President stresses `American renewal'

AS an arctic cold wave gripped much of the nation, President Reagan promised to embrace all Americans in his second-term effort to achieve economic and social progress at home and peace abroad. In an inaugural speech suffused with optimism, hope, and patriotism, the President pointed to the ``new beginning'' toward restoring the economy which he made during his first term. But he in effect acknowledged that many Americans did not share in that progress.

``We are creating a new America, a rising nation once again vibrant, robust, and alive,'' the President told a crowd packed into the Rotunda of the Capitol on Monday. ``But the promise of our [American] Revolution was meant for all people for all future time. There are many mountains yet to climb. We will not rest until every American, from countryside to inner city, enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity which is our birthright as citizens of this great republic.''

If he succeeds, he declared, the four years ahead will be years of ``American renewal.''

As he did in his first inaugural speech, in 1981, Mr. Reagan made clear that the route to this progress for him lies through reducing the role of government and widening the scope of free enterprise. Renewal, he said, would mean the economy was ``freed from government's grip.'' People's earnings, he declared, must not be used to meet the ``spiraling demands of a bloated federal establishment.''

Largely inspirational in content and strikingly bipartisan in tone, the President's speech also shed light on where he will try to take the country in the four years ahead. He cited these broad goals:

Simplify the tax system to make it ``more fair and bring tax rates down for all who work and earn.''

Help provide jobs by liberating ``the spirit of enterprise in the most distressed areas,'' an allusion to establishing enterprise zones in inner-city areas.

Adopt a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

Freeze government spending for the next year in order to bring down the budget deficit.

Achieve a nuclear arms-reduction agreement.

Political experts did not see anything new in Reagan's second inaugural address. This suggests that, except for arms control and tax reform -- the President will basically pursue the agenda of the past four years. ``I do not believe you reelected us in 1984 to reverse course,'' he told the nation.

But the President did bring up the issue of the massive budget deficit, telling Americans that ``we have come to a turning point, a moment for hard decisions.'' The budget he submits to Congress, he said, would seek to freeze spending for fiscal 1986, indicating that all segments of society would be asked to share in future spending restraints. During his first term, low-income groups largely bore the brunt of budget cuts.

Although Mr. Reagan is credited with the country's economic turnaround, he has presided over the biggest budget deficits and federal debt in US history. Many economists and political experts find it paradoxical that the President should be seeking a balanced-budget amendment instead of presenting a balanced budget himself.

Despite his attack on big government, Mr. Reagan has not actually reduced government but simply altered the purpose for which it is used -- spending proportionately more on defense. Government spending as a percentage of gross national product has risen in the Reagan years. Also, the President is trying to employ government authority to bring about social change in a conservative direction.

``The key distinction between Reaganism and liberalism is not that one opposes the exercise of government authority and the other supports it,'' says a recent study by the Urban Institute of America.

``Rather, the key distinction has to do with the areas where each considers government authority to be appropriate,'' the study says. ``The Reagan philosophy condones government involvement in such matters as abortions and prayer in public schools that liberals would prefer to leave to individual choice.''

In an apparent effort to address the claim of many spokesmen for minorities and other disadvantaged segments of US society that his administration has been unfair, Mr. Reagan reaffirmed that the federal government does have a legitimate role in matters of ``social compassion.''

But he said that the fundamental goal must be to reduce dependency on government, and that family and community efforts are best suited to look after the unfortunate and foster self-sufficiency.

Sensitive, too, to the charge of blacks and others that the struggle for equality has slowed under the Reagan administration, the President pointed to the role the federal government can play in fighting prejudice.

``Let us resolve there will be no turning back or hesitation on the road to an America rich in dignity and abundant with opportunity for all our citizens,'' he declared.

Both Democrats and Republicans praised the conciliatory tone of the speech, and Democrats applauded references to bipartisanship. ``He wants to leave a mark as a president who gets things done and leads the country,'' said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. To succeed, Mr. Reagan has ``got to get compromises,'' Mr. Gephardt said.

Another Democrat, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, said that the President's message was ``on target'' with ``what I believe to be the mood of the American people.''

Whether President Reagan will be able to translate his goals into reality is a subject of much discussion. In modern times Presidents have had not always had an easy or successful second term. Lyndon B. Johnson was beset by the war in Vietnam. Richard M. Nixon was beleaguered by the unraveling of the Watergate scandal. Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the other hand, had one of the best second-term records, basically consolidating the gains of the first term.

A challenge for any final-term President is a loss of impetus and drive. But President Reagan appears to be buoyant and vigorous, enjoying an extremely high popularity rating. He delivered his inaugural address with customary skill.

Will he be rated as an average president or a great one by the time 1988 rolls around? Presidential scholars, even of liberal bent, credit Mr. Reagan with substantial accomplishment in his first term, above all helping restore public confidence in the nation's ability to govern itself.

Whether he started the swing in the public mood or simply capitalized on it is debated. But, say scholars, he has come to embody that national self-confidence, and this is a source of strength as he begins his final four years.

``It's clear that his general interest is to limit the role of goverment and strengthen national security,'' says presidential scholar Thomas E. Cronin of Colorado College. ``If he achieves his agenda, that may be enough to be regarded as a pretty darned good president.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to President stresses `American renewal'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today