What the big winner has to do now
The people have spoken. Ronald Reagan has been overwhelmingly elected and will be President of the United States. Every American, of whatever party or persuasion, owes his loyal support in endeavoring to make his administration a time of peace and prosperity. It will be not only the duty but the interest of every American to support the President- elect as long as he pursues those goals.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On the other hand, it is also the right and duty of Americans to scrutinize carefully Mr. Reagan's policies to reach a sober judgment whether they are in the general American interest, or are only in the Republican Party interest, or are only in the interest of Mr. Reagan's right wing of the party.
Mr. Reagan is no doubt himself keenly aware that the statistics of his "landslide" show that only about 27 percent of Americans eligible to vote cast their ballots for him. About 20 percent voted for Carter, 4 percent for Anderson and the remainder, by not voting at all, for "none of the above." Mr. Reagan must take account of these statistics if he wishes faithfully to represent the American people.
My own judgment is that he owes his victory primarily to three factors: inflation which is hurting everyone badly, compounded by recession and unemployment in some areas; a perception that the United States has lost stature in the world during the past four years, the seizure of the hostages in Iran being the most conspicuous example; and the failure of President Carter to assert convincingly the qualities of leadership, competence, and inspiration essential to a president.
Notice that these three factors do not add up to the widely alleged "swing to the right." They represent rather a lack of confidence in the present administration to cope with pressing problems and a judgment that it is time for a change, just as Carter's election did four years ago. So the vote in 1964 represented a rejection of Goldwater's presumed recklessness, the vote in 1968 a repudiation of Johnson's Vietnam policy, and the landslide victory of Nixon in 1972 an endorsement of his policy of detente.
These rapid swings in American opinion in recent years suggest that the problems of today have become so complex and difficult that no president may any longer be able to satisfy expectations of the American public. We may be in for a series of one-term presidents. The "swing to the right" in 1980 could easily be followed by a "swing to the left" in 1984.
The American public is almost inevitably due for some disillusionment with President Reagan. While he will profit from the normal recovery from recession which is already beginning, there is no way anym president can stop inflation in any near future.
US stature in the world has declined, not because of failures by Carter but because we are no longer in the position of unchallenged power we enjoyed for 20 years after World War II. The Soviet Union, by enormous and probably counterproductive efforts, has forged even with the US militarily. More important, power has been defused around the world to more and more power centers which neither we nor anyone else can control. While the perception of Carter's incompetence is partly a matter of image, more fundamentally it derives from his, or anyone's, inability to overcome the newly emerging domestic and international facts of life.
In order to ease Mr. Reagan's path in foreign affairs, where his hard line raises undeniable anxieties abroad, I would suggest he take two steps immediately before his inauguration. Those most in need of reassurance are our own allies. They are still pursuing detente because they live cheek to jowl with the Soviets and see no alternative. They will grudgingly increase their armaments and agree to emplacement of new intermediate range missiles in Europe onlym if meaningful arms control negotiations are being conducted at the same time. They need to be reassured that Mr. Reagan intends to pursue that course in a practical way, and that he does not seek either unattainable military superiority or humiliating diplomatic victories over the Soviet Union.
For this reason Mr. Reagan would be well advised to dispatch, this month or next, highlevel emissaries to our principal European allies and to Japan, not to explain policies which have probably not been formulated, but to listen attentively to allied views and to reassure them about his general posture. It would be desirable if these emissaries could include his choices for secretaries of state, defense, and treasury.
At the same time well-balanced task forces should be working diligently on the two most urgent foreign policy issues facing the new administration -- first , how to design and proceed with SALT III in a practical way, that is, in a way inducing Soviet cooperation; second, how to strengthen the Western position in the Middle East, in such a way as (1) to assure the continued flow of oil, (2) to reinforce our friends while demonstrating to them that we intend to behave neither like a pitiful helpless giant nor a bull in a china shop, (3) to bring about finally a comprehensive settlement of the destabilizing Arab-Israeli conflict, and (4) to deter the Soviet Union from foolish intervention, without ourselves indulging in measures frightening to our friends.
If these measures, both of reassurance and of preparation, can be successfully accomplished before Jan. 20, the perception of Mr. Reagan as a competent statesman and a potential leader of the free world will be greatly enhanced. If they cannot be, the new administration risks wasting precious months in getting its act in order, and losing the momentum its victory has provided.