After the Reagan victory
The nation's voters have given to President-elect Ronald Reagan a valuable set of political tools which should help him begin his administration under favorable circumstances and forge a productive relationship between the White House and Congress.Skip to next paragraph
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They have given him a large popular majority and a massive electoral victory both of which show that the country is substantially united behind the goals to which he is committed.
They have given the Republican Party control of the Senate for the first time since the first two years of the Eisenhower administration.
They have given him a net gain of 32 Republican seats in the House of Representatives and a Congress whose complexion is considerably more conservative -- Democratic and Republican -- than its predecessor. They removed from office all but one of the Democratic New Deal senators who were up for reelection and replaced them with Republicans. President Carter found that having his own party dominating Congress did not in itself guarantee teamwork between the two branches of government. But few presidents have received such an affirmative mandate as Reagan was given by the American people this week. This should help him govern more smoothly from the start.
The special significance of the Reagan victory is that it was achieved primarily because the great majority of American voters found that they were thinking the same things as Mr. Reagan. The arguments which Reagan used against President Carter and the arguments which the President used against Reagan had little to do with how people voted.
For at least a decade the polls, reporting on changing public attitudes in the US, have found public opinion parelleling the positions Reagan had been taking.
During the 1960s and the 1970s the percentage of Americans who thought that "big government" was the major cause of inflation went up from 14 percent to 51 percent by the time of the election.
That was what Reagan had been saying all along.
Common Cause, with a large nationwide membership, made this statement in 1980 : "EVen though you may have known it for some time, more and more Americans are just waking up to this plain and simple truth: The reason the United States govenment cannot solve the urgent problems that are plaguing our country, is because the government is the problem."
This is what Reagan had been saying all along.
On national defense those who favored increased military spending rose from 11 percent in 1971 to 60 percent in 1979.
That was what Reagan favored all along.
In 1974 Americans who favored a more active role for the United States in foreign policy numbered 41 percent. By this fall the number had increased to 61 percent.
That's what Reagan had been advocating all along. To me this means that the large majority of voters perceived Reagan as pretty near to the center of the mainstream of national thinking and all they had to do was to vote their convictions and elect the candidate who was nearest to what they themselves had already come to believe.
Inversely, they must also have sensed that the President was considerably outside the mainstream of public thinking and therefore his aruguments in the campaign fell on responsive ears -- particularly when in the debate he concluded by asking whether voters wanted to abandon a President committed to the goals of the New Deal. Apparently they did.
On the nation's main concerns, it is now clear that most Americans had been changing their minds over the past decade and finally came to rest nearer to where Reagan was already standing than where Carter was standing.
Mr. Reagan himself changed somewhat from the more extreme conservative positions he expounded on the lecture circuit to the more moderately conservative views he reached when he had to deal with the real-life problems of government. Naturally his supporters and his critics wil be watching to see how well he holds to his new convictions when he moves into the Oval Office. I would think that the responsibilities of office would encourage him to do so.
This is a dangerous decade and it seems to me that Ronald Reagan would be wise to create both the mood and substance of a truly bipartisan administration. That is where the political future of the Republican Party rests.