The wonderful world of Ronald Reagan
THE midterm election campaign that ends in the United States today underlines a political phenomenon for future historians to mull over and understand, if they can. News of the campaign was largely dominated by the single personality of Ronald Reagan. He roved the country granting his support to as many grateful Republicans as time would permit. Democrats viewed his arrival in their bailiwicks with apprehension and his departure with gratitude.
He was the dominant political figure in the country during the campaign. He remains the dominant political personality in Washington -- all of this to a degree unknown in the US since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
And all of this also despite the fact that during the campaign Ronald Reagan suffered four foreign policy failures, any one of which could have sunk an ordinary president. Moreover, the Reagan presidency has suffered two monumental domestic policy failures which will burden his successors for years to come.
First, there is, on the Reagan record, the size of the national debt, which stands today at $2.1 trillion. The national debt when he took office was $914 billion. He has more than doubled in his six years in office the national debt left over by all his predecessors combined. Sometime someone else will be paying for this.
Then there is his agriculture program. He boasts of having done more for the farmers than any other President. He has. The amount for this year is at least $26 billion. The largest previous gift to farmers in one year was under Jimmy Carter in 1978, at $5.7 billion. Carter gave farmers $16 billion in four years. Reagan has given them $85.6 billion in six years. On Oct. 24, with election day 10 days away, he promised them $2 billion extra on next year's farm program.
Mr. Reagan has frequently belabored the Democrats for ``throwing money'' at problems. Seldom in history has so much money been thrown at a problem with so little to show for it. Farm bankruptcies continue at a record pace and farm surpluses pile up to depress American farm prices. The farm problem is deeper today than when he started throwing money at it.
Then let us turn to ``disinformation.'' ``Disinformation'' means deliberately distorting the truth for a political purpose. Washington rhetoric belabors the Russians for practicing it (which indeed they do). By implication the Russians are particularly wicked for doing it. On Oct. 3 the Washington Post disclosed that the National Security Council had deliberately practiced ``disinformation'' by floating false stories about Libya. The Wall Street Journal, innocently, was used as a vehicle for false news.
Next came the Hasenfus affair. An American citizen named Eugene Hasenfus survived the crash of an American-owned and -operated C-123 cargo plane in Nicaragua. It was loaded with guns and ammunition for the contras. Hasenfus started talking, just like Gary Powers, who survived the U-2 crash in Russia as President Eisenhower was getting ready to try to do peace business with Nikita Khrushchev in Paris in 1960. (American spies do not seem adept at either biting the cyanide pill or keeping quiet.)
The President and the Central Intelligence Agency denied any connection with the Hasenfus affair, saying the plane had been operated and funded by ``private'' persons, but commended such ``private'' persons for doing a patriotic deed in support of ``freedom fighters.''
If you believe the denials of complicity, then the administration is guilty of tolerating violations of federal statues that forbid private persons from plotting or launching from the US actions that can damage persons or property in a recognized country. Mr. Reagan should be prosecuting, not encouraging, such ``private'' persons. If you disbelieve the denials, then the administration was violating a specific congressional mandate.
Meanwhile the President offended best friends Canada and Australia by offering US-subsidized wheat at a cut price to the Russians. The Russians spurned the offer.
Finally there was the Reykjavik summit, at which the President was maneuvered into blocking what appeared (speciously) to have been a chance to regain a nuclear-free world.
Only the Wizard of Oz or another Franklin Delano Roosevelt could survive such a succession of misfortunes with his political prestige and popularity unscratched.