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Being No. 1 Calls For Leadership, Not Just Bashing Rivals

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THE "new world order" is not settling in gently.

But this is not a column about the breakup of Yugoslavia or the future of the Commonwealth of Independent States. It is about America and its current dangerous excess of election-year rhetoric.

Is it really necessary for the president to say that "we are No. 1," or the "undisputed world leader"? There is an overtone of the Hertz rental ads in proclaiming oneself at the top of the heap. Maybe it's only a carry-over from his automobile-oriented trade mission to Japan in January.

Given the poor planning that went into that trip, there should be little wonder that the Japanese have felt it politically necessary to make the limited criticisms they have made in recent days about American work habits. Japanese politicians have their constituencies, too.

Just as off-putting as these boastful remarks about being No. 1 are the political ads being shown on television for the New Hampshire primary. One shows an abandoned factory building in New Hampshire, failing to mention that old-style manufacturing jobs have been leaving New England for the past two generations.

To say that the United States is No. 1 today is to overplay the similarities between now and 1945. Then the US was the only major nation physically unscathed by war. Today our own economic infrastructure and social fabric need rebuilding.

If we are indeed No. 1, and if we are building a new world order, one of the first orders of business would be to assure Japan and Germany that we will fight to get them permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.

If we are No. 1, our leaders should be explaining to the American people why it is that the Japanese still feel insular, why the American relationship is so important to them. Then we would be in a stronger position to deal seriously with the very real problems that do exist about entry of some US products into Japan. If we really are No. 1, we could listen carefully to the people of Washington State who would like to keep their baseball team in Seattle even if it is Japanese-owned.

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