Ronald Reagan is off to a creditable start. Although the imbroglio over his running mate injected a shaky and bizarre moment at the convention, Mr. Reagan recovered himself well and chose for the ticket a man who should benefit him politically. He delivered an extremely effective speech -- invoking down-to-earth virtues and setting broad goals designed to appeal to all Americans. He left Republicans with a euphoric feeling of unity and upcoming victory, whatever tha persisting ideological divsions in GOP ranks.
To the extent that Governor Reagan conveys an exuberant sense that America can deal with its vexing problems adn energe more self-confident at home and broad, his candidacy is bound to be attractive. But it is to be hoped the public will demand more than "atmosphere" and "personality." All the candidates will need to enhance voters' understanding of the issues and get beyond the generalities and hyperbole.
This is especially so given the fact that in Jimmy Carter (assuming his renomination), John Anderson, and Ronald Reagan voters will have candidates of earnest and good intentions. Mr. Carter came into the presidency with many of the same goals -- cut the federal bureaucracy, make government more efficient, give America a new faith in itself. He has learned from experience that budging Washington is far more difficult than he anticipated. The question is, does Mr. Reagan really understand the world we live in? He will have to persuade Americans he is not as naive as his statements sometimes suggest.
Mr. Reagan says, for instance, that US defense strength is "at its lowest ebb in a generation" (a questionable statement in itself) and calls for a sizeable buildup. He has yet to specify what new weapons he would buy or what would be involved to achieve US "superiority." The concept itself is debatable. How would such a policy deter Moscow from accelerating its own defense program or avoid an unmanageable arms race? Mr. Reagan indicates his willingness to seek a better arms control treaty with the Soviets but does not explain how any great power would negotiate from a position of "inferiority." It was not, after all, until the Soviet Union achieved a certain parity with the US that it was willing to negotiate at all.
In this connection, some may see an incomsistency in Mr. Reagan's hard-line view on the Soviet Union and his denunciation of Washington's handling of diplomatic recognition of China. Does he understand the importance of Peking as a strategic counterweight to growing Soviet military might? Other positions, too -- such as opposition to the Panama Canal "giveaway" and unqualified support for Israel -- similarly raise doubts about Mr. Reagan's old-time view of the world, especially the third world. Does he believe the US can ignore the rising aspirations of Palestinians, South Africa's blacks, and millions of other people? Can US military might alone address the social and economic upheavals in such countries as Iran? How does he intend to deal in a world in which neither superpower is able to hold sway, in which both are challenged by local nationalism?
On the domestic front, too, a thoughtful examination of Mr. Reagan's positions is called for. It remains a mystery that he believes he can increase defense spending, reduce income taxes by 30 percent over three years, and lower inflation. To most economists, including informed Republican opinion, that is nonsense. His energy platform also needs refining. Mr. Reagan believes "large amounts of oil and natural gas [lie] beneath our land off our shores untouched" because of government controls. Yet many experts believe that, even with full decontrol of prices, there is not enough oil in the ground to come close to replacing what the US gets from overseas.
It would be a mistake to assume Governor Reagan is inflexible on the issues he addresses. His record in California and his management of the Republican convention itself indicate he is not the hideout ideologue many make him out to be. His reputation for pragmatism is well-documented. It would also be a mistake to dismiss the personality issue and that intangible issue of leadership quality which are certain to be major factors as voters make up their minds.
Our concern is simply that the public not let emotion and partisan fervor overshadow a calm and dispassionate probing of the issues. The questions of war and peace, especially, are too complex and too crucial to be left to simple solutions and easy slogans. Mr. Reagan has to show he is doing his homework.