BRIA 13 1 b Issues in Campaign '96

Bill of Right in Action
Winter 1996 (13:1)
Updated June


BRIA 13:1 Home | Political Scandals, Scoundrels, and Schemers: Are the News Media Focusing on the Wrong Thing? | Issues in Campaign '96 | TV Attack Ads and the Voters


This article includes background information and arguments on three important issues that recent political candidates have discussed.

Issue: Affirmative Action

Broadly defined, affirmative action refers to any steps taken to increase the number of minority persons and women who are hired, promoted, admitted to college, or awarded government contracts. Affirmative action began in the 1960s and 1970s as an attempt to bring African Americans, other minorities, and women more fully into the mainstream of American life. These groups historically had been victims of discrimination, which blocked them from certain jobs, professions, universities, and other opportunities. Affirmative action was viewed as a way to undo the injustices of the past.

Quotas, reserving a specific number of places for a particular group, are illegal. But starting in the 1970s in the Nixon administration, federal laws pressured employers to develop affirmative action plans designed to seek, hire, and promote qualified minority and woman workers. These efforts were eventually expanded to university admissions and government contracting.

In reaching out to bring more minorities and women into the mainstream, affirmative action programs sometimes alienated other groups, notably white males. Members of these groups charged that affirmative action was using race and gender to discriminate against them, something that they called "reverse discrimination."

Recent Supreme Court decisions have severely restricted, but not outlawed, government-sponsored affirmative action programs. A closely decided case in 1995 held that government affirmative action based on race is unconstitutional unless it was established for "the most compelling reasons." In the meantime, Congress and the states are debating whether affirmative action has outlived its original purposes and should be abolished.

Issue Question:
Do we still need affirmative action for minorities and women?


  1. Affirmative action provides equal opportunities for minorities and women who have long been the victims of discrimination.
  2. So-called "reverse discrimination" is rare. Affirmative action simply means that all qualified persons get to compete, whereas in the past minorities and women were often excluded.
  3. Affirmative action is still needed since minorities and women have yet to catch up with other groups in the rate of employment, earnings, and promotions due to the discrimination of the past.
  4. Our society has never been, and is not now, a "color-blind society." Today, 70 percent of Americans do not think we are close to eliminating discrimination.


  1. Ability and test scores, not race and gender, should determine who gets ahead in our society.
  2. By using racial and gender categories, affirmative action often promotes middle-class minorities and women over disadvantaged non-minorities. Government programs should help disadvantaged individuals regardless of race or gender.
  3. Affirmative action causes many people to falsely conclude that minorities and women are not capable of competing in society on their own. This unfortunate attitude harms the very people affirmative action seeks to help.
  4. Ours should be a "color-blind society." Affirmative action simply uses a different form of discrimination to undo the injustices of past discrimination. Both are wrong.

Issue: Federal Tax Cut

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, said that the best way to raise more tax revenue for the government was to cut taxes. He argued that cutting taxes would mean more cash in the hands of individuals and businesses, which would then make more purchases and investments. This, in turn, would cause the economy to grow along with a resulting increase in tax payments as more people became employed. This theory is called "supply-side economics."

Kennedy's supply side view worked in the 1960s. Tax rates were cut and tax revenues went up by 16 percent in four years due mainly to economic growth.

In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, also promoted the supply-side theory of a tax cut to spur economic growth. But this time something very different happened. After income taxes were slashed by 30 percent over three years, and the capital gains tax on profits from the sale of investments was also reduced, tax revenues did not increase enough to match federal government spending, particularly defense spending. In fact, spending greatly outstripped tax revenues, causing the annual government budget deficit to explode. This deficit had to be made up by borrowing the difference. The resulting national debt reached almost $5 trillion by the early 1990s.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton and a Democrat-controlled Congress started to reduce the yearly deficit by cutting some spending and raising taxes, particularly on people with higher incomes. When the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in 1994, they once again pushed the idea of federal income and capital gains tax cuts to stimulate economic growth.

Issue Question:
Should federal taxes be cut to stimulate economic growth?


