Reagan is in charge
Ever since Edwin Meese failed to awaken the President when the US jets shot down the Libyan jets, the story has spread and become an accepted fact in some circles here: that Mr. Reagan isn't in charge; that, in effect, presidential advisers make the decisions.Skip to next paragraph
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Thus, White House Counselor Meese is sometimes referred to as ''President Meese,'' and Chief of Staff James Baker is sometimes called ''President Baker.'' And the third member of the top troika of presidential advisers, Michael Deaver, is sometimes accused of running the presidency even more than his two colleagues.
The Meese failure to report the Libyan jet incident was probably a mistake. It happened while the President was taking his extended vacation last summer.
While Reagan and those around him were not making a point of it, the fact was that the President was still recuperating from his bullet wound. He still needed a little more rest than he normally would. Thus, Meese was going out of his way not to disturb Reagan. He isn't likely to be that considerate again.
This picture of a rather spineless President, being maneuvered and shaped by those around him, hasn't become conventional wisdom here. But among presidential watchers this view does have its advocates.
And some in the media seem eager for the opportunity to cite new evidence to back up the view they have embraced: that this is a President who leans far too heavily on those he has appointed to assist him.
So before fiction becomes accepted as fact it seems a good moment to set the record straight. This President, unlike some other presidents, and particularly unlike Jimmy Carter, is a man who delegates. He refuses to let himself get bogged down in details.
He sees himself as the decisionmaker. And, as he did as governor of California, he likes to have issues thoroughly researched and then discussed and , perhaps, debated in his presence. Then he decides. Not usually on the spot. Normally he takes some time to chew over the matter before announcing what he wants done.
What some people fail to see, it seems, is that Ronald Reagan, despite his modest, aw-shucks approach, makes very sure that he is the big star in his presidential production.
Unlike previous administrations of our memory there are very few additional stars in this President's firmament.
It's the President who always has the spotlight on him. And he shares it sparingly with his aides, first one then another. In other administrations there have been superstars, often in the cabinet. No one yet has climbed to that status under Reagan.
Secretary Haig gets a lot of attention. But not like a Dulles or a Kissinger or even a Brzezinski. Secretary Weinberger has his days in the sun. But there are many days when he is not at center stage.
It's the President who very clearly is in the center of shaping foreign policy. It's Reagan who is dealing with Begin. It's Reagan who is dealing with Brezhnev.
And has there ever been any doubt the President has been the prime mover in putting his economic program together - and getting it through Congress? Stockman, Regan and Weidenbaum have played their roles too. But always secondary to the President.
The White House troika does a splendid job of coordinating and administrating. Baker, Meese and Deaver are trusted aides whose judgment the President respects - and sometimes follows. And now the President is relying very heavily on his long-time associate and new national security adviser, William P. Clark.
But no one is pushing this President around. He's making the moves. The good ones and the bad. The jury is out on whether he is effectively moving the nation forward. But in the end he should get the credit - or the debit, he's running the shop.