When last we checked, Ronald Reagan was still playing pretty well in Peoria. Although the $91.5 billion deficit and the enormous Reagan defense budget have sent shock waves through Washington, much of the impact seems to be local.
Nobody has quite figured out why the people who gave President Reagan his victory have not turned on Reaganomics, even those who are suffering personally as a result, with unemployment nearing a phenomenal 9 percent, inflation still high, and the recession looking more and more like a depression in many cities.
One answer to why the Reagan program is still alive in the heartland was suggested last week with the passage, by some of Reagan's allies in the Senate, of the strongest antibusing legislation yet proposed in Congress--a measure that is widely being denounced as unconstitutional by a variety of groups.
To understand the tolerance for Reaganomics, you have to forget Reaganomics. What is taking place in America today is much deeper than radical economic change. The Reagan administration is about radical social and structural change. Reagan ideology, unfortunately, plays pretty well in Peoria.
Let's call it Reaganology. TT he truth is, Reagan stands for a lot T of things that your ordinary American appears to cherish. It is like Gil Scott-Heron sings: Reagan still stands for when America was good and great and everything was simple and America always won.
Reaganology stands for the flipside of affirmative action in federal policy. Reagan offers solace to the "good ole boys," who have swallowed the big lie that Congress and the courts and the executive branch have gone too far in protecting the rights of the vulnerable and the needy.
It's as if people are willing to endure hardship because cutting social programs, they have been told, wins America back for the God-fearing patriots, while the lazy freeloaders get their just due. Welfare for corporations and a bloated defense budget are tolerable because they are the vanguard for a return to a safe and strong America. The Russians, presumably, quiver in their fur-lined boots.
Maybe it's the times. Maybe people do want to have a certain kind of blind faith that the Reagan program works. Americans are, after all, an optimistic people. BB ut all along, those Americans who B have been endorsing Reaganomics are in fact endorsing a social war that Ronald Reagan has declared on millions of American citizens. They have been endorsing guerrilla warfare against the elderly and the needy. One can only deduce that this doesn't matter to many people. They are looking the other way, in what amounts to a conspiracy of silence.
So because the heartland doesn't like busing, those Americans will be silent as the whole federal court system is attacked, including the courts' powers to protect our most basic constitutional freedoms. Reagan can take away one in every five dollars going to sick, poor, abused and hungry children, while assuring the folks in Peoria that "this administration has not and will not turn its back on the poor."
Under the guise of getting rid of welfare cheats, his policies reduce the incentive to work. Under the guise of saving money, the Legal Services Corporation is slashed, in the process restricting poor people's access to justice and weakening the meaning of justice for everyone.
Maybe part of the problem is that those who do question the administration's policies are asking the wrong questions. A lot of emphasis is put on Reaganomics rather than Reaganology. Perhaps the media should broaden the discussion beyond the budget. If you are hung up in the economics of massive federal deficits, it is easy to forget that what's at stake here are human beings: real lives, real hopes, survival. By focusing on the economy, we may be erecting a smokescreen while Reagan turns back the clock regarding justice for women and minorities and threatens the constitutional freedoms of us all.
The danger here is that by concentrating on Reaganomics to the exclusion of Reaganology we might miss the social counterrevolution. The danger is that in measuring only the ebb and flow of the economy, we might overlook the flood of human suffering.