9. What kind of president?
San Francisco — In his nomination acceptance speech, Ronald Reagan told Republicans (quoting Tom Paine), "We have it in our power to begin the world anew again." Even Mr. Reagan knows that this goal is a bit overgrand, somewhat more than any American President could achieve. But a Reagan White House would make a considerable difference in how the Western world's most powerful nation is run at home and how it relates to its allies and adversaries abroad.
The difficulty for voters is picking through what the candidate himself has said over the course of the campaign and, indeed, throughout his nearly two decades as a public political figure. Even Mr. Reagan's supporters admit he has a penchant for both the hyperbolic (and sometimes alarming) statement as well as the vague and unsubstantiated promise.
But there are two valuable clues to what a Reagan administration might attempt and accomplish: (1) Reagan's record as governor of the nation's most populous state for eight years and (2) the insight of those who have observed or worked closely with him for extended periods.
As he did in Sacramento, Reagan would want to start his days as president with a bang. He would no doubt impose an immediate hiring freeze among federal agencies, the first step in his hoped-for reduction of big government. At the same time, he would dispatch a squad of several hundred decidedly non-Washingtonians to find ways to further tighten the bureaucratic belt. Most of these people (who, indeed, are already being recruited) would be businessmen.
Reagan also would appoint an "executive search committee" to enlist his top appointees. Again, this committee already is being formed, and its members include men who performed the same task in California.
Reagan is fond of saying that he never wants his administration to think of the government as "us," but always "them."
"When he talks about wanting a person to have to step down to take a government job, he's not just thinking in financial terms," says H. Monroe Browne, president of the Institute for Contemporary Studies and a Reagan confidant. "He wants people who are willing to set aside a career, not make a career of being there."
Mr. Browne, a well-to-do Californian who headed a state agency under Governor Reagan, says his mandate in Sacramento was threefold: "Obey the law; run the agency myself and not let the bureaucracy do it; and, if I could minimize or eliminate the job, do it."
This says several important things about the Reagan record in California and what voters might expect from him in Washington.
Although the caliber of some of his appointees and relative effectiveness of his administration can be argued, Reagan's tenure in Sacramento was virtually scandal-free. Even his staunchest of critics concede this.
At the same time, he was noted for appointing strong department heads (to a reorganized and reduced number of broad-based agencies) and delegating considerable power to them. The same could be expected in Washington. There probably would not be a "California Mafia" in the White House (as the Nixon confidantes were jokingly called) but the number of Westerners (and others from the Sunbelt) would be noticeable. While personal loyalty and general philosphical agreement would be key considerations, there might be a surprising number of Democrats in a Reagan administration -- a Henry Jackson, for example, as Secretary of Defense.
Reagan's "kitchen cabinet" -- held over from the days in Sacramento when wealthy supporters and corporate types advised him on political, legislative, and executive matters -- could be expected to remain influential.
More than at any time since the days of Richard Nixon, the role of White House chief of staff would likely be of considerable importance. Prime candidate for this job would the Edwin Meese, a California lawyer and former district attorney who was Reagan's chief of staff in Sacramento and holds that post in the Reagan presidential campaign.
Ed Salzman, editor of the respected California Journal and one of California's most perceptive political observers, offers this view of Reagan's likely White House staff chief:
"Ed Meese in not a right-wing nut by any means. He's just what you would not expect Ronald Reagan to appreciate. He's dull, professional bureaucrat with an incredible capacity for handling paper work and providing cool, calm advice to decisionmaking. He's probably the kind of guy who -- if you believed Reagan's rhetoric -- Reagan would like to have extracted from government as a tax-eater. But he's the kind of guy who makes government work." Enjoying the 'perks' of officem
Given the Reagan style of delegating broadly, Mr. Salzman adds, the Republican candidate for President has "greater potential" for being manipulated than might be the case with other administrators.
"I would worry about a Reagan Administration if he was going to take somebody in there as a gatekeeper, who was personally ambitious or who had the kind of ego that was dangerous," he says. "But Ed Meese is perfect for that Job."
In a wide-ranging airplane interview, Mr. Meese impresses one as a friendly, low-key, and straightforward man. He has been described by other reporters as "nonthreatening" and "a great puppy of a man."
Others also wonder whether Reagan's tendency to delegate authority leaves him vulnerable to manipulation by those around him.
California assemblyman Willie Brown describes Reagan as "staff- influenced beyond any executive that I have ever witnessed in my two decades of participating in the political arena."
"I'm not sure that he is manipulated by staff. But I suspect he could be if there was a real conniving and cynical staff around," says Mr. Brown, a liberal Democrat and one of California's most experienced black elected officials. "But through his two terms as governor he was not plagued with that kind of cynicism or that kind of manipulation."
Writing in the Washington Post recently, former Reagan campaign manager John Sears observed: "If his advisers are adequate, there is nothing to fear from President Reagan. But he can be guided, and presidents who are too easily guided run the risk of losing the confidence of the people."
