AN ADMINISTRATION'S view of itself is always at least modestly interesting for its choices of emphasis, and its ringing omissions. Mr. Reagan's White House has just published an assessment of its first year's work--the judgment of an informed source, if not necessarily a disinterested one. It's also interesting to speculate whether the sequel, a year from now, will not perhaps reflect an administration that, under the pressure of external events and a disappointing economy, has begun to give more prominence to foreign policy and less to tax legislation. But the present review, like the White House itself from the beginning of the year, gives absolute priority to economic reform.
As you would expect, the main focus remains on the great campaigns to lower both taxes and spending. But this review does not get into the painful truth that the reduction of taxes has gone very much farther and faster than the reduction of spending. The term deficit seems to have dropped out of the vocabulary altogether. Perhaps the White House feels that the word has been worn out by overuse and deserves to be retired. This report provides large graphs to show even the most casual reader the speed at which inflation and the interest rates are dropping. It offers no clue as to the direction in which the deficit, if any, might be heading.
The administration justly takes credit for its defense of free trade and observes that it courageously terminated the import quotas on shoes. Good for the administration--and lucky for the shoemakers that Toyota and Datsun don't make shoes. Many people in this country feel, rightly or wrongly, that the automobile industry provides a more important test of trade policy. It would be churlish, and a violation of the holiday spirit, to take up here the import quotas on Japanese cars and the way in which they were imposed last spring.
This self-appraisal by the White House also notes the country's continuing progress toward cleaner air. Ungenerously, it fails to add that this continuing progress is largely owed to Sen. Robert T. Stafford, the chairman of the environment committee, and his refusal to entertain the administration's draft amendments to the Clear Air Act.
On foreign policy, the only purpose of this document is to reiterate the administration's basic intention of establishing itself as a firm and consistent ally to its friends, capable of resisting Soviet encroachments. There's no discussion of the two major concerns abroad in recent months--the friction between this country and Israel, and the Soviet pressure on Poland. Under the heading "Relations with the Soviet Union," this document suggests that Mr. Reagan's defense budget has transformed the international atmosphere and "provided a good setting for serious and equitable negotiations with the U.S.S.R. and the Eastern bloc on outstanding disagreements." Let's hope so, but you'd have trouble proving it by the recent events in Warsaw.
The newspapers, in their lighthearted way, have been calling this amiable document a report card. Any student will recognize the misnomer. It is, in fact, what's known as a self-graded take-home quiz. The final exam comes later, and not even a president is allowed to set his own grade.