Reagan meets the press: an 'oh-shucks act?'
Washington — The President was at his beguiling best, said his admirers. More style than substance, said the critics. Former Carter administration press secretary Jody Powell called it, with grudging admiration, "the best oh-shucks country act going -- much better than we could do when we were here."
These were some of the impressions of veteran observers of political Washington following Ronald Reagan's meeting with the press June 16, his first since the assassination attempt against him in late March. Other views:
* The assassination attempt has not visibly reduced his health of energy.
* As his battle with Congress intensifies and problems -- particularly abroad -- begin to mount, there is no evidence he is feeling any pressure.
"More than anything else," one observer said, "Reagan showed that he loves being President -- that he loves the conflict and that the can handle adversity with poise."
* Once again he showed he is the master of the art of political performing. He was particularly adept at the use of understatement, as when he was asked how he felt after the assassination attempt.
"If I'm a medical miracle, I'm a happy one," he said. He went on to say there have been changes in presidential security since the shooting, but he still wants to meet people. "You can't," he added, "spend your life worrying."
He didn't make light of the incident. But he stayed well away from playing the scene in an emotional way.
* While maintaining a jovial tone, he managed to be tough with congressional Democrats opposing his tax-cut and spending-reduction proposals.
He somehow brought a note of warmth into his voice even as he accused Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D) of Massachusetts of "sheer demagoguery" for saying Mr. Reagan did not understanding the plight of the poor.
The issue arose after the news conference had formally ended. Reagan pulled out a few emotional stops; he talked of growing up not in a neighborhood "on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, but . . . so close to them we could hear the whistle real loud." But in talking tough, Reagan still came through as finally giving in to the impulse to turn on his critics only because he was pushed to do so.
* Critics who thought his message relatively bland had to concede that his comments on communism were anything but that.
He said the "beginning of the end" is in sight for international communism, adding: "I think it is impossible . . . for any form of government to completely deny freedom to the people. I think the things we are seeing in Poland and the word coming out of Russia itself show that communism is an aberration."
* The President was persuasive -- even when taking positions the observers didn't agree with.
"Take gun control," said one. "I'm for it. But by the time he got through explaining why he was against it, I found myself saying, 'That does make some sense. Could it be that he's right?'"
Reagan said he is opposed to gun-control because they are "virtually unenforceable" and divert attention from better ways to fight crime. He noted the District of Columbia has tough gun-control measures, but that they did n ot prevent the assassination attempt.