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Helping voters decide

Less than three short weeks remain before American voters to go the polls to elect the man who will govern the nation for the next four years. Yet the astonishing fact of the 1980 election campaign is that so high a percentage of them remain undecided whom to vote for. This should tell the two major candidates something. They have fallen short in selling their strengths, their virtues, their ideas. Instead they have fought a campaign marked mostly be negativism and personalism, leaving an impression of being politicians of ordinary character and parochial vision.

it is not too late for enlightened political discourse. We confess to thinking the public would be well served by a Reagan-Carter debate to focus the central issuea and to engage the two contenders in direct give-and-take. Polls indicate the vast majority of the public would like such a debate, as well as a three-way debate including John Anderson. It is perhaps asking a great deal of Mr. Reagan to agree to a one-on-one with the President, thus in effect rewarding Mr. Carter for refusing, thus in effect rewarding Mr. Carter for refusing to participate in the earlier debate. Yet the electorate would be well served if such political considerations were set aside in the interest of enhancing the tone and quality of the campaign. Governor Reagan could only benefit in stature by such a decision.

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Even if a further debate is not held, however, something more is now demanded of the presidential contenders. They must get beyond petty and superficial political rhetoric to a discussion of the fundamental issues. These go deeper than whether to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court or how large a budget deficit would be incurred if this or that candidate got into office. They have to do with each man's vision of the world, what each believes the United States and its people must to do meet the challenges ahead -- the global challenges of nuclear danger, energy demand, population growth, rise of local nationalisms, competition for resources.

Because of his primary emphasis on the military confrontation with the Soviet Union, Mr. Reagan has yet to convey that he has an understanding of the many other political, economic, and social forces impacting on today's world. How does he believe these will affect the lives of Americans? Will Americans have to plan for a different way of life in light of the sweeping changes taking place on the planet? How does the US respond to the third world's strivings for economic and social betterment? Should it respond? What should be the purpose and thrust of American diplomacy in an era of declining superpower influence? Where, in other words, is America headed in the next four, ten, twenty years?

Mr. Carter has not shied in the past from addressing such transcendent themes , but he, too, needs to bring them to the fore and clarify them. How does he answer to the specific criticisms of his own record? And what precisely could he have done better? Many voters perhaps would be less disenchanted with the President if he talked less about how hard the job is and more about what he has learned that would make him a better President in the next four years. What does he want to achieve? Where does he want to take the country? What would he demand of Americans as he sought to steer the nation through a potentially turbulent period? How does he see the future? Amid the esoteric detail of tax-cut programs, a sense of national purpose and perspective seems lost.

These are some of the basic issues we feel need airing. They are profound and serious, and perhaps it is because they have not been dealt with seriously that the two main candidates have left so many voters unsatisfied. Enough days remain in the campaign for a thoughtful dialogue beneficial to everyone.

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