Compassion and justice are government’s domestic reason for being. Yet, as a Wall Street Journal article pointed out, Mr. Reagan’s economic policies are making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
- The great issue of war and peace rests precariously on the superpowers’ cliffs. Six Presidents before Reagan have negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan has not, nor is he close even to agreements with the Soviets on the two matters of common interest — curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries and reducing the risk of accidental release of nuclear weapons. While he avoids responsibility for massive Pentagon contracting waste, and continues to believe that nuclear weapons once released “can be recalled”, the nuclear clock is ticking away.
Many students believe they are familiar with Ronald Reagan, the television personality. But are they informed about his government’s record? It is Reagan’s government that is up for judgement next month, not Nixon’s, Ford’s or Carter’s. Have the students dug into Walter Mondale’s active record as a Senator? Or do they think because he is not exciting, it does not matter what he has done for civil rights, consumer protection, the environment, child nutrition programs or education?
It is time to turn off the one minute television ads of both parties and put on the student thinking cap. For on November 6th, your choice should be an informed decision not one made on a hunch or image.