America's quiet revolt
Washington — The veteran newsman was commenting on FDR and how he was able to bring about a social revolution back in the 1930s. "People were numb in those days," he said. "So it was relatively easy for Roosevelt to reshape our country. People were desperate. All he had to do was to respond -- with something."
"But," he stressed, "here Reagan is, presiding over his own revolution, cutting deeply into all of these social programs and making all these changes, without the people being in circumstances that are desperate. It's amazing."
It's true, of course. Reagan is turning things around at a time when Americans are relatively content. What is astonishing, too, is how slow the liberals have been to complain about the President's actions. Even now, when most of Mr. Reagan's economic package is well on its way to being enacted, the very people who hailed the FDR tide of social legislation and the programs which followed, mainly under Johnson, are protesting in rather tepid tones.
Granted, the Americans for Democratic Action, meeting here the other day, uttered some cries of anguish. One speaker said the President was "rebuking compassion and decency." And several members said the President would hear from the voters next years. But the ADA didn't make much of a splash in the media.
Also, the US Commission on Civil Rights has charged that the Reagan program may bring about a serious reversal in gains made toward reducing discrimination against minorities. This message is in a new report that might be ringing a lot of bells. But the report has not been given much attention, by press or public.
Black leaders, too, have been trying to sound an alarm. But their voices do not seem to have been heard much either.
The President apparently has been able to mute some of the dissent from low-income blacks and other poor people by arguing that they, too, will be helped by a strengthened economy.
But the question persists: how is the President able to conduct a peaceful counterrevolution at a moment when the American people are relatively well off, relatively content?
Columnist Joseph Kraft calls it "Reagan luck." Arthur H. Miller, a senior study director of the 1980 American national election survey at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, says it is by way of an "invented mandate, that Reagan is steam- rollering Congress by a consensus that doesn't exist."
One explanation for what some reporters refer to as the "Reagan phenomenon" of success that has marked the President's first five months in office in this:
There is, indeed, a revolt going on in the country, but it is a quiet one, a restrained one. Without shouting too much about it people of all walks of life, including the poor, have become fed up with the economy, particularly with rising prices.
This widespread unhappiness was not evident in the overwhelming majority of popular votes for Reagan, although he did win a landslide electoral margin. But the feeling in the air at the time of the election was that Americans generally wanted a change and they wanted it badly. They longed for someone who could lead them out of the economic morass.
Not all of those who felt this way voted for Reagan. Many voted unenthusiastically for Carter, hoping he would change for the better. But many were Democrats who simply could not bring themselves to vote Republican or for Carter. So they voted either for Anderson or some third-party candidate or joined the particularly large group of nonvoters.
So, beyond those who were and still are supporters of the President is another large group of Americans who are behind Mr. Reagan to the extent that they now are willing to give him and his economic program a chance.
This may not be a mandate. Perhaps, as some liberals suggest, it reflects more a political vacuum in the country. But it does seem to be out of the desire for change that the President is fashionin g his counter- revolution.