WHAT IS GOING ON? You can't pick up the newspaper these days without reading some story about President-elect Reagan making some smart move. This is centainly not the kind of behavior we expect from a conservative California actor-turned politician. Who is this Ronald Reagan, anyway, and what does he think he's doing, messing with our stereotypes and our preconceived notions? What is going on?
First, he goes to Congress and spends a day getting to know the folks up there and making, by all accounts, one hell of a good impression. Next, he throws a soiree for 50 Washsington heavyweights at the F Street Club, and not only invites the mayor -- who predicted The End of Washington as We Know It if Reagan won -- but then goes and seats the mayor to the right of Mrs. Reagan and seats the mayor's wife, Effi, to the right of Himself. Doesn't he know that when you are president you are supposed to be vindictive? Then this president-elect goes back To Congress the next day and lunches up the euphoric Republicans from both Houses, then goes to the Supreme Court to meet the justices, then back to the Hill for a dinner with the Republican senators, somehow finding time in all of this to meet Sen. Edward Kennedy, no known fan.
Everyone is saying that Reagan has learned from the mistakes of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, who snubbed Congress and the Washington establishment with a fine impartiality. It is accepted wisdom that the Carter presidency would have been off to a much better start if Tip O'Neill had gotten good seats at the Kennedy Center and if Jimmy Carter had understood that it's one thing to campaign against Washington when you're on the road and quite another when you move in here.
The Reagan folks obviously are not going to make the same mistakes, in spite of the fact that Ronald Reagan looked like a natural to do so. Where would Reagan be today without Washington to campaign against? Without big government and the liberal establishment in Washington, he'd be running a ranch in California. You'd think with that kind of rhetorical background, that the least the Regan folks could do is snub Washington.But not at all. People around him are indicating that he understands that there are rules and players in this town, which is hardly the kind of posture you expect from Ronald Reagan. Not only does he not snub the city, but he's acting like he can't wait to get acquainted. The Reagans are saying they want to be part of the community. Ronald Regan is saying its "time to serve notice that we're residents." The next thing you know, the Reagans are going to show up at Bullets games.
This whole business, let me tell you, is quite unnerving. For some people, Reagan-mongering started getting difficult the night of the debates. When the man you love to hate doesn't fall apart without his cue cards or his advisers or start repeating himself or misplacing countries or going senile during a live debate on television, well, it's certainly enough to give one pause. I of course, never expected him to do any of those things, but I also did not expect him to walk over to Jimmy Carter and shake hands before the debate. What's a nice guy doing in the White House? Doesn't Reagan know anything about being presidential?
It was clear he did not when he held his press conference the day after the election. He seemed friendly. Relaxed. He included his vice-president in instead of excluding him. He did things like saying he didn't know about something and the he hadn't made up his mind about other things. He didn't have instant answers for everything, and wasn't afraid to admit it. Who is the man?
Then he went on vacation for a week and didn't have "photo opportunities" for Himself swimming or fishing or horseback riding or whatever he did, thereby rescuing American newspaper readers from a week long spate of boring pictures. Is this man for real? Here is someone who had just worked long and hard to win the presidency of the United States, and what does he do but act like a real person and go off for a week's vacation with his wife, wanting no visitors and no telephone calls and sending his staff off to do the same thing? Where is the man's need for the constant ego gratification of courtiers and newsmen? Where is his sense of presidential tension? Doesn't he understand that the fate of the free world is about to land on his shoulders?
There is talk about Ronald Reagan being a 9 to 5 president, about his having a functioning cabinet, about him governing by concensus, about his getting bipartisan support in Congress. Doesn't he know that he is supposed to ignore his cabinet, ignore Congress, work 18 hours a day so the country doesn't fall apart and make all earthshaking decisions by Himself in the Loneliness of the Oval Office?
I knew as early as last summer that we were headed for trouble by not electing someone who knows Washington and knows how to be presidential, and the early warning signs are all there.
Could it be that we've elected someone who actually knows what he's doing?