A Reluctant Vote for Gerald Ford

This election year is a “bummer” for conservatives, and we can understand why there are those who want to go fishing, write in Ronald Reagan’s name or cast a protest vote for Tom Anderson, Roger MacBride or even Lester Maddox. With so many Democrats echoing Reagan and with Milton Friedman acquiring a Nobel Prize, the mood of the country seems perfect for the election of a solid, conservative President. But that is not to be. Come January either Jerry Ford or Jimmy Carter will be running the country.

And while we’re not happy with either of those fellows, we urge a reluctant vote for Ford. On foreign policy, we confess, there doesn’t seem much to choose between the two. Jerry Ford in the Oval Office means four more years of Kissinger—or, at least, Kissingerism—which, in turn, almost certainly means a SALT II agreement that gives the Soviets a break in strategic arms; the end of the U.S. sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone; the breaking of our Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan; further pressures on such conservative, anti-Communist regimes as Chile, Rhodesia and South Africa; and a generally softish diplomacy.

But is Carter better? We can’t decipher any hopeful signals. Despite some of his hard-line rhetoric once in awhile, he, too, favors détente; continued trade with the Communists; at least $5 to $7 billion in defense cuts; the delay—and perhaps elimination—of the B-1 bomber; a pullout of our troops in South Korea; and even greater pressure on Chile, Rhodesia and South Africa than even Ford and Kissinger are applying.

In certain areas, his pronouncements have been even more dovish than Administration policy. Though the U.S. tried to arm the anti-Communist factions in Angola before it fell to the Soviet-Cuban dominated MPLA, Carter scored Ford and Kissinger for their efforts to help these pro-Western elements, demagogically accusing them of trying to start another Vietnam.

To its credit, the Administration waged a successful campaign to prevent the Italian Communist party from gaining a foothold in the Italian government. Carter, on the other hand, has looked with favor on coalition governments in Eastern Europe. In an ominous statement in the May 10, 1976, European edition of Newsweek, Carter gave us perhaps a glimpse of how much further he would carry détente by saying:

“I should think it is shortsighted of us to deal openly with Brezhnev and leaders of the Soviet Union and refuse to understand and become acquainted with leaders in a NATO country who are Communist. I believe we should support strongly the democratic forces in Italy, but still we should not close the doors to Communist leaders in Italy for friendship with us.

“It may be that we would be better off having an Italian government that might be comprised at least partially of Communists, tied in with the Western world than driven into the Soviet orbit irrevocably.”

There is a remote chance, we conceded, that Carter could turn out to be somewhat better than Ford in foreign policy, but that “hope” lies with his temperament, not with his rhetoric or his advisers. While he has campaigned on a platform of love, it is now apparent to all but his most devoted admirers that he is a mean, vindictive sort of person—but that might be useful in dealing with the Soviets.

If the Soviets double-cross Carter the way they did Kissinger in Angola, for instance, there is the possibility that he would let his combative nature overrule his inclinations for détente. But this is mere speculation. Overall, we think neither candidate is likely to reverse U.S. foreign policy and get tough with the Russians.

On the domestic front, however, we see a world of difference. Here we really feel more positive toward President Ford, despite his past mistakes.

Carter, in our view, is a dedicated liberal Democrat, who willingly wants to take this country down a path toward socialism. While some contend he shouldn’t be held accountable for the Democratic platform—even though his issues man, Stuart Eizenstat, had a significant hand in shaping it—Carter can be held strictly accountable for his own statements.

And what has Carter personally endorsed? The list is almost endless. He has championed a “comprehensive” national health insurance program; a guaranteed annual income plan; “an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy:; the Humphrey-Hawkins “Full Employment Act of 1976” (though he admittedly has some reservations about the original plan); billions of dollars in new education programs; expansion of the mass transportation system; federal construction of “high-quality, accessible child-care facilities”; increased revenue sharing; billions of dollars for “counter-cyclical” assistance to the cities, and dozens of other measures that the office of Management and Budget and others have estimated would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion a year.

