GOP hoists new colors of optimism
Washington — As the flag rises on a Reagan presidency, a change in the nation's spirits and tone, more than marked improvement in economic and social conditions, is expected by political experts.
* half-dozen political scholars, some with firsthand knowledge of the Reagan years as governor of California, shared these expectations with the Monitor:
* Ronald Reagan may find less leverage in Congress for passing the centerpiece of his domestic program -- his economic package of tax cuts, budget cuts, and regulatory reforms -- than his big victory margin might suggest.
* Ironically, he may enjoy greater patience with the public in showing results, having promised far less during his campaign -- by actual count -- than Jimmy Carter did four years ago.
* The Democrats now may be so tarred with the onus of deficits and inflation that tardy Republican economic gains might not keep Reagan from reelection in 1984.
* A Reagan drive to turn federal programs, such as welfare, over to state and local units "closer to the people" could prove the most imaginative and historically "Reaganesque" feature of the Californian's administration.
* Unlike the beleaguered Carter administration, whose striving seemed to depress the national spirit, Reagan's expected efforts to voice positive themes and American values may help the public feel better about themselves and their country -- setting a more comfortable style for conduct in adversity.
Reagan may disappoint less, it is suggested, because less is expected of him. A Gallup poll shows Americans think inflation will continue at more than 13 percent to the end of 1981 and that unemployment will hold over 7 percent. In January 1977, however, three-fifths of the public thought Mr. Carter would reduce inflation and two-thirds thought he would cut unemployment by the end of his first year.
Carter inflated his own expectations problem by cataloging his campaign promises, which made it easy for his opponents to measure his achievements. He made more promises than any other recent major candidate, says Jeff Fishel, American University specialist in White house promises. By contrast, he says, "Reagan has made the fewestm campaign promises, and they tended to be less concrete and more ambiguous than any other major candidate."
Carter actually delivered on two-thirds of his promises, but that wasn't enough to offset the image of failure. Reagan es expected to keep policy pronouncement vague, leaving his staff to pare back detailed goals as the realities of compromise with Congress and changing conditions are faced.
"I don't think he'll get that total economic package through," says Frances Carney, a University of California at Riverside political scientist. "He might get the 10 percent tax cut this year, but not the 30 percent over three years. Not many in Congress think it's a real possibility.
"And they're not going to be successful in budget-cutting. Eisenhower, Nixon , and Carter couldn't do it. Already the Cabinet secretaries marked for extinction are talking about nonextinction. In California, Reagan didn't do any budget- cutting; he did a tax increase instead."
Reagan's popularity won't depend on "a lot of real accomplishments," predicts Thomas E. Patterson, chairman of Syracuse University's political science department and an expert on presidential imagery.
"A tax cut will likely be enough to save face," Mr. Patterson says. "But in real terms, he's going to have a hard time cutting spending and dealing with the budget. Given the interlocking relations between interest groups and Congress, there's not much prospect existing programs will be rolled back. The Senate, despite new Republican leadership, won't fall into lockstep. In cutting the budget, you're dealing more with the house. It would be better for him if the Republicans had won control of the House."
Yet Reagan could well be "a two-termer," Patterson thinks. He will be able to use the veto or positive political effect, as President Ford did. The Reagan White House will likely fall back on money supply controls to fight inflation, like previous administrations.
"It's important [that] Reagan start off with a major symbolic gesture -- possibly an across-the-board spending cut," Patterson says, "to show he can bite the bullet. After that, there will be problems."
James David Barber, Duke University author on presidential character, sees Reagan's successful campaign device for dramatizing the Carter record coming back to nag him four years hence.
"The criterion Reagan set for Carter -- 'Are you better off or happier today than you were four years ago?' -- will prove a tough criterion for himself," Mr. Barber says.
"I'm really worried about his not having any foreign policy experience," Barber continues. He anticipates possible "adventurism, toughness, and macho abroad" as "emotional compensation" for a more placid business-oriented Republican moderation at home.
California scholar William K. Muir admits to a case of optimism in his view of the Reagan team's prospects.
"I think you have an unusually able administration," says Dr. Muir, chairman of the University of California-Berkeley political science department.
"It's basically a restoration of the Ford administration, which itself was very able. We learn from our failures. Leaders do better with a second chance."
Muir is most fascinated by a potential Reagan role in the regeneration of state and locl government. "I'll be watching the next four to eight years to see if Reagan can achieve his dream of pushing back to the states many of the affairs of the country, to relieve Washington's overburden that has occurred since 1965," he says.
States are better prepared today to run those affairs, Muir contends. Their legislatures meet full time; they have better staffs and better voting pr ocedures.