Is it possible that the rich are more patriotic than the poor?
You have to ask yourself that after reading a Wall Street Journal report, written by Jane Mayer, from Bronxville, N.Y., where the recession is a word heard on television.
Mayer found among her well-heeled sources a willingness to make what for them were sacrifices that would gladden the heart of Ronald Reagan.
Take, for instance, Mary Louise Romano, a lawyer's wife, who has four children in school and four automobiles. But you see how the rich rally in an economic crisis that does not affect them? In a spirit of voluntarism, the Romanos have changed their vacation style.
"We've been trying to take them in this country -- for instance, last summer we went to the Rockies -- because we want to support the economy at home."
When they feel the pinch in Bronxville, they do not whine, or look to the government. They quietly cut back.
Louis Ziemba, owner of a $100,000 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, told the Journal that he has cancelled an antique-buying trip to Europe, "basically for financial reasons." Another brave Bronxvilleite said stoically, "We ski locally now."
What a contrast to the people presented by Bill Moyers on his recent television show, "People Like Us," the documentary which so deeply offended the president.
The people on "People Like Us" had the bad taste not only to be unfortunate but also to have fallen through Ronald Reagan's safety net.
Moyers gave examples of callousness and stupidity. It showed that the new "workfare" policy doesn't work. Frances Dorta, who probably doesn't even ski locally, had to give up her job so she could requalify for the Medicaid money she desperately needed for major surgery on her son.
Worse, perhaps, Moyers showed that people who have been hurt by what Reagan has done are making excruciating decisions out of fear of what else he will do. The most controversial segment pictured a welfare mother named Cathy Dixon, who sends her comatose 13-year-old daughter to a Wisconsin institution because she fears losing the help of visiting nurses.
The most poignant moment in the broadcast comes when Moyers talks to Kay Heyer, the visiting nurse who helps the mother dress her child for the trip to the Central Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled.
Kay Heyer knows what it's like to want to keep a person "who is going to be a burden to you for the rest of your life." She has a profoundly retarded child of her own. Like Cathy Dixon, she regards the handicapped child as "a very remarkable gift in your family."
Heyer delivers the most devastating indictment of the Reagan approach. Moyers asks her if she shares Reagan's oft-expressed view that cheaters are ripping off American taxpayers.
"I don't see a lot of cheaters from the majority of people who are in need . . . genuinely in need," she replies. "And to cut the whole, punish the whole group because of the wrongdoing of the few isn't going to settle the problems in this country."
The administration launched a counterattack. The Great Anecdotist in the Oval Office complained bitterly about Moyers' anecdotage. His communications director, David Gergen, called the show "below the belt" and spokesmen for the Department of Health and Human Services were hauled out for refutation.
The White House knew it was was creating a much vaster audience for the controversy than the show had drawn. But they couldn't help themselves. No subject is more sensitive, at the time of new and deeper budget cuts, than the character of the chief executive. What he has had going for him, beyond a widespread feeling that government does too much for life's losers, is the view of him as a nice man.
The Moyers show was a dramatization of what the polls are showing: that an increasing number of Americans think Reagan is hard- hearted. In a recent Louis Harris survey in which people were asked if they thought Reagan cared about the poor, the elderly and the handicapped, 74 percent said no, and only 23 percent said yes.
The figures are chilling. And they may come as much from what Reagan says as from what he does. He cannot for long suppress his suspicion that our poor are taking advantage of us. The other day at the White House, he told a group of corporate executives that our poor are "spoiled." Barbadian have-nots have ever so much more gumption and pride. From his Easter vacation he brought back the news of their superior beachbums. Unlike California wastrels, Barbadian natives pitched in and helped make surfboards.
He gave no indication of how he did his research. Did Claudette Colbert, his hostess, fill him in? Or was it his fellow-guest, the millionaire columnist William F. Buckley Jr.?