Americans look at Reagan and like what they see
Washington — As President Reagan moves toward a showdown with special-interest groups on his spending cut program, he stands particularly high in public favor. Hence, he is well-positioned politically to make his proposals, to be detailed at midweek, stick -- at least in large part.
From conversations with political leaders, in Washington as well as around the United States, a Monitor assessment of Mr. Reagan's political standing comes down to this:
* The public generally is well satisfied that the new President has taken hold of his job quickly and effectively, these leaders are finding.
As would be expected, a large segment of the public maintains a "wait and see" attitude.
That is, while most Americans (77 percent by one recent opinion poll) applaud Reagan's start in the Oval Office, they naturally are withholding judgment on his plans and strategy until they see how -- or if -- he is able to put them into effect.
"But it goes beyond that," one Midwestern Republican leader says. "An awful lot of people who wish Reagan well and hope for the best think he may be chopped up by the Washington bureaucracy and other political power elements when he tries to implement his plans."
Further, many Americans, while cheering Reagan on, aren't convinced that, even if he is able to win substantial reductions in federal government expenditures and to couple that with a big income tax cut, this will be enough -- or even the right course of action to slow inflation effectively.
* The public is particularly happy with the way the President has dealt with foreign policy thus far. His tough talk to the Soviets wins widespread approval from Americans who feel their country must somehow regain respect from other nations.
But more than that, people everywhere -- it seems -- have become convinced that the Soviets have gained an arms edge over the United States. Therefore, they like Reagan's announced intention to build up the US defense capacity -- to provide more money for arms while slashing government expenditures elsewhere.
* Americans generally also approve of what might best be described as the "Reagan style." They find him likeable, good-humored, yet dignified.
They are enjoying a president who is quick with a good quip and who can somehow still look presidential while handing out jelly beans.
* There is widespread approval of Reagan's efforts to build good relations with those who will have a powerful influence on whether he succeeds with his initiatives -- Congress and the press.
"He's beautiful," a key Democratic politician here says. "I was against him, of course. But I have to say he certainly is doing the right things in Washington. He's even made the right overtures to the leaders in the Washington community. That's more than Carter did."
Reagan, in dealing with the press, is trying to usher in an era of civility -- a civility that once prevailed before Watergate.
Furthermore, in the President's first press conference and in the daily press briefings by press secretary James Brady there is a new atmosphere -- much more courtesy, much less hostility.
Reagan also has gone out of his way to court Congress. This effort has extended to Democrats as well as Republicans. "He has them eating out of his hands," one Democratic congressman says.
Thus, as Reagan moves toward his first big test, he seems to have the public behind him and the political opposition here softened just enough to build expectations in Washington that he may be successful -- or at least substantially successful in getting his economy-related initiatives put into legislation.