Where the Reagan revolution should go from here
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Few Americans - indeed, few congressmen - can so much as name more than a handful of the 1,052 programs described in the Office of Management and Budget's 7-pound ``Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.'' But any congressman who votes to cut any program can count on avalanches of mail not only from the program's alleged beneficiaries but also from the legions who administer it and hand out the goodies.Skip to next paragraph
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Can anything really be done in the face of this? Yes, but it's going to require people who not only believe limited government is a nice idea, but who have the determination and know-how to lock horns with the Washington establishment, instead of talking a good game but becoming ``flexible'' at crunch time.
Needed, then, is an administration not just of true believers but of fighters unwilling to be co-opted by a Washington establishment determined to maintain the status quo from which it profits so much at public expense. The Washington spending-machine can't be budged except through all-out war, which means making full use of those who understand the infighting, hardball methods needed to move Congress, and the important policy-implementing role of the White House's communications/information machinery.
The ideal first target for a new administration dedicated to dramatic change could be the budget process itself. Much has been written about the need to give the president line-item-veto authority, so he can strike wasteful pork from large spending bills. Few have had the courage, however, to state the obvious: The president already has this kind of budgetmaking authority. If he doesn't like certain programs funded by the big-spending Congress, he can strike them from his next budget. Then Congress has to justify the expenditure.
But the attack must be mounted on as many fronts as possible. Reagan could have made greater use of his veto power. This not only would have helped control government spending, but would have focused public attention on the real source of the mess: a Congress unwilling to offend middle-class constituencies by controlling the runaway growth of entitlement programs.
One of the great lessons of the Reagan administration can be summed up in three words: people are policy. A president dedicated to change must appoint people who see eye to eye with him on matters of policy, are willing to take the heat, and know only how to fight to win.
This is where the conservative movement's political, polemical, and public relations skills are needed in full. Such liberal legends as FDR, Johnson, and Tip O'Neill knew the importance of these skills. Conservatives must learn to use them as well.
In the long run, the conservative movement's new ideas - its better ideas! - will only be carried out if they are aggressively marketed to every willing listener. We know why things should be changed. And how they should be changed. We must convince the public, the Congress, and the media that change is not only necessary, but for the public good.
We know such change won't unalterably be determined by the next election, or by the departure of a two-term president. Whether an administration makes a lasting impact - one that, like FDR's, lives for decades - depends on its success in changing ideas and attitudes.
Edwin J. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.