Off and running; The Reagan team . . .
The Reagan administration seems determined to follow through on its promises to "hit the ground running." Now it will have to show that the flurry of initiatives during its first fortnight represent commitments to action. This means adhering tothe spirit of what the new President has publicly urged on his aides -- that decisions be made for the good of the country rather than the next campaign. If the country perceives this to be the case, the result ought to be good for the next campaign, too. Indeed, in the American system, there should be nothing antithetical between politics and the public interest.
Mr. Reagan gets to the heart of the matter every time he says words like these from his first presidential news conference: "The people are the government. What we create we ought to be able to control." By hitting the ground running, he and his team contribute to a sense of new possibilities for America even in instances where controversy surrounds some of the moves.
To take just one topic from the weekend headlines -- foreign aid -- the reported controversy within the administration itself echoes controversy in Congress and the country. The situation should not be seen merely as a headlined power struggle between budget director David Stockman, favoring deep cuts in foreign aid, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, resisting them in the interests of wise foreign policy. Rather it should be seen as an opportunity for well-warranted reexamination and improvement of foreign aid in the light of increased expert knowledge on how to help others help themselves.
On this and other subjects the process of constructive change can be aided by the weekly informal meetings with reporters which Mr. Reagan intends to have in addition to formal news conferences like the one last week. To read the accounts of such meetings held by Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt, for example, is to see not only how a president can use the press for his purposes but how the press can gain extra understanding to contribute to public discussion.
Mr. Reagan has taken a number of steps whose implementation will need clarification: freezing government hiring, decontrolling oil, holding up various agencies' pending regulations, moving to eliminate the Council on Wage and Price Stability (COWPS). Already there are reports of exceptions to some of these sweeping gestures in the face of complex circumstances.
With the fight against inflation and unemployment so central to the Reagan thrust, the ending of the COWPS voluntary wage-and- price program raises the question of whether anything will be put in its place.Though Mr. Reagan called COWPs a failure, and no one makes great claims for it, the guidelines were observed in many businesses. "Big business was responsive," said Alfred Kahn after leaving his post as head of COWPS last year, and he suggested the not unlikely possibility that things might have been worse without such voluntary restraints.
From his experience Mr. Kahn came to believe in the necessity of an effective wage policy. He advocated taxes tailored to provide incentives for both price and wage restraint. Former COWPS director Barry Bosworth came to the conclusion that mandatory wage- and-price controls were required to avoid major recession. Mr. Reagan rejects such controls. We hope he will make clear in the next weeks how he will attack inflation and unemployment.
To his credit the President is getting quickly off the mark in the program of federal spending cuts and tax cuts that he sees as the basis for long-term solution. To listen to top aides Edwin Meese and James Baker, the economic package is already well underway in Capitol Hill discussion. That should help speed passage when its formal presentation comes this month. Washingtonians note some signs of administrative inexperience, but it does seem as though most of the bases, if not all, are being touched very quickly.
Part of the resulting sense of buoyancy in the land is due to the happy coincidence of the return of the former hostages. There is merit to the view that governmental investigation of the whole hostage situation be kept in the background until the emotions of the moment are past. President Reagan did his part to cool some of the baser instincts being over- publicized when he repeatedly opposed the taking of American revenge on Iran: "i don't think revenge is worthy of us."
What ism worthy of Americans is joining the returnees in getting back to work for productive purposes. This is where the President is starting off so well -- stressing a positive focus for the energies of a ready, willing, and able peo ple.