During the 1992 election campaign, at least one person agreed with Peter G. Peterson: Governor Bill Clinton. Candidate Clinton said that, as president, he would focus on America's economic problems. Reducing the federal budget deficit, he emphasized, was the key to America's future, both at home and abroad. If the present deficits continued there would be too little savings to finance the investments needed to increase American productivity; both our domestic prosperity and our external influence would decline.
That is the theme of the book. But what no presidential candidate could say, Peterson, a prominent investment banker, does: cutting middle-class entitlements is the most important step needed to close that deficit, and assembling a political coalition to do this and the other tasks required to eliminate the deficit should be our main business.
Peterson believes that President Clinton is headed in the right direction. But he also believes that in proposing his first budget the president could have found public and political support for an economic package that would have much more drastically reduced the federal deficit--through a combination of massive spending cuts and new taxes that would have hurt the middle class in the short run but helped it over the long term. Instead, he contends, the president spared the middle class and left a deficit still large enough to threaten America's future.
RED INK BLUES
This summary does not do justice to the detailed and comprehensive probing of Peterson's book. It does not, for example, include the book's passing conclusion that Marine Corps forces should be dependent on Navy support aviation, which will astonish anyone whose wartime service brought him or her close to those two forces. But the book's main thesis is as stated above, and it deserves our attention.
Why should readers of Foreign Affairs tackle a book explaining this thesis? Shouldn't we stick to reading about Haiti, Bosnia and Somalia? This question, as natural as it is misguided, prevents a lot of intelligent people from doing what
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