Drifting into a second term

Marci McDonald January 28 1985

Drifting into a second term

Marci McDonald January 28 1985

Drifting into a second term


Marci McDonald

The organizers had left nothing to chance. They had choreographed the reinauguration of the 40th President of the United States with splitsecond precison, planning a four-day, $12-million extravaganza that was grand but—just 14 days before the presentation of federal budget cuts to the U.S. Congress—not too grand to be politically dangerous. Gone was the glitzy excess of Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, with its white-tie elitism, 107 balls and $16.3-million bill, the largest in history. To pay tribute to Reagan’s record re-election victory last November, Michael Deaver, the departing public relations wizard at the White House, invoked as a theme, “We, the people . . . an American celebration,” a populist note that quickly swelled into a lusty chorus.

Within 12 days of an appeal for private money to fund the celebration, $8 million in interest-free loans and donations from business poured in. And, befitting a presidency committed to free enterprise, the most sophisticated inaugural marketing network in history set up souvenir boutiques peddling everything from a $1,750 porcelain presiden-

tial eagle and a $295 Royal Doulton mug shaped like Ronald Reagan’s head to a $7.50 package of dried fruit and nuts —designated the official inaugural snack.

Then, as the weekend of quadrennial celebration approached, the scheduling became more frenzied. Five days before the presidential gala, the inaugural committee hastily corrected its most embarrassing mistake: a trade ad soliciting 200 “clean-cut, all-American” performers who, being nonunion, would

work for free. After complaints from irate performers’ unions, including the Screen Actors Guild, which Reagan used to head, the show’s producer, Robert Jani, was persuaded to pay the performers triple the union rate out of his own pocket.

Along the parade route, nervous marshals considered how to shepherd 57 floats, 43 bands, 730 horses and 21 husky dogs dragging wheeled sleds down Pennsylvania Avenue in exactly one hour and 15 minutes. And one icy dawn,

two burly army privates wearing cardboard signs reading “The President” and “Mrs. Reagan” stood before the West Portico of the Capitol for a logistical dress rehearsal of the swearing-in ceremony that had been put off for one day in favor of another populist American ritual, the Superbowl.

But to many observers the elaborate planning for the inaugural stood in sharp contrast to the vague design that the White House has so far etched for Ronald Wilson Reagan’s second four-year term. On the eve of his swearing-in, just 16 days before his 74th birthday, and as his closest aides left to pursue new financial or political careers, even Reagan’s staunchest supporters were complaining that a lack of direction has plunged the capital into uncertainty and stalemate.

Deploring the inauguration’s unifying “We, the people” chorus, conservative columnist William Safire said: “A unity theme is more appropriate to a first inaugural after a squeaker victory. [But] the nation is as united as it is ever likely to be. Now it remains for Reagan to tell us where he’d like to go.”

Reagan’s two obvious priorities will be to pare the $200-billion budget deficit and promote arms control.

But his success in those areas will largely depend upon how soon he is perceived as a lame duck president. Even his confidants estimate that the Republican president has only months to push his legislative program through Congress before he loses the support of 22 Republican senators who face re-election in 1986. Indeed, for the last two years of his final term he could end up confronting two Houses controlled by Democrats.

Already, the President has allowed Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole to steal the budget initiative. Dole’s efforts to forge support for axing $50 billion from federal spending in the next fiscal year won the support last week of Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker and a key private sector economist, Henry Kaufman of New York’s Salomon Brothers Inc. But Dole’s draft budget—due to be unveiled three days before the President’s—is clearly aimed at enhancing the senator’s own presidential aspirations for 1988.

Because of the difficulty Reagan will have in winning congressional support

for his domestic programs, most analysts predict that he will concentrate more on foreign policy—the one area in which he will still enjoy some manoeuvrability. His personal involvement in preparations for this month’s talks on resuming arms negotiations with the Soviets in Geneva has already raised optimism among many observers that his second term will succeed where his first failed—in negotiating a reduction in nuclear weapons. What remains un-

clear is whether the President’s commitment to space-based weapons research-dubbed Star Wars —will hamper progress in the other areas of negotiations dealing with intermediate and strategic-range missiles.

At the same time, the President will have to contend with the continuing policy split between dovish Secretary of State George Shultz and hawkish Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Richard Perle, the Weinberger deputy cited as the leading opponent of arms control agreements, told reporters last week that “the history of arms control has been a disappointing history. I didn’t see anything in Geneva that would cause me to change my hopes for the future.”

The political effect of a recent flurry of presidential and cabinet staff

changes remains unclear. Some pundits argue that the job trade between White House Chief of Staff James Baker III and Treasury Secretary Donald Regan will inject fresh blood into a tired White House, revitalizing the presidency. But others note that the advisers who stagemanaged Reagan’s entire political career are abandoning him. Michael Deaver, the deputy closest to the Reagans, will leave the White House soon for a private public relations job.

Counsellor Edwin Meese is expected to win Senate confirmation as attorney general, and Interior Secretary William Clark is returning to his California ranch.

The departure of the socalled California Mafia will complicate Canada’s access to the White House. Meese and Deaver were Ambassador Allan Gotlieb’s chief channels. Said Gotlieb: “I’ll miss them in the White House. I know Don Regan, but not as well as those two.”

At 66, an outspoken millionaire and former chairman of the New York brokerage house Merrill Lynch Co., Regan has no plans to use his new job to advance his own career. He clearly has the President’s trust, but analysts fear that he lacks the deft political skills of Baker, who engineered most of Reagan’s first-term congressional coups. Regan’s arrival in the White House does ensure that the administration will stay firmly fixed on a centrist path—an approach he counselled steadily at Treasury.

In fact, that drift toward the centre may be a lasting characteristic of Reagan’s second term —as it was of the last two-term president with a sweeping mandate in the 1950s, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like Ike, Reagan has been widely depicted as a simple man, unequipped to deal with the demands of the Oval Office. And like him, too, he has affected a detached, chairman-of-the-board style which favors delegating authority. If Reagan can manage to avoid the recession that some economists are predicting for 1986, history may well judge him as a president who presided over another era of remarkable stability and prosperity with a return to traditional values. After all, it was Eisenhower who charted the course Reagan has chosen to follow when he said, “The path to America’s future lies down the middle of the road.”