The public's patience
Washington — Reports from around the United States provide the surprising finding that Americans who were sufficiently aroused to replace a president remain relatively patient even though little has been done to change the conditions which so disturbed them back in November.
The Democratic Senate minority leader, Robert Byrd, was right when he made this assessment of the last election: "I don't think the vote was an expression of ideology. The people voted for a change."
"They wanted less government interference," he told reporters over breakfast. "they wanted less spending. And they wanted to see the United States still a great nation -- and one that was so recognized around the world."
The President has been in office more than four months, and the scene today isn't that much different from what it was during the campaign. Mr. Reagan and Congress are in the process of beefing up defense and the President has talked tough to the Soviets at times -- but nothing has happened that could be singled out as definitely elevating US standing in the eyes of the world.
The President seems to be making progress in putting his spending-cut program forward, but it is still a distance away from enactment. And his tax-cut proposal, 10 percent for each of three successive years, seems destined for cutbacks and reshaping.
With interest rates sky high and inflation (except for a month's pause) still running at what the President as well as the nation sees as an unacceptable rate , it is difficult to find tangible evidence that Mr. Reagan has coped with his economic problems.
The patience of the American people seems related in art to the President and his ability to persuade them that good things are indeed on the way. "The President," says Senator Byrd, "is charming, a man whom the American people see as having leadership qualities. They don't see these qualities as pretense but as presidential." He adds:
"I myself think there is leadership there. He is politician who knows how to get things done."
But something else is involved in this public tranquility. One of the findings of a new poll shows Americans no longer as upset over their property and income taxes as they were only a short time ago. The turbulent '60s and '70 s -- marked by antiwar protests and unhappiness over Watergate -- have been followed, it seems, by the "somewhat contented" '80s.
To be sure, there is a continued public skepticism of leaders which of itself works against this feeling of satisfaction. Yet observers now see a counterforce at work. Americans everywhere, they say, are beginning to be more sophisticated in their knowledge of government. They discern a growing awareness among the electorate not only that was Rome not built in a day but that the job ahead for President Reagan, in both domestic and foreign affairs, is exceedingly difficult and complex and may well take some time to accomplish -- if it can ever be fully accomplished.
This doesn't mean the public's patience won't wear out. The President's people -- Meese, Baker, Stockman, Regan, Weidenbaum, Brock, and others -- say the administration must produce some results on the economy by 1982 or take the risk of arousing some public rancor.
But they also say much "results" won't have to be a full cure for the ailing economy. They say that if the public sees a new Reagan economic approach in place by that time, together with some small evidence it is beginning to turn the economy around, this will be all that is needed to hold the voters behind the President.
This may well be. In any case, a "can-do" President is encouraging this patience by emphasizing that it will take time to change Washington's deeply entrenched ways of dealing with government, the economy, and the rest of the world.