POLITICAL commentators, candidates opposing incumbents, and minority party office holders all decry the lack of vision shown by those in control. George Bush is an ideal target for such complaints. He is addicted to the mundane; his rhetoric, whatever the subject matter, is numbing. But even an articulate, imaginative leader would be hemmed in by circumstances. The American people demonstrate not the slightest inclination to support national political initiatives. We are digging an ever deeper hole by failing to commit sufficient money and effort to deal with problems such as a deteriorating environment, an under-educated work force, health care, an outmoded infrastructure, rampant crime and drug use, a growing underclass, and rising inequality.
Americans know this, but continue to support candidates who, in effect, promise that no significant sacrifice is required. Why do they do so?
First, with great justification they distrust the federal government's ability to function effectively. Its defense procurement, banking oversight, management of nuclear plants, conduct of HUD, and administration of a variety of credit activities like student and farm loans inspire little confidence. In programs like health care, costs are skyrocketing out of control. Since 1930, federal spending as a share of GNP has risen from under 10 to over 30 percent. Whether benefits to taxpayers match added expenditures is in serious doubt.
Second, those who cause domestic problems - e.g. crime and drug use - or, more importantly, who will be recipients of added federal aid - e.g. housing, health care, or child tending - are members of the underclass or the working poor. The broad middle class and the rich, which constitute a majority of 60 or 70 percent and have disproportionately greater political clout, are rebelling against higher expenditures for the welfare of their poorer fellow citizens.