Ronald Reagan during an interview is most beguiling. Unlike most political figures he doesn't seem to be trying to manipulate the interview -- to put a certain edge on an answer in order to make a headline or to try to dispense some little bits of information that might give the reporter a "story."
Most politicians do this. John Kennedy, Humphrey, Nixon, Johnson, Carter, Bush, Ted Kennedy, and others. They all have little devices by which they seek to use the interview to their own advantage.
But Mr. Reagan seems to be such an innocent. He's filled with earnestness and boyishness and sincerity to the point that one soon forgets how very political he is and has to be to have gotten as far as he has.
But Mr. Reagan is more than a superb politician. He's the leader of a great crusade. He's out to lead a counter-social revolution, to pull the nation away from the direction it has been heading in since FDR.
Further, he's convinced that his views are in tune with what most Americans want today -- and a president who will begin to reshape the United States in a more conservative way.
So Mr. Reagan's passion is his mission -- not issues. And he states his mission the same every time he is interviewed: less federal spending, more government efficiency, less federal aid to the states and localities, fewer taxes.
That's pretty much it. But Mr. Reagan is convinced that's enough. He rode to two terms as governor by pushing a similar less- government thesis. And he's stalking the presidency with the same approach.
"What would you do to persuade moderate Republicans to vote for you?" I asked as we sat up front in his campaign jet, high above Louisiana. His answer: They'll move over to me. I won't have to move over to them. Here again was a reaffirmation of his faith -- that he had what the voters were looking for and would pick up enough support among Democrats, independents, and all varieties of Republicans to win in November.
The main criticism one hears of Mr. Reagan is that he has only simple answers to complex problems. But when you circulate in the big crowds the candidate attracts, you find that they are fully, enthusiastically in favor of trying these less-spending, less-government approaches.
But in Washington, where the ideology of most people seems to have a liberal tilt, one frequently hears expressions of amazement that Ronald Reagan is getting so close to the presidency. People seem mystified that Reagan is able to draw such widespread support.
Yet reporters traveling around the United States these days are not surprised at Reagan's success. For some time now they have observed this growing conservative trend.
Further, they have been reminded on numerous occasions that there still are millions of Americans who have never accepted the social revolution that FDR presided over. An increasing number of people who still call themselves "liberals" and usually align themselves with the Democratic Party are tired of government spending and bureaucracy and see in Reagan someone answering their desires for a president who will stress government frugality.
Also, as several surveys have shown, there has been a tremendous surge of Americans from the lower-income into the middle-income brackets and they now make enough pay to be interested in a president who watches their tax money. Thus, the big crossover vote for Reagan in several state primaries has included thousands of blue-collar workers, many of whom are black.
So it may very well be that Reagan is right in saying that enough people have moved over to his conservative philosophy to put him in the White House.
One Washington cynic says that Reagan, as president, "will be another Harding." But a political pundit saw it another way the other day:
"Let's remember," he said, "that FDR wasn't considered to be a brain, at least not by critics at the time and not by historians. He brought in thoughtful, creative people to run his administration. And he gained his rating as a great president by shifting the country in a socialistic direction while, at the same time, he was avoiding a bloody revolution.
"Now Reagan, with good people around him, just might preside over a shift in the country's direction that historians will later say was badly needed and very beneficial to the people as a whole. We can't rule this out. Reagan turned out to be a pretty good governor. He just might turn out to be a pretty good or even good president."