From the wings, and in large and larger lettering, "Let Reagan Be Reagan" cue cards are being flashed before the president by conservatives who perceive a catastrophic drift to moderation by their leader.
The more adenoidal among the faithful are skipping the cards. They scream from the front row that Reagan's centering isn't a mere drift but is the result of a hard yank by his staff. Human Events, the magazine that is one squawk box of the hard right, recently took a quote of White House Chief of Staff James Baker -- "I am considerably more moderate than Reagan is" -- and shuddered that Baker promoted himself as "not just "more" moderate but "considerably" more moderate."
From the evidence, Reagan has read the cards and heard the screams. He is letting himself be Reagan again -- by talking again like Reagan. He is appealing to those who sent him on his way by relying on old favorites: the simple-minded slogan, the half-looney analysis, the quickie solution, the meaningless tidbit of fact turned into audacious distortion.
The doozy uttered in his campaign, that trees cause pollution, was transplanted to Oregon last month when he was among timber executives: "There is today in the United States as much forest as there was when Washington was at Valley Forge."
This is sawdust, according to Brock Evans of the National Audubon Society. In quantity, our forestlands have declined in 200 years from about 930 million acres to 750 million today. In quality, no comparison exists. Overcutting, destruction of wildlife preserves and the elimination of forest covers are common. Except for scattered patches, virgin forests cannot be found east of the Mississippi. Those in the West are under siege by the Reagan administration's campaign to seel them off. Under the former lumberman John B. Cromwell Jr., the Forest Service has become what Evans calls "a logging agency."
After clear-cutting the facts in Oregon, Reagan applied a chainsaw to diplomacy by announcing in Orlando, Fla., that the Soviet Union is "the focus of evil in the modern world" and "an evil empire." This was a return to a 1981 outburst that the Soviets are liars and cheats. Both preachments lower his thinking to the level of Ayatollah Khomeini and his theories of Satan America. Reagan says the devil is Russia.
Reagan was before an audience of evangelical Protestants whom he wanted to persuade to oppose the nuclear freeze as "a dangerous fraud." He patronized his audience by suggesting that the complexities of disarmament could be exorcised by some old-timey gospel hour piety: Americans "are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose with all our might" the "sin and evil" represented by Soviet communism.
In 1971, Michael Novak -- then a liberal Democrat about to work in the McGovern campaign but now a Reagan apologist -- correctly analyzed the sentiment that failing politicians play to: "Americans long to maintain that the intimate group to which they belong is fundamentally good, decent and humane. Evils are projected outwards upon others of evil will. Others are the source of evil."
Just when Reagan outdoes himself and it appears he has reached his considerable limits for excess, he surprises us with yet another leap into fantasy -- or as he said to Jimmy Carter in that debate, "There you go again."
At the Epcot Center in Orlando, Reagan told some students: "I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye and brain coordination in playing those games. The Air Force believes these kids will be our outstanding pilots should they fly our jets."
This opens a number of possibilities. On the campuses, students enrolling in the Air Force ROTC could work toward their commissions by skipping dull classroom lessons about warfare and hanging out instead at the video arcades. The Air Force, benefiting from a new line item in the Defense Department budget, would supply the quarters. Air Force generals, having worked on more than 30 proposals for the MX missile and apparently stumped, can also bivouac at the arcades. With incredibly coordinated hands, eyes and brains they should then be up to devising something better than Dense Pack.
Sounder minds than Ronald Reagan's have analyzed video games. Adeline Nairman, director of Software for Human Relations Media, Pleasantville, N.Y., wrote an essay in which she showed that video games are "mindless, macho and militaristic." In this debate, few teachers or parents who care about children would side with Reagan rather than Naiman.
As for the children, a high school junior at Epcot told the Orlando Sentinel that, "It seems funny to hear a president talking about video games." Did she mean ha-ha funny or weird funny? Either way, it made you brace for the next utterance of Reagan as Reagan.