President Ronald Reagan is hard at work these days making a $91.5 billion deficit look like an achievement.
According to recent surveys, 41 percent of the people are with him in believing this is an achievement of sorts, or at least the deficit has been achieved through honest and upright support of the military and not through any sneaky allotments to waste and corruption in food stamp programs.
So far, it has been a spectacular effort. The President deserves much credit, although some kudos should go to that man of all seasons, David Stockman. According to their argument, the Republican deficit of $91.5 billion is much cleaner and more acceptable than the crummy $60-odd billion deficit of the Democrats. Anyway, President Carter couldn't make a speech to save his neck. He always made a deficit sound like a deficit.
There remains at least one person unconvinced. House Speaker Tip O'Neill takes a rather typical, sour Democratic view of the administration's effort to make the deficit sound good. He infers this is a budget for the rich. He also alleges President Reagan ''has forgotten his roots.'' We hope this is not an oblique reference to Mr. Reagan dyeing his hair but rather to a poor memory of his humble beginnings as a bit-playing actor.
In either case Speaker Tip O'Neill is wrong. Having watched Mr. Reagan on camera, we believe he is better than ever and find nothing wrong with either his hair or his voice in speaking of times past. In fact he makes President Carter's speeches sound like a farmer adding up his feed bill.
Adding some zest to the debate, Mr. Reagan often says his critics are using theatrics. Since Mr. Reagan is good at this himself, some Democrats consider this a modest compliment, but it is surely not intended as such. The Democrats haven't had a good actor since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Even actor Ronald Reagan never won an Oscar back in his Hollywood days. Today things could be different. If he can persuade the public, currently plagued by unemployment, inflation, and a snowy winter, that the balanced budget offered for 1984, which will turn out to be an $83 billion deficit instead, is his crowning achievement, he could win an Oscar with his second term.
He has learned his lines well. He can even coin a clever ad-lib or two when the occasion demands, such as ''Put up or shut up.''
And Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill will probably do neither.