Washington — A lot of people, Particularly Democrats, laughed when Reagan cited FDR in his acceptance speech and let it be known that he had been and still was an admirer of the Democratic leader.
They saw it as something approaching sacrilege for Reagan to preach his conservative doctrine and, at the same time, claim an abiding respect and affection for Roosevelt that had their origins back when Reagan was a young man.
Yet, as Reagan shows his mastery of Congress and takes control of the economic direction of the nation, even some leading Democrats have become believers in the Reagan-Roosevelt linkage.
"Reagan is a strong, Franklin Roosevelt Democrat," says Sen. Henry Jackson. "He's studied Roosevelt. He admires Roosevelt. He understands the need for good leadership. He knows how to communicate. He knows he must strike when the iron is hot. Today we are seeing a replay of the techniques Roosevelt used."
Reagan sees himself as a pragmatist, not an ideologue -- and we views FDR in the same light.
When Reagan supported Roosevelt years ago, he felt that FDR was doing what was necessary for the country at that time. But Reagan notes that Roosevelt held a conservative position before taking over the White House, pledging, for example, to cut back federal spending some 20 percent.
Reagan goes on to emphasize that Roosevelt did not begin his experiment with social legislation until assuming office and seeing clearly that something new must be tried.
Back in the 1930s Reagan believed that much of what Roosevelt was doing was needed. He still hails FDR for doing it. And he describes Roosevelt's presidential performance as a masterful one.
But Reagan has told friends that he believes that Roosevelt's pragmatism, like his own, might well have turned him in another direction by now. That is, he thinks that, were FDR freshly coming on the presidential scene today, he would be moving (as Reagan is) toward cutting government spending order to turn the economy around.
William Clark, one of the President's closest friends and allies and now deputy secretary of state, recently made the case that Reagan is a man who is interested in getting things done -- and not in ideology. He cited the Reagan appointment of Sandra O'Connor to the bench, a choice that has rankled farrighters. Reagan met with O'Connor, decided she would make a superb justice -- and that was that.
Sure, Clark told reporters, Reagan satisfied himself that O'Connor was compatible with his objectives. But in no way did he insist that she pass some an ideological test.
Clark said that just as O'Connor's appointment surprised many people, liberals and conservatives, so would many important decisions Reagan makes continue to astonish those Americans who expect the President to follow some easily traced ideological path. He said that something few people noted, even when Reagan was governor, was that there was an independent streak in Reagan, one that made him unpredictable.
"Then there will be more surprises from Reagan?" a reporter asked. "Actually , I wouldn't really call them surprises," said Clark. Reagan's decisionmaking process was simply one in which he sought "the best answer" and endeavored to shut out all other considerations.
Others who work closely with Reagan, like Baker and Meese, also stress this independent, nondoctrinaire, nonphilosophical side of the President.
But is Reagan correct in concluding that FDR was also rather nonideological, focusing mainly on trying to find some means of pulling the nation out of the Great Depression? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Certainly before long FDR sounded like a dedicated liberal implementing a humanitarian point of view, a true ideologue.
Is Reagan another FDR in terms of the impact he will make on this nation? This is a difficult concept for long-time admirers of Roosevelt to embrace at a moment when Reagan is presiding over a counterrevolution that is aimed at curbing and doing a lot of damage to Roosevelt's New Dea l. It is also much too early to make such a judgment.