Ed Meese's midterm assessment
Washington — Presidential counselor Edwin Meese is convinced that one of the chief, though unheralded, accomplishments of the Reagan administration is that it has brought about a complete change in the ''dialogue'' in Washington.
No one, insists Meese, talks any more of increasing government power. Instead , Mr. Reagan has been able to put the focus of Washington's movers and shakers - Democrats included - on how best to cut back on government and government spending.
In a year-end interview, Mr. Meese also had this to say:
Q: Your great disappointment, then, is that you haven't been able to deal with the economy as quickly and effectively as you would have liked?
A: I wouldn't call it a disappointment so much as a concern on our part.
Q: But on the economy: what do you feel you have accomplished?
A: I feel we have made real progress in four areas: We have brought the growth in federal spending under control; we have been very successful in reducing the rate of inflation; we have been successful, because of lowering inflation, in bringing down the interest rates; and we have made material improvement in lessening government regulations.
Q: But don't you have big thorns in your sides: high unemployment and that massive deficit?
A: The main problem is unemployment. It is a result of the recession. And, frankly, the deficit is the result of the recession. If we could decrease unemployment by 2 or 3 percentage points, we would make a big dent in the deficit. Because every percentage point that unemployment increases means a total increase in the deficit of about $25 billion.
Q: What are your expectations now on unemployment going down?
A: All of us are looking to a turnaround in the economy next year.
Q: At what point?
A: No one can say for sure. But we have already seen some improvements, for example in housing. And I think we will see more at the start of 1983. I think that unemployment as a lagging indicator will take longer to show improvement. But I think we will see some improvement in the unemployment picture by the end of 1983.
Q: Will we see some improvement in the interest rates?
A: I would hope there will be more.
Q: What would the President want to achieve in the next two years?
A: First, he would like to complete the revitalization of the economy.
Second, he would like to continue with the rebuilding of our national defenses. We have already made much progress there. That's another success area.
Third, he would like to continue with the successes we have made in our new federalism program. We have already done much with block grants; he would want to begin returning some functions to state and local governments.
Fourth, there is the President's desire through a federal effort to control the importation of drugs and prevent crime.
Fifth, he wants to improve education and provide health care at less cost to the citizens.
Q: On another subject: How long is the President going to let Prime Minister Begin thwart his Sept. 1 peace initiative by continuing the settlements on the West Bank?
A: Well, our people are working with Prime Minister Begin in consultations; and we are hopeful that ultimately he will come around to accepting the President's position on this. And we are using every effort now to persuade the Israeli government that this initiative is the best way to move forward toward peace in the Mideast.
Q: You are making progress in your effort to get the Israelis to move out of Lebanon?
A: Well, we are in the process of what we hope is making progress.
Q: Looking again at midterm and the presidency: Has the President himself changed or grown over these two years?
A: In personality he hasn't changed at all. He has maintained his good humor, his even temper. Also, he has not changed as far as his objectives are concerned or in his perseverence toward the goals he feels represent the mainstream of the American people's thinking.
He has shown he could learn quickly, particularly in foreign policy where he now deals very comfortably with other world leaders.
Q: What are the strongest qualities you think this president has?
A: One of them, obviously, is his ability to persuade other people. Secondly, there is his genuine likableness which has been important in his relations with Congress, with people in the United States, and with world leaders he has met.
A third quality is his willingness to go forward no matter how tough the battle might be: perseverence.
Finally, he's shown consistency. He has maintained his objectives and his principles. He has not vacillated.