Mr. Watt, interest rates, and battleships
It's time to notice that some people named Reagan seem to be enjoying a stretch of political fortune which used to be attributed to ''the luck of the Irish.''Skip to next paragraph
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Take, for example, the case of James Watt.
Mr. Watt has made a political ''misstep.'' It was quite a misstep. It caused seven (at the latest count) Republican senators to join a phalanx of Democrats in calling for Mr. Watt's resignation.
But does it really bother President Ronald Reagan in the White House? No, of course not. He is in the happy position of being relatively unhurt whether Mr. Watt chooses to resign or brazen it out.
Mr. Watt is important to one segment of the basic Reagan constituency - to those people who want to use public lands more freely for grazing, finding coal, and hunting for oil - the people environmentalists call ''plunderers'' of the public lands.
Suppose the White House chooses to let Mr. Watt go in order to appease those Republicans who are embarrassed by Mr. Watt. Will the ''plunderers'' then turn against Mr. Reagan and vote Democratic next year?
Certainly not. The Democratic Party is fixed now as the party of environmentalism, of public parks, of conservation of the public lands. The Sierra Club belongs to the Democrats. Its members did not embrace the Republican cause in 1980 and will not in 1984 even if Mr. Watt were to be fired.
The reverse side of that coin is that the cattle, coal, and oil interests have no place else to go. Even if Mr. Reagan abandons their personal representative in the cabinet they know that their interests will be better off in the hands of some other Reagan appointee than they would be in the hands of any Democrat.
So Mr. Reagan is not going to lose the votes of the defenders of wildlife and the public lands (which he never had anyway) by keeping Mr. Watt or lose the votes (and campaign contributions) of the grazers and the coal and oil interests by abandoning Mr. Watt. They have no place else to go.
True, off on the far right of the political spectrum there are a few who mutter about founding a new ''conservative'' party. But the number and weight of such is not enough to cause a minute's loss of sleep at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee.
Next, glance at the state of the economy. Most of the country's top economists, including some inside the White House itself, have been warning that failure to balance the budget, or at least offer a prospect of declining deficits beginning in 1985, would mean a disastrous revival of inflation and high interest rates. Perhaps the economic pessimists will be proved correct in another year. But so far economic recovery is remarkably impressive, but without serious revival of inflation and only a modest rise in interest rates.
Jimmy Carter did a better job than Mr. Reagan in keeping down the federal deficit, and got galloping inflation for his pains. Mr. Reagan ignores a galloping federal deficit, and the economy appears, so far, to enjoy the climate.
Then in the matter of foreign policy everything seemed to go wrong for Mr. Carter. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, which outraged the civilized world, and Mr. Carter exp2essed that sense of outrage by slapping them with the one economic sanction which might really pinch the Soviet economy. He cut down on grain sales. But he got no thanks from home. He lost more votes from angry farmers than he won from angry anti-Soviets.
Now we have public anger over the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 7 by the Soviets. There is deep resentment that it happened. President Reagan reflected that anger and resentment with vivid rhetoric, but no sanctions which might pinch. Does it hurt him or his policies? Not at all. His arms program is greased in Congress. Real opposition has all but evaporated. His anti-Soviet posture in foreign policy is made more acceptable among the overseas allies. And the farmers are content.
Mr. Carter had the misfortune to be president when the Iranians seized the American Embassy in Tehran. He authorized a bold effort to free the hostages. It failed. Mr. Carter suffered politically at home both because Iran seized the embassy and because the rescue effort failed.
Mr. Reagan sent the Marines into Lebanon in what looked like a dangerous gamble and even had them shooting at Arabs in the hills. But just as the battleship New Jersey arrived off Beirut the Arabs agreed to a cease-fire.
If that isn't ''the luck of the Irish'' then, what is it?