Rev. Jesse Jackson yesterday at the Kennedy School called the budget deficit the greatest national problem and said if he were president he would convene a Camp David-like summit of congressional and gubernatorial leaders to resolve the issue.
The Democratic presidential candidate, who was sharply critical of President Reagan's handling of the recent stock market crash, made his remarks yesterday morning during an hour-long televised program with Marvin Kalb, director of the Barone Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy.
The Jackson interview was the first in a12-week series of interviews with all theDemocratic and the Republican presidentialcandidates scheduled to be broadcast live byWGBH-Boston, the local public television station.The "Campaign '88" series is co-sponsored by theBarone Center, the Institute of Politics and theNew York Stock Exchange Foundation.
Jackson, the current frontrunner amongDemocratic presidential candidates, said he would"convene members of the House and Senate in abipartisan way to drive this budget deficit down."He added that Reagan has not addressed adequatelythe economy's structural problems, concentratinginstead on laying blame for the stock market'swoes on the Democratic-controlled Congress.
"If the house is on fire, it's not the time todetermine who's the arsonist," Jackson said. "Thatis the time to get the inhabitants to a safe placeand to get the extinguisher. The president needsto give a sense of collective leadership, and thatdid not happen."
But Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate,praised the Reagan Administration for anotherrecent development--the announcement that SovietPremier Mikhail Gorbachev will come to the UnitedStates to meet with Reagan on December 7--andendorsed the pending arms-reduction treaty.
Jackson said the planned superpower summit is"a modest step for mankind and a giant step forPresident Reagan," but cautioned that we "shouldnot then contradict the process [of the summit andthe pending treaty eliminating medium-andshort-range missiles] by adding new weapon systemsin the name of modernization."
"As for the Soviets, we would do well to beaggressive in our attention to reducing thenuclear stockpile," said Jackson. "It is the mostcritical reality of our day."
But when Kalb, the former moderator of NBCNews' "Meet the Press," asked Jackson whether hewould push the button for a nuclear first strikethe 46-year-old Baptist minister sidestepped thequestion.
"We need guided leadership, not misguidedmissiles," Jackson said. "When we push the buttonthe Russians will not be crocheting. They willalso push the button."
Jackson took the hour-long question-and-answersession as an opportunity to expound his "jobs,peace and justice" platform, which stresseskeeping jobs in the U.S., obeying internationallaw and working to provide "economic alternatives"for all countries in the hemisphere.
Although Jackson has never held electiveoffice, he downplayed his inexperience as a publicofficial, noting that four of the 41 past Americanpresidents had never before been elected to anyoffice.
Jackson, who said he would be "an activistpresident who makes things happen," cited thehostage releases he negotiated in Syria and Cubaas proof of his abilities. He also took credit forregistering 2 million new voters in 1984, which hesaid enabled the Democrats to regain control ofthe Senate in 1986.
"I have pulled together the most diverse bodyof Democrats of anybody running," Jackson said. "Ihave the ability to expand our party."
In the course of the interview, members of the600-person audience asked questions on such issuesas his support for AIDS education, national healthcare and unionization. Jackson said he was theonly Democratic candidate to address the Gay andLesbian March on Washington in October and addedthat he opposes mandatory AIDS testing.
Kalb, who is also Murrow Professor of Press andPublic Policy, is scheduled to interviewRepublican candidate Pete du Pont IV, the formergovernor of Delaware, next Sunday