April 1, 1992: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: Politics: Election1992 - Tsongas: The World and I: Paul Tsongas' Call to Economic Arms

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Special Report: Ethiopia RPCV, Senator and Presidential Candidate Paul Tsongas: April 1, 1992: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: Politics: Election1992 - Tsongas: The World and I: Paul Tsongas' Call to Economic Arms

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Paul Tsongas' Call to Economic Arms

Paul Tsongas' Call to Economic Arms

Paul Tsongas' Call to Economic Arms

Paul Tsongas' Call to Economic Arms

Article #: 19908
Section: CURRENT ISSUES - ELECTION '92 File Size: 1,888 words
Issue Date: 4 / 1992 Start Page: 58
Author: Judith Colp
Judith Colp is a reporter for the Washing Times
While the traditional presidential campaign calls for candidates who give rousing speeches and kiss babies, Democratic nominee Paul E. Tsongas has instead been dispensing copies of an 85-page booklet, A Call to Economic Arms.

The booklet, which the former Massachusetts senator wrote last winter - and on which his candidacy is expected to soar or fall - outlines his views on everything from education to global warming.

Criticizing both major political parties, Tsongas spells out his "New American Mandate." He calls for changing the antitrust laws to make U.S. companies more competitive; reducing the capital gains tax for long-term investment; imposing tax credits for corporate research and development; eliminating quarterly financial reports for publicly held companies (thereby discouraging short-term thinking); and raising gasoline taxes.

"If this book did not exist, I would not still be in the race. The only avenue I have to run on is my heartfelt sense that I understand better than the other candidates what needs to be done; and when people read this, they can understand the mind-set of someone who wishes to be president, instead of the nominal rhetorical flourishes," says Tsongas.

The book was such a hit in recession-weary New Hampshire that the 50-year-old Tsongas won the state's Democratic primary, the first in the nation. The victory pulled his race out of the long-shot range.

But analysts contend Tsongas, a regional favorite in New Hampshire, will face an uphill struggle as the campaign moves out of his native Northeast and into the South.

The 50-year-old Tsongas likes to boast that he never lost an election in a 16-year career that spanned membership in the Lowell City Council to serving in the U.S. Senate.

In the tradition of turning your liability into an asset, his first commercial shows him furiously swimming laps while narrator says, "Getting America back on track won't be easy, but Paul Tsongas has never been afraid to swim against the current."

For starters, Tsongas has been absent from the political scene since 1984. That was the year he shocked Washington by resigning from a promising political career in the Senate to spend more time with his wife, Niki, and their three daughters, after being afflicted with a cancer diagnosed as lymphoma. Thanks to extensive bone-marrow treatment, the cancer is in full remission-Tsongas' doctor was at his announcement speech to testify to that--but it still remains a political liability.

Add the inevitable comparison to failed Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, another Greek-American Democrat from Massachusetts. Tsongas, who jokingly tells audiences that he looked into becoming Swedish, admits the similarities hurt him in the press and in fund-raising among Greek Americans, which is particular crucial to him since he refuses to take donations from PACs. But he hopes the comparison has run its course with voters.

"That was a constant drumbeat in the beginning, but now I think it's me versus the other candidates," he says. "It has a half life to it, but if Mike were not Greek and not from Massachusetts there would be no comparison. I'm much stronger on the environment, and I'm viewed in Massachusetts as more of a friend of business."

Tsongas also makes for a poor candidate because he is a less than spectacular speaker. He lisps and swallows his words as he spells out the news that he opposes middle-class tax cuts and calls for cuts in Social Security.

"Tsongas is the Bruce Babbitt of the campaign," observes William Schneider, an election analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, referring to the former Arizona governor who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. "He's a truth teller. He gets respect from the press and other politicians, but not many votes. Like Babbitt, he will come out of the campaign with his reputation enhanced."

"Paul Tsongas is the unique beneficiary of Bill Clinton's zipper problem," says Kevin Phillips, publisher of the American Politician Report, referring to the Arkansas governor's alleged affair with nightclub singer Gennifer Flowers. "But that's not a vote for Tsongas. He has no ramatazz."

Phillips says that if Tsongas were to become a front-runner, the Democrats would turn to a "top-tier" candidate like New York Gov. Mario Cuomo or Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, who are assuredly waiting in the wings. A Tsongas success could give the Democrats a real race.

Like Dukakis, Tsongas is, in Schneider's words, "one of John F. Kennedy's children," a liberal who is more a technocrat than an advocacy politician. Known as a neo-liberal, Tsongas is pro-business with a social conscience--a philosophy honed from conservative Republican businessman father and a stint in the Peace Corps.

"My definition of a liberal is someone who wants to increase the economic pie," he says simply. "Where I part company with other Democrats is that they think the way to help the economy is through deficit spending; that's nonsense.

