Truth-telling sorely lacking in both Clinton and Dole

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The middle class needs more truth-in-politics.

Taken together, the candidates, their conventions and campaigns have propelled some serious political discussion — but at certain points they have been less heart-stirring than stomach-wrenching.

It is not that specific Jewish causes suffered damage. Support for Israel is unscathed. Sanctions against Libya and Iran have just been engineered by both parties. Republican leadership tends to be somewhat more supportive of the current Israeli regime than that of the Democrats, but it would take a lot to dislodge either party from its backing of Israel.

Four out of five Jews will vote for Bill Clinton for various reasons, but partly because the Christian right was so evident at the Republican convention.

However, the Christian Coalition did not do as well as it had hoped. It won points in the platform committee, although Bob Dole said he does not feel bound by the platform. And Pat Buchanan, who called for a religious war in 1992, was pointedly shunned. Although it is proper for Jews to be wary of evangelical politics, it does not seem that the Christianization of America by either party is around the corner.

Welfare for legal immigrants largely disappeared in a law supported by many Republicans and some Democrats, and which Clinton signed somewhat reluctantly. There is more recent immigrant stock in Democratic than Republican ranks. The legislation is of particular concern to Jews because it tends to downgrade immigrant status in general.

Those were the most particular Jewish issues, and there's not much news there. But something more general is happening. The political health of the society, crucial for both the values and the welfare of the Jews, shows signs of deterioration.

Dwight Eisenhower said: "We must be willing, individually and as a nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."

And John F. Kennedy more familiarly asked his "fellow Americans" to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Past presidential politicians were not always models of virtue, and they certainly shaved the truth at times. But at their best, they were much more willing than our current candidates to tell the truth about the sacrifices that the larger public would have to make to improve the society.

Take one example. Both Clinton and Dole, in their different ways, say they are going to cut taxes for the middle class. The middle class is where most of the tax money comes from because in that class resides most of the nation's people and money. Both candidates say they are going to balance the budget at the same time. Good luck. They both shed tears that the younger middle class has not increased its material wealth as its parents did.

But both candidates know that, as a statistical lot, today's young middle class has at least as much material wealth as its predecessor — and that ain't hardship. Maybe the candidates should tell them the truth: "You want too much — too much material wealth and too many guarantees, which is not possible at a time of economic transition and when our society needs so much fixing."

Both candidates say that the era of big government must be over, and the American middle class applauds. But the candidates don't say that shrinking the government while fixing our society, which both say they want to do, will require some short-term sacrifice. That omission will make it difficult for any victorious candidate to carry through, and will increase the level of cynicism among the population at large.

The level of truth-in-politics has never been lower, along with the willingness of candidates to tell people that they can't so easily get everything they want. Someday that could be dangerous for the democracy protecting us all.