Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale have presented the American electorate with as clear an ideological choice as any set of Presidential candidates in the 20th century. The two men disagree fundamentally on their prescriptions for the economy, their approaches to national defence, their views of foreign policy, their stances on social issues. Above all, they differ in their philosophies of government. Reagan has built a career on denunciations of the state and celebrations of the possibilities of unfettered individualism. Mondale has wedded himself equally firmly to the belief that government can and must be a forceful instrument for social progress. For much of the past year, therefore, it seemed likely, even inevitable, that the 1984 Election would serve as a referendum on the divergent philosophies of the two major parties. Democratic candidates in the early going talked incessantly about their visions of the role of government. Both the Democratic and Republican platforms took pains to point out how starkly each differed from the other in its view of the state. The columnist Richard Reeves predicted in February that the contest for the Presidency would be decided by a single issue: what Americans think of the President's statement that 'government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.' This would be, he claimed, an 'ideological election', in which voters would face the starkest choice they had confronted since 1936.
LRB 1 November 1984 | PDF Download