"I'm not into losing, but I don't want to win the way that Bush was won. I don't want to win the way some of the Democrats are running, in which you call for things that end up in national debt and an inability to compete. I don't want to be president to preside over the demise of my country. If you want me, you have to buy the mandate; if you don't want to go in that direction, then don't vote for me."

Tsongas' campaign strategy was to talk about the economy in New Hampshire, which was hit severely by the recession. "I think it's very clear to anyone who lives in the Northeast that America is an economic war . . . and just changing presidents is not going to make that much difference," he says during a campaign stop at a closed textile factory in Manchester. "There has to be a real sense of emergency. We have to stress that the demise of this country will not come from the Soviet Union, but from a country that can no longer maintain its economic well-being."

As part of the New American Mandate, Tsongas calls for the death penalty for big-time drug dealers, and, after long agonizing, he supports nuclear power. It was the most "difficult and uncomfortable policy position I have ever taken," he writes of the latter point. "But today, more than a decade later, I still feel the same way."

An outspoken critic of former President Reagan's foreign policy (while a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Tsongas calls for a "Marshall Plan II" for the Soviet Union and the reduction in the number of troops overseas. He says he would have voted against a congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to use force to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

"We cannot…. allow ourselves to continually become the policeman of the world, sending our youth to areas of great risk and pouring our national treasure into the fray," he writes. "There must be a police force in future instances, but we should only be a part of the contingent. We must not be the whole contingent or even the majority of the contingent."

Although tailored to New Hampshire, the New American Mandate may not be salable to Democrats nationally, partly because Tsongas is out of sync with traditional Democratic forces. A member of seven corporate boards, he has been opposed by unions for his support of a three-year wage freeze for Chrysler Corporation autoworkers in return for a government bailout. Teachers unions oppose his support for competence testing.

Tsongas lived through the same kind of economic crisis he believes he is best equipped to cure on the national level. Once the hub of the industrial revolution, Lowell fell on hard economic times during the 1920s when the textile industry moved south. Tsongas' Greek-born father, Efthemios, was forced to quit college at Harvard University to run the family dry cleaning business, where his son also worked as a child. Tsongas' mother, Katina, a schoolteacher, died of tuberculosis when he and his twin sister, Thaleia, turned seven.

Although Efthemios Tsongas was a conservative Republican, Paul Tsongas, who had registered the first time as a Republican made a political shift toward liberalism in 1962. After graduating from Dartmouth College, he joined the Peace Corps and went to Ethiopia, where he taught school in a small village and helped build a dormitory.

He returned to the United States to attend Yale University Law School. In 1968, when he was only 28, Tsongas ran for a seat on the Lowell City Council; four years later, he became commissioner of Middlesex County. In 1974, he defeated a Republican congressman, Paul Cronin, for a seat in Congress. There he pushed through the Lowell Development Corporation, which used a public-private partnership to revitalize the city's downtown and attract high-tech industries.

Then in 1978, he made a long-shot run against incumbent Sen. Edward Brooke, the country's only black senator. Tsongas defeated Brooke--who was vulnerable because of his divorce and a property dispute--in a campaign where he challenged voters to pronounce his difficult name with the silent T.

Considered one of the most liberal members of the Senate--Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) gave him two 95 percent approval ratings--Tsongas also won praise from those on the opposite side of the political fence with whom he worked on the Chrysler bailout.

"He always had very good relations with members of different political views," says Richard Arenberg, Tsongas' legislative director in the Senate, who now works for Majority Leader George Mitchell. "He was always able to forge compromises because you could take his word to the bank."

Tsongas was not afraid to go after Democrats. In a 1980 address to the ADA, Tsongas stressed that Democrats need to come up with a new set of programs. He wrote a book about the subject called The Road from Here; Liberalism and Realities in the 1980s.

Tsongas had been a possible 1984 presidential contender, but he withdrew in 1983 after discovering a lump in his groin while showering. He subsequently became a member of seven corporate boards and joined the law firm of Foley, Hoag & Eliot. In 1989, he was appointed chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Regents of Higher Education.

In 1990, he turned down a run for governor of Massachusetts, a race in which he would have stood a chance, for the considerably more difficult race to the presidency. That was when George Bush's approval ratings were at 90 percent.

"It's very hard for people in Washington to understand how I think. I've given up," he says. "I have a sense of generational responsibility that if I took positions that I knew were harmful to the country long term, like this middle-class tax cut, it would be spitting on my survival.

"I should not be alive today," concludes Tsongas. "It's been 2,036 days since I found out I have cancer. I feel a responsibility that I have survived, and there's an obligation to that survival."

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Story Source: The World and I

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