THIS YEAR'S presidential election campaign is unlikely to figure prominently in US history. The massive coverage in the media for the past several months has focused primarily on the personalities and peccadilloes of the candidates.
Much of the mud slinging has been in doubtful taste. One disgusted observer rewrote a proverb, describing the choice offered to voters as the evil of two lessers.
According to the New York Times, both candidates have "failed miserably" to give the voters a reasonable basis for choosing between them.
US elections are enormously costly. Only the very wealthy can afford to run for the Senate or the House of Representatives. But wealthypeople donot risk their money without a corresponding benefit, and the salary falls far short of constituting such a benefit. The real lure is power, power that can be translated in many ways — some more ethical than others — into cash.
What is true of Congress is doubly true of the presidency. The massive support of extensive sectors of big business is needed to float a candidate. It is consequently not surprising that, unlike most democracies, the United States has had for more than a century only two viable parties.
Nor is that all. The difference between the two parties is little and growing less. Today, the Republicans are identified with big business and big banking, while the Democrats adopt a more populist stand. In the last century, however, it was the Republican Party that ended slavery, fighting a war in which more citizens died than in any before or since.
Regardless of which party wins in November, we cannot expect major policy changes. Domestically, a Democratic victory will bring gest res in favour of the middle class and a slowing of the erosion of the social benefits legislated during the optimistic 1960s. But we cannot hope to get a comprehensive health plan. Nor does either party seriously intend to change structures that steadily increase the gap between rich and poor, to offer hope to children born into a culture of poverty, or to implement measures calculated to protect the environment.
The parties have never had significant differences in their approach to foreign policy. For both, the East-West conflict is paramount. Nothing terrifies a politician more than to be charged with being "soft on communism." We may have more treaties for mutual elimination of token quantites of obsolescent weapons, but the nuclear madness will continue.
Neither is there any reason to believe that the Democrats would change a policy, in force for more than a century, in virtue of which Washington determines what governments are acceptable in' the Caribbean and Central America.
That policy condemns Nicaragua's government because it is unaligned in the East-West contest. The parties, however, apply this policy differently. Republican Teddy Roosevelt carried a big stick. Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbour.
Nicaragua will benefit from the change of president in any event. A new Republican president would not continue the petty vindictiveness that drove President Reagan to flagrant breaches of international law. The political cost is too high. Nicaragua will be a factor in the voting; and in the tight election that is anticipated, it may be the deciding factor.
A Democratic victory will not end pressures on Nicaragua. Like the Republicans, the Democrats are determined not to allow Nicaragua's system to become attractive to its neighbours. But they will be more circumspect in applying pressures. And for those who believe the Nicaraguans are entitled to make their own decisions, even that represents progress.