'That nice man in the White House'

"I like Ike" was a view that most Americans shared in the 1950s. Now just about everyone, even his severest critics, seem to find Ronald Reagan to their liking. They see him as good-humored and warm.

Liberal columnist Mary McGrory says the people are under a reagan "spell." She writes: "If you can't send your kid to college because of the cut in the student-loan program, if you can't buy a house because of high-interest rates, you do not blame that nice man in the White House."

But the question now being asked in Washington with increasing persistence is how long this "nice guy" image will last, how long Reagan will be able to charm the folks.

Popularity is a highly suspect quality. Some observers say that, when it relates to leadership, popularity can often be equated with mediocrity. Yet Franklin Roosevelt and Eisenhower were very much loved by most of the eclectorate as long as they were in office. FDR is usually rated near the top among presidents. And Eisenhower's standing as a president is gradually going up.

Polls continue to show Reagan's performance rating at about 60 percent. But they also indicate that the President's popularity remains much higher, up in the 70s.

At the same time many blue-collar workers are beginning to have second thoughts about Reagan. Blacks and Hispanics are finding reasons to reinforce the misgivings they have had. The environmentalists are unhappy about Secretary Watt as well. And from the academic communities, particularly those in the liberal arts disciplines, comes much criticism of Reagan's performance to date.

It is from members of college faculties in fact that the press hears the most criticism of the President. Their letters complain that the media are too easy on Reagan. And many, particularly those from California, say in effect: "Reagan was a bad governor and he is going to be a bad President. When are you going to wise up to him?

Reagan, it can be said, has taken Washington by surprise. The press and the government-worker establishment here were prepared for the Californian to have a brief moment of glory to be followed by an abrupt falloff in popularity as he became ensnarled in problems.

So those who voice the so-called conventional wisdom in this city have been predicting the end of Reagan's honeymoon for some time now. At first it was to last three months. Since then there have been several revisions of this forecast.

Some observers say the respite for Reagan is over. Others say its end is nigh. Still others, having had to eat their words before, more cautiously give the President until the end of the year before the roof falls in on him.

But Reagan has been confounding his critics (and the forecasters) not only by being so personable and charming -- and by showing courage and grace after being wounded -- but by being very presidential.He used his superb communication and political skills to put his budget into effect and the first stages of his economic program into place. He effectively wooed the public, tamed Congress, and, in the eyes of most Americans, looked very much like a leader.

So it is Reagan himself, his action not his personality, that has kept him riding high.

But now the financial markets are snarling, Congress seems ready to drag its feet on Reagan's new economic initiatives, and his military budget may also be in trouble. It seems inevitable that Reagan will suffer some defeats. Or he may have to pull back a bit on some programs to avoid embarrassing congressional rebuffs.

But it still is conceivable that Reagan will retain much of his popularity. Even if his performance rating dips, it seems possible that a lot of Americans who disagree with what he is doing may still be reluctant to blame "that nice man in the White House."

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