Reagan's era of civility
Washington — Hardly more than a week after President Reagan took office he asked the politically powerful chairman of the House rules committee, Richard Bolling, to come to the White House to confer with him.
On leaving, Mr. Bolling admitted to a reporter that it had been two years before his fellow Democrat, President Carter, had called him for such a meeting.
This is not to suggest that Mr. Bolling has caved in to President Reagan's blandishment. Not at all. He is, indeed, opposing much of the Reagan economic package, particularly the three-year tax-cut proposal.
But it seems fair to say that the Missouri congressman is finding the battle against the amiable, hospitable Mr. Reagan a bit frustrating. "The President is a very pleasant man," Mr. Bolling commented at a breakfast session with reporters the other day. "So he is very difficult to deal with."
Another "old liberal" who, like Bolling, supported the New Deal and New Frontier reforms -- and is most unhappy about them being eroded by the Reagan program -- expresses his frustration in this rather wry way:
"Boy, wouldn't it be great," he said the other day, "to have Nixon back as President again -- someone we can dislike, someone we can enjoy fighting against. It's very disagreeable, very difficult to take on a nice guy like Reagan."
However, Washington Post editorial chief Meg Greenfield comments most favorably on the "lack of personal animus in the administration's way of doing things" and adds:
"What an irony it is that this President, forceful decades-long campaigner against the way of Washington, has appropriated one of the capital's most suspect if recently out-of-fashion habits: cozying up to the opposition, refusing to personalize his quarrels.
"I think it will be a mistake at every level --has paid the price for doing it the other way rejects his offer now."
The President is, no doubt about it, presiding over what more and more Washington observers are calling an era of civility.
Mr. Reagan talks politely to politicians. They talk politely to him. Mr. Reagan talks courteously to reporters, and reporters for the most part have been keeping their voices down when they put their questions to him.
Additionally the conversations between the President and his associates and aides have been marked with a high degree of congeniality.
Tragically, of course, the President's short time in office has been interrupted by the most uncivil of acts. But it has only served to underscore Mr. Reagan's pleasant disposition.
The question that is being raised, however, in this city of numerous cynics is this: does a "nice guy" like Reagan finish first, or is he destined for the lot of nice guys, as Leo Durocher saw it -- to finish last?
President Eisenhower, too, was widely regarded as a "nice guy." Ike had a temper, and many of those who worked for and with him found him quite prickly at times. But the public perception was that of an Eisenhower who was a sweet, smiling, father figure. "I like Ike" seemed to be on almost everyone's tongue as he enjoyed an extraordinary popularity.
In the early years after his presidency Eisenhower was rated by historians as a rather mediocre president. But of late some have been upgrading Ike, moving him from the middle toward the upper bracket.
Gerald Ford was very likeable, too. And he did much to mop up the mess of hatefulness that the Nixon years left behind. His chief accomplishment, a major one, was to bring credibility back to the White House.
But beyond that, Ford really didn't have time to put a lasting, personal stamp on his administration or on the country. He did try valiantly to hold the line on spending. But almost half of his time, the last part of his two-plus years in office, had to be devoted to a large extent to the long primary and general-election campaign.
Jimmy Carter was quite civil, too.But somehow this feeling didn't reach out to Congress or the press. There was an air of independence about Mr. Carter which, while perhaps commendable, did not help him in building relationships with others. Mr. Carter was a private person -- he didn't project too much warmth.
With the advent of Reagan to the presidency a truly "nice guy" has, indeed, taken over the nation's reins. Further, this Reagan personality and style is helping him immensely in holding public supp ort and pushing his programs through Congress.