NEW YORK - What is the main economic issue on which the Democrats
will fight the 1988 presidential campaign?
In Atlanta this week, Jesse Jackson sought to make that issue
the unequal distribution of income and opportunities in the United
He made his own life the symbol of the issue - and of hope that
others could follow his example in making it. ``I was born in the
slum,'' he said. ``But the slum was not born in me. And it wasn't
born in you. You can make it.''
But, despite Jackson's electrifying appeal to the convention,
the supporters of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis easily prevailed in
rejecting income redistribution as the heart of their campaign for
the White House.
In the voting on the platform, the Dukakis forces defeated
Jackson's call for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and
corporations by 2,499 to 1,091. Dukakis has been trying to get rid
of the ``big-taxer, big-spender'' label the Republicans have been
trying to pin on him.
As one Dukakis supporter put it: ``If Jackson had succeeded, the
Democrats would be in deep trouble. Even as it is, the big question
is the extent to which the Republicans can succeed in creating the
image that Bush is running against Jackson.''
What, then, is Dukakis's big economic issue? This is tough in a
year in which the economy is moving up briskly and unemployment is
down to 5.2 percent, its lowest rate in 14 years, with the jobless
rate among married men down to 3.1 percent and among married women
down to 3.7 percent.
The Democrats can say, ``All this won't last - the hot
performance of the economy is built on big budget deficits and
foreign debt.'' But in the past, when the voters have been looking
at a strongly expanding economy, they have usually gone with the
party in power.
A surge of inflation could change that. Consumer and producer
prices have been moving up, as have interest rates - enough to
disturb the stock and bond markets. Dukakis's own economic
advisers, though sensitive to the upward creep of inflation, are not
eager to urge him to prod the Federal Reserve to a much more
restrictive monetary policy.
They would much rather see a tighter fiscal policy and an easier
monetary policy, bringing interest rates down for the sake of
spurring greater investment and productivity growth, with gains in
real living standards and an easing of the third-world debt problem.
But in their quest for stronger measures to shrink the budget
deficit, they are frustrated by the difficulty, perhaps the
impossibility, of doing that job without either deeper cuts in
military spending, lower Social Security benefits or higher taxes -
or some combination of all three. …