9. What kind of president?
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.