THE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS of Sandra O'connor, Ronald Reagan's first nominee for the Supreme Court, told you more about his luck than hers.
The president came back to town to poor reviews and worse predictions. It isn't just that he took a whole month off, the new wisdom goes, he took too many naps and didn't have the decency to protest that he learned about U.S. action over Libya after the rest of us had seen it on television. Washington has had a string of compulsive presidents who, like Macbeth, "murdered sleep" and a president who makes no bones about gofing off is bound to offend local experts who now sniff that Ed Meese is the real power in the Oval Office.
Furthermore, you can read in any newspaper, the honeymoon is really over now. Sure, in his first six months he survived an assassin's bullet and brought Congress to heel, but that was the easy part. Now he is really in for it. Look at what has been happening. Wall Streeet, having figured out that supply side economics doesn't supply lower interest rates, is sulking. Ditto the Pentagon, which is in the process of being informed that money does not grow on trees. The Jews are furious over the sale of AWACs and the MX missile in an orphan. Those who want it most don't want it in their states. And the Moral Majority is demanding action on the social issues.
We con't know what the president thinks about all this, because he continues to get away with not having press conferences, but callers report that he is in fine fettle. Possibly it is because he reads his polls rather than his notices, and sees that the country remains pleased with him. The spell is still working. If you can't send your kid to college because of the cut in the student-loan program, if you can't buy a house because of high interest rates, you do not blame that nice man in the White House.
While Congress was trailing back to town telling about the distress of their constituents, Reagan was taking a bow for something for which he gets full credit, the nomination of Sandra O'Connor for the Supreme Court. The hearing room of the Senate Judiciary Committee rang with praise for her and for him.
Even Sen. John East (R-N.C.) who holds strong views about "the inalienable rights of the unborn," said it was "an honor to participate" in the hearings for a nominee who had cast some pro-abortion votes in her time.
It was obvious that if you thought well of Judge O'Connor, you had to think well of the president for naming her. Other presidents have talked about a woman on the high court. Ronald Reagan did it.
O'Connor won him not only the grudging admiration of the women's groups. (Their agents were hovering around the hearing room begging liberal Democrats not to press the nominee too hard on the abortion question. They seemed almost willing to let her pass as a right-to-lifer rather than cast the slightest shadow on her dazzling prospects for confirmation.)
But the naming of O'Connor did more. Reagan chose her to redeem a campaign pledge -- a habit he had -- but he picked a qualified and circumspect woman who turned out, inadvertantlu, to be the scissors which cut him away from the Moral Majority.
Without lifting a finger, she exposed the weakness of the cult of which Reagan has often been called the captive.
He never attacked them frontally -- it is not his way -- and besides, he didn't need to. Barry Goldwater, who might, being human, have resented being supplanted as a conservative idol, stepped forward and blasted the Rev. Jerry Falwell to kingdom come. The other conservatices made a fearful clamor, but within a week, it became obvious that the brave vote on the O'Connor nomination would be against her rather than for her.
Richard Viguerie, the direct mailman of the far right, said "next time," and he and his cohorts keep saying that Reagan owes them one and will come across when their big numbers come up -- a constitutional amendment on abortion and prayer in the schools.
But Ronald Reagan showed them that they don't have the strength to push him around, and the Rev. Falwell, who can count, found the occasion to call Reagan "the greatest president we've had in my lifetime."
The Far Right is mobilizing on the grounds that the "economic problem" was solved with the passage of the budget and the tax cuts. But Reagan can most sincerely claim that this is not the case. He has more trimming to do, and meantime has acquired a far more bizarre adversary, none other than Wall Street, which has figured out that a big budget cut, a big tax cut and astronomical defense spending do not add up to a balanced budget.
It is not good to have high interest rates and a sluggish economy, obviously. But politically -- until he can think of something to do -- the problem is not only manageable, but downright intriguing. The Republicans are, understandably, furious that the stockbrokers are being so beastly to the most business-oriented government within memory. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker called their conduct "incredible" and "absolutely appalling." Threats of calling them on the carpet are heard. And Ronald Reagan has the delicious prospect of quoting his favorite president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who heard huzzahs every time he beat up on the Street.
Said he in 1937: "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economies."
Ronald Reagan is so lucky, he'll probably get a chance to use that line any day now.