Reagan was not known for keeping long hours at the state house in Sacramento, and he probably would spend less time at the White House than previous presidents -- or at least try to. Reagan enjoys the perquisites of office. He is not likely to carry his own luggage a la Jimmy Carter, nor is he the kind of man who could sell the presidential yacht as the incumbent did. White House social functions would more likely feature Lawrence Welk, not Willie Nelson.
Nancy Reagan would not, as Rosalynn Carter has done, play a direct role in government (such as representing the country abroad), observers say. She would certainly never sit inon Cabinet meetings. But in her own way (described by one close confidante as "adroit, indirect, and subtle") she might have even greater influence than has Mrs. Carter. No wheeling and dealingm
Mrs. Reagan came to her marriage with firmly held and conservative views of her own. Given her husband's relaxed style of governing, she is able to spend a great deal of time with him. Nancy Reagan is protective of her husband's health and rest time. She also is known to be particularly persuasive regarding staff appointments and management.
One of the greatest potentials for long-lasting impact on national affairs over the next several decades could be the appointment of justices to the US Supreme Court. Five of the high court's nine justices are in their 70s, including remaining liverals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. Three more are in their 60s. The philosphical nature of the court is ripe for presidential influence.
As governor of California, Reagan appointed 645 of the state's 1,246 judges. Most were Republicans, but there was a noticeable lack of political wheeling and dealing in the process. While, for the most part, Reagan did not play a direct role in the selection process (he left that up to staffers and to a well-regarded professional committee), his philosphical mark was deep and clear.
"He did not want judicial activists," recalls former legal affairs secretary Herbert Ellingwood. "It was a philosophical belief in strict constructionism."
"They were competent lawyers. But they were not, in general, as merciful as you have to be as a judge," says assembly Brown.
Although he agonized over the one execution that, as governor, he ordered carried out, Reagan is a firm believer in capital punishment. But in his appointment of chief justice to the California Supreme Court, he selected a man who apparently slipped through the philosophical net.
In 1972, Chief Justice Donald Wright wrote the opinion that overturned California's captial-punishment law. It was a situation reminiscent of President Eisenhower and Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Governor Reagan grumbled about it aloud.
Some of Reagan's appointments and an even larger number of his academic advisers would come from the nation's oldest and most conservative "think tank" -- the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Its founding charter seems to sum up the Reagan "crusade" (as he calls it) perfectly:
"The purpose of this institution must be . . . to demonstrate the evils of the doctrines of Karl Marx -- whether communism, socialism, economic materialism , or atheism -- thus to protect the American way of life from such ideologies, their conspiracies, and to reaffirm the validity of the American system."
Reagan's papers are the largest collection in the Hoover archives. He is one of only three honorary fellows of the institute. The other two are Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn and free-market economist Friedrich Hayek. Of the 33 authors of articles in the latest Hoover publication ("The United States in the 1980s"), 19 are Reagan advisers.
Reagan also listens closely to the "Committee on the Present Danger," a Washington-based group of former government officials which has been highly critical of the Carter administration and wants to boost national defense spending by $260 billion over the next six years.
"The US is heading towards a massive crisis in the 1980s . . . ," Reagan warns in letters seeking campaign contributors. Here, and in his other public pronouncements, he leaves no doubt that the underlying concern in a Reagan foreign policy is containment of the Soviet Union through US military superiority.
Many would agree with the assessment of Georgia state legislator Julian Bond: "The Reagan camp tends to view every foreign-policy question as a test of American willingness to halt Soviet expansionism. . . . Reagan's view of Africa's many states, governments, languages, and religions [is one of] undifferentiated territory in the struggle between West and East."
"It's not simply a matter of Soviet expansionism," says Reagan staff chief Meese. "But this is probably them dominant factor in what's happening in the world." How keen a thinker?m
To those who wonder about Reagan's lack of experience in foreign affairs, Meese says: "The thing that you have here is a keen mind, an ability to utilize information, a knack for appointing good people, and a will to get all the possible information. And I think this augurs well for his conduct in foreign policy."
Others who are less confident about Reagan's diplomatic talents agree that who he appoints will be important if not crucial. This view was expressed by most of those interviewed, including many who support Reagan.
Says Paul Haerle, former chairman of the Republican State Central Committee of California and appointments secretary during Reagan's first term as governor:
"I don't think he's a warmonger, either casually, accidentially, or in part. . . . No, I don't think he will casually push the button. But for exactly the same reasons I preferred Ford in '76 and a Bush or a Baker in the spring of this year, my anxieties about a Reagan presidency will be alleviated only when I'm convinced that there will be a quality Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Adviser. As compared with Carter, I'll take Reagan any day. But am I totally and completely relaxed on the subject? No, of course not."
Reagan says he wants to launch a new manned bomber, deploy the neutron bomb in Western Europe, and move ahead with the MX missile. He has consistently opposed a peacetime draft, favoring instead increased pay and benefits to recruit and retain an improved voluntary military force. He opposes the SALT II treaty and probably would not discuss arms limitation until the US had achieved a "margin of safety" over the Soviet Union.
