Silence of the Lamm

Commentary by Pete du Pont

So, is America ready for a third-party? Ross Perot thinks so. So does David Broder of the Washington Post, who writes that by 2000, a third party will be a major political force in America.

But if there were a third party, what would it stand for? What would its policies be? These are the questions bothering the third party we already have - Ross Perot's Reform Party - because to date it is a party of one man, not a party of ideas. If it is going to have any impact on the American political process, the Reform Party must become a party of ideas.

Take the case of former three-term Colorado Governor Dick Lamm, who is trying to get his message out to members of the Reform Party in a effort to win the party's nomination for president. So far, he has had only moderate success

Lamm contends that the Reform Party, founded and largely funded by Perot, has hampered his campaign by refusing to let him have members' addresses so that he could reach them by mail. In addition, his repeated requests to debate Perot were declined. Reform Party officials deny having done anything to hinder Lamm's campaign or his ability to reach party members.

Lamm stepped into the Reform Party process for two reasons: He wanted a national platform on which to discuss the problems American is facing and he apparently believed Perot when for months the Reform Party founder denied having any desire to be nominated and run for president of the United States.

Unfortunately, the national media have focused almost entirely on the internal struggle for power rather than the issues Lamm and the Reform Party have been pushing. As a result, Lamm's message has been silenced.

But were he able to get his message out he would warn Americans of a number of impending problems: For example:

Social Security reform - The Social Security system is going bankrupt. At its current rate of growth, the trust fund will begin drawing on reserves by the year 2013 and will be broke by 2030. Since our elderly population is growing much more rapidly than workers, there simply won't be enough workers to keep Social Security solvent. The later we wait, the worse it will be, so we must develop a solution now.

Medicare reform - Medicare is going bankrupt even faster than Social Security. According to Medicare's trustees' report, Medicare Part A (which pays hospital bills) will go into the red by 2000 and be broke just a year or so later. Republicans passed a Medicare reform proposal, only to have it viciously attacked by the Democrats. As a result, the notion that Medicare is politically untouchable is prevailing once again. That's an attitude we can't financially maintain for long.

Fiscal responsibility - Reagan-era tax cuts increased federal revenues between 1981 and 1989 by an average of 1.8 percent per year, after inflation. Unfortunately, the Democrat-led Congress increased spending by 2.3 percent. That disparity explains the increased deficit spending during the Reagan years. Bob Dole wants to cut taxes, but keep the budget balanced. Would Lamm do the same?

The problem is that Dick Lamm has spoken out on these and a number of other issues over the years, but the media have focused so much on Lamm's political struggles, they have failed to give due attention to his solutions to our problems.

That's too bad, because Lamm is a serious politician with a message Americans need to hear and consider. His may indeed be a "root-canal" vision of our future - all cuts and no gains - but it is a very definite political message that may force the Republicans and Democrats to deal with politically difficult issues that candidates might otherwise sweep under the table.

I don't believe Lamm's message will resonate. Americans are optimists, believing, in Steve Forbes' words, in "hope, growth, and opportunity." Lamm's pessimism will be a hard sell. Further, I would disagree with those who say there is a political longing unfulfilled by the Democratic and Republican parties.

To have an impact, third-party candidates will need to debate the message, not the man. So far all we've heard is Ross Perot. Maybe it's time to see what Dick Lamm has to say.