With school back in session, it is time to consider the education of Ronald Reagan. The question is not whether he needs any (who doesn't?), but rather if he has been getting any. The evidence, to say the least, is that he's an underachiever.
In fact, if he were to get a report card now, he would flunk. Right off, he gets an F for mismanaging the economy. Unemployment is at 9.8 percent -- a post-World War II high. Nearly 11 million Americans are out of work -- almost 3 million of them since Ronald Reagan took office. Another 5.5 million have had to settle for part-time work, and in the Midwest and among blacks, the recession is a misnomer. It is a depression.
In rhetoric, communications and what we used to call speech, the president gets an A. Ditto posture, walking, waving, sense of humor and -- remember the shooting -- grace under pressure. In charm, he's at the head of the class. He fails to get an A in leadership, though, not because he is not a swell leader, but because he seems pointed in the wrong direction. (Direction, like penmanship, counts.)
In works and plays well with Congress, Ronald Reagan gets a flat A. Indeed, it has been some time since we have seen a president so wow the Congress. All he has to do, apparently, is threaten to go on television and the world's greatest deliberative body (as the Senate likes to bill itself) rolls over and deliberates no more. For this, Ronald Reagan gets the Lyndon Johnson alumni award.
In horseback riding (an elective) he gets an A, but work habits are a different story altogether. Here he gets a C. He is penalized for too many naps, too many vacations, too little studying and inattention to facts. Sergeant Doe is not Chairman Mao. Look it up.
In foreign policy, the president needs to hit the books. The much-touted jihad against international terrorism -- once the centerpiece of the administration's foreign policy -- has been forgotten. F for that. In Central America and in the Middle East, the president got anticommunism all confused with regional concerns, dispatching a secretary of state to countries with enemies on their doorstep to tell them that the real danger was coming from Moscow. An F for that also.
In relations with the Soviet Union, the president gets a D. He has moderated his earlier belligerence and now seems on a more moderate course, but he still has a long way to go. When it comes to relations with our allies, he's gone just the other way. He's in danger of a D here, having strained the Atlantic Alliance with a policy that permits the United States to sell grain to the Soviets but forbids the allies to sell machinery for the Siberian pipeline. For both these foreign policy areas, he ought to go back to Maxims I. (See, especially, "sticks and stones" and "what's good for the goose. . . .")
But the president has made vast improvement recently. For all his stated allegiance to supply-side economics, for instance, he demanded -- and got -- a massive tax increase -- $99 billion. He labeled it a tax reform act, but under any name it contradicted basic supply-side dogma by taking money from the private sector and giving it to the government. This would have brought his grade average way up were it not for the fact that he almost immediately affirmed his belief in supply-side economics, indicating that he just might have learned nothing. This grade is yet to come.
On the Middle East, though, the president is no longer an underachiever. He seems to have chucked his white-hat, black-hat view of the Arab-Israeli conflict and enunciated a reasonable formula for peace in that area. In an eloquent and sophisticated speech that came to grips with regional realities, there was no reference to the PLO as the tool of Moscow and no elevation of Israel to a moral plane that it no longer deserves and to which it is clearly not willing to aspire. An A for this.
All in all, though, it is a dismal performance. With some exceptions, foreign policy is a mess and with almost no exceptions the domestic economy is in the worst shape since the great Depression. Usually, the president would be in a lot of trouble by now, but these are not usual times and clearly this is not your usual president. His grades may be lousy, but the alumni love him anyway.