Off to a good start
Washington — The Reagan presidency is getting off to a quite auspicious start. It needs to. The ingredients for achieving a far more productive and less competitive relationship between Congress and the White House are clearly at hand.
In the interests of their own political recovery the Democrats need to work in substantial cooperation with President Reagan and, in order to get the critical economic measures he has promised, Reagan needs to earn the support of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
Both need to work more harmoniously with each other than at any time during the past decade if the federal government is to have any good chance of retrieving the trust and confidence of the American people.
That trust -- that faith -- in the functioning of the government has been declining steadily for 20 years. Only 51 percent of the nation's eligible voters decided that it was worthwhile for them to go to the polls last November to choose the president of the United States. The voting turnout declined 13 percent since 1960. That is perilously low to nourish a healthy democracy. The reason it has sagged so precipitately is that the public has substantially come to feel that the government -- Congress and the president together -- has failed to transact the public business competently and on time.
Democrats and Republicans will be risking their political lives if, at this time of crisis and danger, they fail to work together.
Congress and the President will be risking their own public standing and the future of our precious democracy if they fail to put work-well-done ahead of partisan politics.
The circumstances are propitious to do it right.
Ronald Reagan is not a prickly, ultrapartisan politician.
The democratic leaders of the Senate and the House, Senators Robert Byrd. Alan Cranston, and Rep. James Wright, are not prickly, ultrapartisan politicians. It is open to all four of them to join in raising the public esteem of both Congress and the presidency by showing that the government can begin to govern in the spirit of mutual respect and good will that has been long absent.
Retiring President Jimmy Carter has pledged to support President Reagan "to the limits of conscience and conviction" and I think he meant what he said.
Actually, it is appropriate that the hostage agreement was reached at this particular moment. It enables Mr. Carter to leave the Oval Office under favorable circumstances and it enables Mr. Reagan to enter the Oval Office under favorable circumtances.
The best, the most promising precedent for how a Republican president can work effectively with a Democratic Congress is Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1955 to 1961. Eisenhower was looking for results, not partisan advantages, and Senate leader Lyndon Johnson was out to demonstrate that the Democratic Party could be a responsible ally and help make government work. Both succeeded, and Congress and the White House gained in public approval.
It can happen again. Together President Reagan, Senate Republican leader Howard Baker, and Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd can make it succeed. Reagan has shown that he is not the captive of the extreme political right and Bryd has shown that he is not the captive of the extreme political left.That's a good beginning.
Traditional New Deal Democrats in Congress will not have to admit that they were all wrong nor concede that the conservative policies of the Reagan administration will unquestionably turn the economy around. All they will have to do is recognize that the new President deserves to be given a fair opportunity to implement the new directions which the voters overwhelmingly wanted to see tried.
This seems to be the mood of the country. This is one reason the Reagan presidency is getting off to a good start.
Mr. Reagan has used the transition to good purpose. He has put experienced men in the crucial cabinet posts of State, Defense, and CIA. He has surrounded himself with a strong team in the White House. He has begun by cultivating Congress in good faith. He is not fooling himself or the American people that he faces other than the gravest foreign and dom estic problems. That's a worthy beginning.