Taking the conservative estimate, Carter would increase the budget by a full 25 percent. If the $2000 billion figure is correct, the Carter programs would swell the budget by half its present size.

So far as regulating the economy is concerned, Naderism would reach full flower under his Administration. Carter calls for “standby wage and price controls which the President could apply selectively,” opposes efforts “to deregulate the price of old oil,” supports “restriction s on the right of a single company to won all phases of production and distribution of oil” and calls for standby rationing procedures,.”

He would “hold fast” against efforts to lower clean air requirements, urges federal land-use planning, calls for “strengthening” the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and champions the creation of the Consumer Protection Agency, another Naderite cause.

In the first Ford-Carter debate, Carter had a chance to publicly alter his opposition on these vast spending and regulatory proposals, but he deliberately refused to do so—instead suggesting he would try to implement them as quickly as feasible.

Not only is he singleminded in his desire for big-spend government proposals, he seems equally committed to wrenching the funds to pay for them out of new and higher taxes. Carter repeatedly talks of tax reform, but what he means is more taxes. He first suggested he would raise taxes on everyone about the median family income—about $14,000-a-year—but then retreated under first, saying he would “shift the burden of taxes … onto the rich, big corporations and the special interest groups.”

Since even Time magazine has noted that the U.S. has fared badly in terms of new industrial investment per capita in recent years, with only Luxembourg and Great Britain ranking lower among the 20 top industrialized countries, what Carter proposed to do is to kill the corporate goose that has been providing jobs for American labor. Carter’s plans could collapse the American economy in much the same way that the Labor party in Great Britain has collapsed the nation’s economy, and indeed, the recent stock market tumble is seen as a reaction to Carter economics.

Ford, on the other hand, running on a Reaganized platform, is promising tax cuts and a check on federal spending. Equally important, he is not promising any vast, new spending schemes, and, if elected, will not have to satisfy any of the special interest groups Carter would be indebted to.

Unlike Carter, who is surrounded with such Keynesian economists as Lawrence Klein, Ford is following the advice of such free-market champions as William Simon and Alan Greenspan. Significant also, is the fact that Ford is interested in placing those with a pro-free markets bias in the dozens of federal regulatory agencies that now exist.

There are those who say that, given the flawed conservative credentials of Ford and the liberalism of Carter, the more principles position in this election is to vote for one of the conservative candidates running on a third-party ticket, even while recognizing that no one of these candidates can possibly win or even have a telling impact on the election. Some also argue that the election of Carter—while bad in the short run—would finish off the GOP, thus paving the way for a major new conservative party, or alternatively, turn the GOP once again into a principles, conservative opposition vehicle.

These positions are certainly defensible and there are many conservatives we admire who think along these lines. They have just not convinced us.

We believe it is far more likely that if Carter is elected, with the Democrats assured of control of Congress and no more Fore vetoes, the Carter Administration will push through so much major legislation that, by the time conservatives can regroup and finally take power, it will be much hard to turn the country around—if it can be done at all.

We don’t believe Ford has the determination or skill to half the growth of government, but it is difficult to imagine that he would race this country toward socialism as quickly as Carter.

Obviously it is hardly exciting for us to advocate the half-a-loaf approach, but the lessons of history—which conservative must heed—teach us that the major government programs are extremely difficult to roll back. The Brookings Institution has just issued a study to that effect.

In the last 40 years, government has grown bigger and bigger under each succeeding President. Lyndon Johnson left office in ear disgrace in 1968, his Great Society considered a failure by even liberal Democrats. Yet not o Johnson’s programs have been repealed. Despite the several Conservative party government sin pose-war England, that country is more weighed down by Socialistic programs today than at any time in the recent past. What happens is that once a fresh government program is passed, it builds up a constituency which even the most courageous of lawmakers and Presidents find difficult to resist.

Why, then, should we make the conservative task in the future that much more arduous by electing Jimmy Carter today? That is why we—albeit reluctantly—are going to vote for Gerald Ford.