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Former Johnson press aide looks at Reagan

By Godfrey Sperling Jr., Staff correspondent of The Christian Science MonitorGodfrey Sperling, the Monitor's Washington bureau chief, has held breakfasts for reporters featuring key national and international figures for the past 16 years. The Monitor carries an occasional column based on these breakfasts. / October 22, 1982



Washington

Although George Reedy, a political analyst of high standing, spent many years working for Democrats, he sees Ronald Reagan as a ''rather able President'' who is rolling toward reelection in 1984.

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But Mr. Reedy says he thinks that the President committed a major blunder by turning his so-called nonpolitical speech on the economy last week into what has been widely interpreted as an extremely political television ''pitch.''

''Ronald Reagan got hurt more by that one speech than by anything that has happened to him,'' says Reedy, one-time press secretary to Lyndon Johnson and now a faculty member at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

''For the first time,'' Reedy added, ''I'm beginning to hear some mutterings against Reagan because of that speech. There's a lot of unemployment in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. But up until now the people have not expressed anti-Reagan feelings.''

Many people, according to Reedy, felt that Reagan was ''playing politics'' with what was supposed to be a presidential speech - ''and they felt the President shouldn't do that.''

''Also,'' he said, ''there are a lot of Polish people in Milwaukee. And they are opposed to the present Polish government. But they didn't like the President (in another recent speech) talking about those bums running Poland. They don't think a president should talk like that. They think the President should avoid personalities.''

Reedy is the author of a newly published book, ''Lyndon B. Johnson: Memoirs.'' Although he was long associated with the Texan, both when Mr. Johnson was in the Senate and the presidency, Reedy obviously had a love and hate relationship with his former boss.

''I think,'' Reedy said, ''that Johnson will turn out to be the most fascinating President of the 20th century. He had so many contradictions. He was insufferable personally. But he could also be so attractive.

''I think that every week for the 15 years I worked for Johnson I made up my mind I would quit. Then he would do something that I found attractive or exciting - like in 1955 when he decided to get behind the civil rights issue - and I would stay on and take more abuse.''

Reedy said that ''despite Vietnam,'' Johnson ''still gets a very high rating'' as a president. ''The major job of a president is to provide leadership ,'' said Reedy. ''And by coming in at a crucial moment - with the assassination of (John F.) Kennedy - and bringing the country together, Johnson provided this leadership.

''Also, he will be remembered for breaking ground for civil rights. He gave 10 percent of the American people the feeling that the doors to redress were not closed.''

Why the deepening involvement in Vietnam that Johnson was responsible for, asked a reporter.

''I think,'' said Reedy, ''that Johnson felt that by following Kennedy's policies in Vietnam, he was reassuring the American people.''

But why didn't Johnson change his policy in Vietnam when he saw where it was taking the country? ''The most worrisome aspect of the United States system of government is the virtual impossibility of getting such a reversal. That's where the parliamentary system would work better.''

But earlier a reporter had asked if Reedy thought the United States should change to the parliamentary system. ''I used to think so,'' he said. ''But I've changed my mind. I have decided that our system is more resilient than I once thought. I've also noted that by evolution we have developed ways of changing our system without doing it formally.''

Reedy said about Reagan: ''He's a rather able man. He certainly surprised me. He succeeded in reversing a trend, although not very far. He's done just about everything he can do. He has no positive programs. But neither do the Democrats. He can be elected again, unless something happens.''

Reedy said he doesn't see any of the potential Democratic candidates being able to beat Reagan.

Reedy also didn't see any great Democratic sweep in the the fall elections. He said that even in the academic community - where one might well look for strong, emotional antagonism to Reagan - ''there is only apathy today."