While searching for a wedding gift recently, my wife, Patty, heard a well-coiffed customer complaining loudly to the salesperson about President Reagan’s proposed cuts in student loans.

“Can you believe what he’s doing?” the woman exploded as she signed a sales slip for $350. “How will my daughter keep her condominium and continue at medical school?” Bustling off to her BMW, she could still be heard huffing over those “unfair cuts.”

Whether or not Reagan succeeds in cutting subsidized college loans won’t determine the fate of the republic; but this woman’s selfish reaction is symptomatic of a widespread public attitude that does indeed threaten American democracy: for self-government demands self-restraint.

The evidence is mounting, however, that no one is willing to restrain mushrooming government programs, which now provide direct grants to 66 million Americans. And if we have lost self-restraint, one must question if we still have the moral capacity essential for democracy to function.

The answer may come soon, in how we handle the two great economic issues of 1985—the deficit and tax reform. At this writing the outlook is anything but optimistic.

Consider the budget debate. For seven months, the President and both houses of Congress were stalemated. One senator told me the closed committee sessions were the most rancorous free-for-alls he had ever attended. Constant political jockeying made budget cutting nearly impossible.

For example, the Senate wisely voted to kill the long-discredited Economic Development Administration—then promptly appropriated $30 million to finance three EDA projects in states of Senate Appropriations Committee members!

And just before the August recess, Senate Republicans presented a valiant last-ditch ...

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