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Swift had it right

A few modest proposals for America's pressing problems

After seeking out the opinions of political philosophers - Socrates, Thomas More, Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, and others - I have concluded that Jonathan Swift, or his spirit, is the best guide for dealing with political and social problems in our nation. Here are some "modest proposals" along roughly Swiftian lines:

1. For the problem of infidelity in marriage among high public officials and candidates for such office, I propose: celibacy for the president of the United States, the vice president, and for senators and others who aspire to those offices. This is based on the experience of the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy.

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2. For the problem of the vice presidency - an office that has caused embarrassment and confusion for more than 200 years - I propose: abolition.

The vice presidency serves no useful purpose. It has been derided by its wiser occupants. It ruins good men. It takes them out of public service - sometimes for four years, sometimes for eight years, sometimes forever. It puts the undeserving and unqualified in line to become president, or at least presidential candidates.

3. For the problem of dishonesty among bankers, stock brokers, and money managers, I propose: physical isolation and a vow of poverty.

These are the priests, high and low, of capitalism. Just as priests in primitive society were expected to demonstrate special traits of character by living on the edge of volcanoes, handling snakes, and taking special vows, so should money handlers be required to prove their detachment by renouncing personal property and living as hermits near the desert or the sea.

4. For the problems of slander and libel, I propose: the restoration of the duel.

The media are regularly accused of libel. Politicians slander each other in 30-second political ads. Neither courts nor Common Cause have been able to establish the truth. Let us once again settle things with duels.

One of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was challenged to a duel for writing scurrilous things about a rival politician - James Shields. This may be the only way to settle public disputes in the post-modern age.

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5. For two continuing conflicts involving public schools - busing and prayer - I propose: prayer, but only on the buses.

The persons favoring busing are, as a rule, opposed to prayer in public schools. The opponents of busing, as a rule, favor prayer. The obvious solution is to have them sing hallelujahs on the bus.

6. For the problem of automobile theft, I propose: Anyone who steals a car be given the car, assessed the Hertz rates for the time he had the car illegally in his possession, then given a payment book and required to support the car for (its) life.

Chasing stolen automobiles, arresting car thieves, convicting them, holding them in jails and prisons is expensive for society and demands much valuable time from law enforcement officers.

Meanwhile, automobile dealers spend a great deal of money encouraging people to buy new cars; car-theft insurance rates are very high; and used-car values are shockingly low, especially to those have been using them. This whole complicated process could be greatly simplified if car thieves had to keep the cars they borrow.

7. For the problem of gun control, I propose: muzzle-loaded long guns and flintlock sidearms. This solution is historically based - an application of the Constitution drafters' original intent. US citizens are guaranteed the right to possess and bear arms - ideally the kinds of arms in existence when the Constitution was adopted.

8. For the problem of what to do with the military establishment and its technology in the post-cold-war world I propose bringing back the cavalry.

Such a reform would attract frustrated potential polo players who might otherwise go into the CIA, where they would only get into trouble. The conditioning, feeding, grooming, and training of neo-equine technology would take up much of the time of colonels, junior officers, and enlisted men, who might otherwise be thrown into the ranks of the unemployed. And the drive toward further disarmament would be continued naturally.

Power could be measured in rough equivalence of Nag Units, as the world gradually shifted to more and more primitive weapons. The losses to the defense economy caused by the elimination of nuclear and high-tech procurement would be offset by growth in saddle-making, blacksmithing, and by the increased production of oats and hay.

*Eugene J. McCarthy is a former Democratic senator from Minnesota. His latest book is 'No-Fault Politics' (Times Books).

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