The Reagan Revolution: not only is it a catchy political phrase; it also lends itself to easy oversimplification by the news media and politicians alike. Revolutions themselves are simple. They're either won or lost. There is seldom an in-between. So it's easy to ask the question: has the Reagan revolution succeeded or has it failed?
The fact is that the Reagan revolution is not really a revolution at all; it is not even a bloodless coup. No government has been overthrown. No tyrant's yoke has been lifted from the backs of the people. On Wednesday, Nov. 5, 1980, nobody brought out the guillotine and said, "Okay, fellows, let heads roll." Which may be a pity.
Neither, on Jan. 20, 1981, at high noon, was the government turned lock, stock and barrel over to the victorious Reagan forces, although some who wish to magnify the failures of the Reagan administration would have the populace believe that that was the case.
None of these things happened, although a large majority of those voting voted for a change of management and in most cases a change of direction at the federal level.
When they elected Ronald Reagan they got both. And nobody argues that point.
The things that are being discussed and argued and chewed over today in the news media and in the Washington political establishment, if not among the American people, are these: the degree of change and the dedication of the president to continued change.
And, is Reagan presiding over a failed presidency and a White House in disarray?
Those talking about a failed presidency today are talking nonsense. A White House facing serious economic problems, yes. A failed presidency? The wish is clearly father to the thought. Nobody flunks out at mid-term, and the final exam is still nearly two years away.
A White House in disarray? It would be better to say "a White House divided." For, in fact, the White House is divided between those who believe in the president's political instincts--who want to let Reagan be Reagan--and those who think they are smarter than the president and want to rescue him from his own presumed foolishness.
The president, one of the world's nice men, has tried to put an end to this division by ordering his aides to quit leaking. His ancestor, Brian Boru once ordered the tide not to come in, too. Both orders have had identical results.
But this doesn't mean the president must continue to put up with public disagreement from this staff. He can put an end to it and restore harmony and unity merely by firing those who insist on taking their disagreements to the media. Such a step would also restore a lot of confidence in him on the part of many currently distressed Reaganites.
While the news media talk about disarray and failure, Reaganites and right-wingers (not always the same people) continue to show more concern over the general direction the president has taken, is taking and may take. Too many of these people overlook what the president has done right and point to what he has, in their view, done wrong or hasn't done at all as proof of the failure of their revolution, which is only incidentally led by Reagan.
And they have a lot to point to. In two years, one-half of one term, Reagan is not a complete success. He never will be, even if he serves two full terms. But then he has already accomplished too much ever to be labeled a complete failure. In fact, any unbiased observer would admit that already he has changed the direction of the nation more than any president since the end of World War II.
Certainly, the results have been mixed. Certainly, there have been disappointments.
The president can't be happy that under his administration the deficits continue to grow, the national debt has risen astronomically and the jobless rate is at record post-World War II levels.
Certainly he can't be happy that abortion continues unchecked, that student busing continues, that school prayer is still outlawed, that what right-wingers call "federal funding of the left" continues in his conservative administration.
But, on the bright side, he can bask in the glow of interest rates cut in half, inflation down by two-thirds, a significant slowing in the growth of government and government spending, in the accelerated rebuilding of our national defenses. He can take full credit for significant tax reductions, income tax indexing and a bipartisan approach to the Social Security problem.
Little noticed by his friends on the right are changes in two other areas: the judiciary and the bureaucracy.
Congressional Quarterly recently reported that Reagan's judicial selections have drawn wide praise from conservative legal groups. And it quotes Prof. Sheldon Goldman of the University of Massachusetts as saying, "I think the Reagan administration has . . . put on the bench those kinds of people who are compatible with their ideology and political commitment."
Post reporter Paul Taylor, in an article on federal workers, says "the Reagan administration has moved more aggressively, more systematically and more successfully than any in modern times to assert its policy control over the top levels of its bureaucracy." He adds that it has "sharply altered the balance of power toward the political side" within the bureaucracy.
In addition, under Reagan fewer regulations are being written and deregulation in many areas has become a fact of life. Reagan also continues to support the Right to Life movement, prayer in schools and to oppose busing.
There are those who say he has been a disaster in foreign affairs, but Reagan's basic goal here has always been to stop the march of communism. Significantly, there were no communist advances in either 1981 or 1982.
One of the right's complaints has been in the area of high-level appointments. They say too many non-Reaganites have been named to high-level jobs. On the other hand, many competent conservatives have turned down jobs and some who have been hired have later been fired for incompetency.
Many right-wingers also refuse to recognize that, while Reagan may have been nominated by conservatives, he was elected by Republicans of all stripes and a slough of Democrats. It is difficult to bar these people from administration positions.
It is also difficult to get that point across, even though some of those branded as liberal have served the president more faithfully than some so-called conservatives.
The fact is, the leaders of the various right-wing groups and factions are, for the most part, ideologues first, Reaganites second and Republicans third. They put devotion to their beliefs ahead of loyalty to a leader, which may be high principle but often is not good politics. Unlike Reagan they would rather lose the revolution gloriously than settle for half a loaf. They reject compromise in a system of government based on compromise.
Many of these believe the movement led by Reagan has already failed or, worse yet, that Reagan has either sold out or become a captive of the dreaded middle of the road. They are already looking for somebody new.
Fortunately for Reagan, presidents are given four years, not two, to prove their worth. Fortunately also, he doesn't have to prove it solely to the media or to the fringe on the right. It is the voters, all of them, who will decide ultimately whether Reagan's presidency is a success or a failure and whether the movement he has led all these years has been good or bad for the country.
As he reads the papers, watches television and receives the complaints that pour in, I trust he will not be blinded to that fact.