The Republican Party convenes in Dallas today buoyant, confident, and eager to wage the election campaign and seek to govern another four years. For the GOP , where the ideological divide between moderates and conservatives has in the past produced bitter floor battles, this promises to be an unusually amicable convention. For this relative amity, the incumbent President deserves the focus and the credit.
Ronald Reagan, since the Detroit convention four years ago, has proved a useful bridge for the party's factions. The Reagan themes of 1980 - prosperity through less government, peace through greater military strength and assertiveness abroad, and an emphasis on conservative family and religious values - have held up for the party and will be repeated in the 1984 campaign. Through a White House term, these themes have become more familiar to Americans as touchstones for the party's identity.
Mr. Reagan and Vice-President George Bush have also become better known to Americans through numerous episodes - from an early assassination attempt where the President showed admirable good humor under great duress, to confrontations with Congress where Mr. Reagan relished the fray with his colorful antagonist, House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
There were dark hours: the United States Marines under siege in Lebanon, the recession which found more than 10 million Americans out of work. Mr. Reagan's own attitudes toward the Soviet Union, reflected in both his public and private remarks, have left a crucial area of puzzlement over how he really intends to ease superpower tensions.
But by and large Republicans have a good idea of what Reagan leadership is like, and so do most other Americans. The 1984 party platform reflects conservative Reagan values. It reflects White House control of the campaign and party leadership apparatus. Moderates are disappointed that the party again will campaign without supporting the Equal Rights Amendment or a nuclear freeze; but with the politicians' endless fount of optimism, they are already looking ahead to 1988.
The Democrats expect the Reagan-Bush ticket to get a surge of support this week from convention exposure, much as their ticket did in San Francisco. They acknowledge Mr. Reagan's personal popularity, emphasizing that they intend to aim at the 30 percent of voters who like him personally but dislike his policies.
There is no denying the generally bullish mood of the nation at the moment. Even the Olympics seemed to reinforce the feeling that things are getting better. This is not a universal mood, however.
Not all Americans think they are better off today than four years ago. Men do by a margin of 3 to 2; women split evenly. Seven in 10 people in their 20s think they're better off; by the same margin retirees say they aren't.
The sense of financial well-being recedes down the financial ladder: A majority of upper-income families think they're better off, only one-third of lower-income families think so. Statistics on real disposable income during the Reagan era reinforce these perceptions - income is up 8.7 percent for the top 20 percent in family earnings, about even for the middle group, and down 7.6 percent for the families at the bottom in earnings. The Reagan team will point out that lower inflation should be counted in assessing benefits for lower-income families. Still, it is the evidence and perception of a disparity in economic benefits that the Democrats will pursue as the fairness question.
The election itself is still more than two months away.
Meanwhile, this is the time to rev up the party leaders who will have to inspire the workers back home.
It is the Republicans' turn in Dallas to celebrate four years of Reagan rule - a celebration they appear fully ready to relish.