In his own words: (Op-ed published in The New York Times on April 3, 1982)
WASHINGTON— Ralph Waldo Emerson has assured us: ''A man may love a paradox without either losing his wit or his honesty.'' It is good that we have this assurance because these are certainly days when paradox rules.
There is, for example, the paradox of an allegedly conservative Republican Administration programming Federal deficits so enormous that if offered by a liberal Democrat, they would confirm conservative suspicions that liberals have no respect for the dollar. I'm supposed to be a liberal, but I find the Reagan deficit astonishing and irresponsible. If, as the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1972, I had even hinted at the acceptability of a $100 billion deficit, I would not even have carried Massachusetts!
When people ask me, as they do in growing numbers, ''What do the Democrats offer as an alternative?'', so sweeping an answer is required as to leave the questioner dazed or bored.
I can find almost nothing to support in the Reagan economic, military, foreign, or budget policies. Indeed, except for the first appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court, I disagree with virtually every action of this Administration. Mr. Reagan does not appear to understand the simplest economic truths. In foreign policy, he is splitting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance while reuniting the Sino-Soviet bloc and repeating, in Central America, the mistakes of Vietnam; his military budget is so wasteful and poorly conceived as to be a threat to the security of the nation; and he seems blind to the greatest danger of our age - the mounting threat of extinction posed by an uncontrolled nuclear-arms race.
What can the Democrats do? They can stop drifting along with policies that they know are weakening the nation and threatening world peace. They can stop endorsing sweeping tax cuts that feed inflation and unbalance the budget. They can stop endorsing illplanned weapons, while neglecting our real defense needs. They can stop supporting budget policies that weaken such productive investments as education, transportation, energy, agriculture, job training, nutrition, drug rehabilitation, public assistance, and dignity for our older citizens. They can stop supporting such nonproductive expenditures as tax relief for the wealthy, high interest rates for moneylenders, and gold-plated weapons that aren't needed and won't work under combat conditions.
At the risk of oversimplification, I would say that the proper Democratic agenda is to oppose Mr. Reagan at every turn and to offer an alternative. In other words, the Democrats' job is to offer tax justice and a balanced budget in place of tax concessions and a $100 billion deficit; to reverse the arms race and press for the ratification of a verifiable nuclear-arms agreement with the Soviet Union; to reduce the sky-high interest rates that are choking the economy; and, instead of encouraging the merger mania, take steps to buttress small business and family farms. The Democrats' job is to increase the productivity and usefulness of our people by investing more in such human capital as education, training, and whatever is necessary to provide work for everyone willing and able - in the private sector where possible, and in public works where that is the only recourse - instead of drifting along as we now are with nearly one out of 10 workers idled.
There is no excuse for a great nation such as ours failing to provide a job opportunity for every able worker. Nothing can be more wasteful than idleness when there are houses to be built, railways to be modernized, topsoil to be preserved, and young people to be redeemed from ignorance, drugs, and crime.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, perhaps our greatest President with the possible exception of Lincoln, led us through the Great Depression and World War II. Today's issues are of course different from those that faced F.D.R. The nuclear peril, the energy crisis, the environmental challenges, the decline of industrial productivity - these were not the problems that engaged F.D.R., but his innovative, pragmatic spirit may well be required to solve them. Right now, we could use the vision of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the bluntness of Harry S. Truman, the inspiration of John F. Kennedy, the Congressional leadership skills of Lyndon B. Johnson, and the essential fairness of Jimmy Carter. I yearn, too, for the wit and courage of men who were not elected President - Adlai E. Stevenson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Robert F. Kennedy.
In short, I'm not yet ready to surrender the New Deal, the Square Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society -or the hope that America will again become the great land it can be when it is faithful to its founding ideals.