It would have been remarkable enough for a President to make any kind of appearance before Congress a month after being hospitalized by a would-be assassin. It was extraordinary for President Reagan to use the occasion for a speech of style and substance choosing between specific legislative alternatives. Even the remaining critics of the substance must find the style creating an atmosphere for the rejuvenation of America.
Here was a victim of so-called made-in-America violence correcting any impression that the shooting was evidence of a "sick society." Here was a partisan of sharply debated proposals thanking Congress for its fairness and cooperation. Here was a Chief Executive radiating a sense of the branches of government belonging to the same tree, a sense of all Americans facing "our" problems and pursuing "our" achievements rather than simply yours and mine.
Politics? Yes. But there are politics and politics. A political appeal to the things that unite citizens is better than a political appeal to those that divide them. If the tone set by Mr. Reagan is matched with actions in these next years, individual Americans will be continuingly encouraged to hold up their end of "our" enterprise. Indeed, even before the current governmental decisions are completed, citizens can maintain and enhance responsible personal and business attitudes to help the country right now.
The Reagan economic program is not home free. There are questions about the reshuffling of budget figures that brought conservative Republican hold-outs back into the Senate fold. As the House goes into its days of decision, mainstream Democrats will argue for their spending-and-tax mix against the bipartisan conservative option supported by the President -- and, indeed, giving him "103 percent" of what he wanted, in the phrase of a White House aide. Tomorrow an editorial in these columns will discuss some of the tough choices for taxpayers raised by the Reagan package.
But basically the President is in tune with history when he calls for something new and challenging rather than "the old comfortable way . . . to shave a little here and add a little there." The applause from Congress at this point in Tuesday night's speech ought to be echoed across the land. If the people ever did have that "malaise" of recent years, they have snapped out of it or are ready to.
"We have always reached for a new spirit and aimed at a higher goal."m
It's what Americans need to be reminded of as they cope with mundane necessities and hang onto ideals of equity and compassion.
"We have much greatness before us."m
It's the direction in which others besides Americans might redirect their gaze.