  1. High taxes today are like a dead weight on the economy, preventing job creation and significant economic growth. A tax cut will spur the economy and bring in more tax revenues.
  2. The tax cut boosted the federal budget deficit in the 1980s because of a recession and the refusal of the Democrat-controlled Congress to cut government spending. Today, lower taxes and cutbacks in many government programs will lead to a boom in the economy, increased tax revenues, and a balanced federal budget by 2002.
  3. Cutting taxes gives the American taxpayer, rather than the government, more power to decide how to spend hard-earned family income.
  4. Recent major tax and spending cuts in states like New Jersey and Wisconsin have led to more jobs and booming economies.


  1. Currently, employment is up, inflation is down, and the budget deficit has fallen 60 percent since 1992. A tax cut now will only lead to more inflation, higher interest rates, a weakened economy, and a return to the huge budget deficits of the 1980s.
  2. To balance the federal budget by 2002, tax cuts would have to be offset by cuts in large government programs like Medicare and Social Security. Most Americans do not want to do this.
  3. Most tax cut proposals would benefit the wealthy much more than the middle class and the poor.
  4. Our economy is strong. It is better to continue reducing the budget deficit than to go for a tax cut now.

Issue: National Missile Defense

In 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed not to build any nation-wide defense system to protect their homelands from nuclear missile attack. The purpose of this agreement, known as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, was to prevent a new expensive missile race to overcome such a defense system.

Despite the ABM Treaty, President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s backed the development of a space-based defensive weapons system that would protect the United States against any missile attack. This Strategic Defense Initiative (also popularly called "Star Wars") mainly concentrated on scientific research and development costing $35 billion over a 10-year period. This large-scale effort was abandoned after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Today, so-called "rogue nations" like North Korea and Iran are trying to develop their own nuclear missiles, which may pose an eventual threat to the United States. The National Missile Defense Program was originally a technology development effort designed to address such threats. In 1996, at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, NMD was designated a Major Defense Acquisition Program with a budget of about $3 billion a year to spend on technological research, development and acquisition of a "thin" National Missile Defense. This system could protect against a small number of missiles launched by a "rogue nation," but not a massive attack as was envisioned in President Reagan's "Star Wars" program.

In 1999, NMD was commissioned to put into place a missile defense system by 2003 at a cost of $9 billion. In 2003, officials will discuss the option of building an even more extensive system of missile defense by 2005 for an additional $4 billion dollars.

Issue Question:
Should the United States continue to
bolster its System of national missile defense?


  1. Hundreds of nuclear missiles are still operational within the territory of the former Soviet Union. While the Cold War is over, these missiles could still be launched accidentally or by persons without the authorization of their government.
  2. National Missile Defense is especially needed to protect the United States from attacks by "rogue nations" with terrorist aims.
  3. The 1972 ABM Treaty does not fit today's world and should be renegotiated with the Russians or ignored by the United States.
  4. The most important purpose of the federal government is to protect the nation from foreign attack at any cost.


  1. Nations who want to terrorize the United States are much more likely to use weapons like truck bombs than costly and hard to develop long-range missiles.
  2. The current National Missile Defense is sufficient to protect the United States from attacks by rogue nations, since their supplies of nuclear weapons are limited.
  3. Deciding to build a National Missile Defense as soon as possible would be a direct violation of the ABM Treaty. This would also put at risk nuclear arms reduction treaties with the Russians.
  4. Building a National Missile Defense now will be very costly and will take away funds required for education, environmental protection, deficit reduction, and other national needs.

For Discussion and Writing

  1. Rank the three issues discussed in the article from the most to least important to you. Explain why the issue you ranked first is the most important.
  2. Find out how the presidential candidates would answer each of the issue questions.
  3. What other issues should the candidates be discussing with the voters?

For Further Information

Vote Smart Website: This site provides Internet links to sources on many Campaign '96 issues.


Taking A Stand On The Issues

A. Meet in small discussion. Each group should select one of the
three issues. Then each should complete the following issue evaluation tasks:

  1. What is the best argument on each side of your issue?
  2. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of adopting the policy proposed.

B. Meet as a class to discuss each issue question. Have each group report back its findings. After discussing each question, take a class vote on it.



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