What troubles many people is that this margin of safety is not defined by Reagan, nor is the way he would utilize it as commander in chief. He has, at various times, suggested sending US troops to Angola or Egypt. When the Soviet invaded Afghanistan, he talked of blockading Cuba in retaliation. At the same time, his advisers insist he would not have gotten the US as singularly involved in Vietnam as did previous presidents. While the US aim in the Vietnam war was "noble," he feels, President Eisenhower's warning about not engaging in an Asian land war should have been heeded.
Reagan and his advisers talk a great deal about more closely involving US allies in Western foreign policy goals. But others note that the goals of France, West Germany, or Japan are not necessarily the same as those of the US. A 'sagebrush rebel'm
Reagan was a high-school and college football lineman -- he still loves the game -- and it is easy to imagine him seeing the US position in the world today in similar terms. As he learned back at North High School in Dixon, Ill., and at Eureka College, a man playing guard or tackle is less apt to get hurt if he aggressively charges the opponent rather than holding back.
If American foreign policy under President Ronald Reagan remains somewhat unclear, domestic objectives are more easily perceived.
He would want to eliminate the Departments of Energy and Education, along with some other federal agencies, such as OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). He opposes federal health insurance and wants to do away with the minimum wage for teenagers.
Welfare programs, he says, should be shifted to the states along with the sources of funding. His answers to questions about how this would be done remain fuzzy, particularly on just how the states would raise the necessary monies and which federal funding sources would be reduced in order to make this possible without increasing the total tax burden. If some states choose to take an especially hard line with those seeking social services, he has said, welfare recipients can "vote with their feet" and move elsewhere.
On energy, Reagan would lift the federally imposed 55 m.p.h. speed limit, promote greater development of nuclear power plants (including controversial breeder reactors), and push for more production of coal. He would allow exemptions to the oil, windfall profits tax and ease environmental restraints on developing domestic energy resources.
He has toned down his exorbitant claims about domestic oil and gas potential (those claims having been disputed by the industry itself). But he thinks in any case that giving private energy companies as free a rein as possible is the key to solving the country's energy problems.
Reagan has declared himself to be a "sagebrush rebel" and probably would work to ease federal control of undeveloped lands, particularly in the West. This could include a marked shift in the current federal emphasis on protecting much of Alaskan wilderness areas administered by the US Forest Service and Bureau of LAnd Management, and offshore areas with oil development potential.
Environmental groups have expressed anxiety about a Reagan presidency. But as Reagan's supporters accurately point out, he had a relatively good environmental record in California. His personal love of the outdoors is no less than Jimmy Carter's.
Reagan's answer to big-city problems is "free enterprise zones" in which taxes and government regulations would be reduced to encourage development of new businesses.
He opposes the Equal Rights Amendment for women and initially opposed the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 (although he now says that in retrospect it probably has been worthwhile). He has talked about "states' rights" in the current campaign and has long opposed busing to end school segregation.
One would thus not expect to find new federal "affirmative action" initiatives in a Reagan administration. Especially on his Southern campaign forays, the candidate has criticized the Internal Revenue Service for its policies regarding the private and church schools that some critics regard as "segregation academies." He would have such schools remain tax-exempt.
While Reagan's goals may be clearer in the domestic area than in foreign policy, just how much he might accomplish is debateable.He would need the agreement of lawmakers, for example, to change federal tax laws or abolish major government agencies. It is Congress, not the President, that designates national wilderness areas.
Just as important in fathoming a future Reagan presidency is his proven potential for compromise, his tendency to act pragmatically rather than ideologically, and his capacity to surprise even his opponents with the reasonableness of his actions. But once again, one must often cut through the Reagan rhetoric to find this more solid core.
"I think you might be surprised at the extent to which he would appoint blacks, Mexican-Americans, and women," says one-time Reaganite Paul Haerle (now on the outs for having supported other Republicans in 1976 and 1980). "Reagan can open up -- just as Nixon could go to China and Kennedy or Johnson couldn't -- a rapprochement a gauche,m an opening to the left."
"There are a lot of differences between Reagan and Goldwater," observes Lawrence Chickering, director of the Institute for Contemporary Studies in San Francisco and a Reagan staffer during the second Sacramento term. "I think Reagan has been deeply influenced by the neo-conservatism, which is much more reasonable and progressive. To say that he would "repeal the New Deal' I think is very unfair."
"He'll be very practical," predicts respected Sacramento editor Salzman. "He won't make the liberals very happy, but I think he'll anger the right-wing Republicans more than anything else. I don't think the Jesse Helmses around will be very happy with Reagan."
Ronald Reagan is thus more interesting and complex than his crudely drawn caricatures -- flattering as well as insulting -- would indicate. Like his adopted home state of California, he has over his life strongly expressed the sometimes sharply contrasting characteristics of his country. Like his pre-political acting profession, he has reflected -- at times slightly out of focus, but essentially in valid patterns -- what many of his countrymen and women have felt. For better or for worse, he is (as a close friend says) "a very American man." His felow Americans will have to decide whether or not he finally gets a chance to lead them.