Reagan and the nation

Leadership has many dimensions. President Reagan certainly demonstrated his political finesse and agility when he moved his economic package through the US Congress in the early months of his administration. He has also demonstrated a presidential presence - a sense that someone is in command who knows what he wants and, whether always effectively or not, is leading the country.

Two years into office, however, it is clear that Mr. Reagan's economic prescriptions have weaknesses and that further corrections are needed. This will demand another dimension of leadership - a willingness to reassess positions with an open mind and to work together with the legislature to provide the country with sound economic direction. It will call on his proven skills for pragmatically adjusting to political and economic realities.

The current deep recession should not discourage a balanced view of the Reagan achievements. Certainly the nation can be relieved that the inflation rate is down and that interest rates - though still too high - are dropping. It is widely agreed, even among liberals, that Mr. Reagan has performed a service in halting the rate of growth of government spending and tackling excessive government regulation. Periodically, it does the public good to clean out bureaucracy and confront the basic philosophical question of what government should or should not do.

This is not to say, however, that Mr. Rea-gan's shears always went after the right targets. In the process of cutting back, the President has left the impression that he is willing to ask more sacrifice of the low-income than the better-off segments of society. This is an impression to be rectified if the President seeks to be a leader of all the people and rally them for common tasks. The losses sustained by Republicans in the recent congressional elections should prompt a rethinking of the administration's positions on the side of a more humane thrust.

Today's dilemma is that there is little agreement on what to do to get the economy moving again. Symptomatic of the confusion is the fact that some voices within the administration talk of raising taxes while others advocate speeding up this year's tax cut. Yet on one thing there is a broad bipartisan consensus, and that is the urgency of doing something about the widening budget deficits - and to begin this, first, by slowing (not stopping) the military buildup and, second, reforming social security and pruning other entitlements. Mr. Reagan has dallied with the latter and refused to budge from his stand on the former (except when forced by Congress). Will he let a streak of stubbornness get in the way of prudent compromise?

We trust not. But, unless he chooses to lead the way himself, an emboldened Congress stands ready to carry the ball.

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