A modest proposal for restoring confidence in the nation's economy, to assuage stock markets all over the world, to comfort allies who worry about the health of the dollar and the wisdom and energy of an aging president: pardon Michael Deaver.

It is Deaver -- trusted by the president, beloved by the First Lady -- who knows that the essence of the Reagan policy has been the clever use of television. By staging shots, by flanking the president with the props of power and authority, this political Busby Berkeley had been able to make a confused and essentially weak president seem strong and decisive. If Deaver were still a White House adviser, he would have staged something, and a nation long beguiled by the mere appearance of things would have been beguiled once more.

Instead, what the nation got was a welter of contradictions and, for a time, inaction. Television, the president's old friend, has become his foe. Reagan seemed confused and indecisive, at first accommodating and then, a bit later, appearing to stick -- with Herbert Hoover-like tenacity -- to guns that should have been spiked long ago -- an almost emotional refusal to accept a tax increase.

Take what happened the morning after the New York stock market crashed. The director of the Office of Management and Budget, James Miller III, met with reporters and said, "The president will veto a tax increase." Then the president came out on the White House lawn to say something different. He would be willing to "look at whatever proposal {Congress} might have" -- including a tax increase. Such an accommodation is crucial if the nation is to start closing the budget deficit that so troubles investors both here and abroad. It was a departure for a president who had drawn the wagons around a tax increase, vowing never.

But wait. The president having made his statement, the helicopter was cued and its engines started. It was then that Reagan took some shouted questions, and it was then that he asserted "Congress was responsible for the deficit." With that, the spirit of accommodation, which had lasted almost a minute or two, seemed to collapse. This was the old Reagan, blaming Congress for refusing to gut a plethora of immensely popular social programs. With that, the president entered his helicopter and symbolically flew off to the Land of Voodoo Economics, where lower taxes and increased defense spending add up, somehow, to a balanced budget.

In policy terms, this was a characteristic performance for the Reagan administration. It never had a policy for dealing with the budget deficit -- not a policy that worked, anyway. What it used to have, though, was packaging, the appearance of logic and rationality. It was enough. It made Reagan enormously popular, and a bevy of political leaders saw the polls and stuffed them into their mouths. George Bush called Reagan's program "voodoo economics" -- and then joined the cult. Howard Baker once called it "a riverboat gamble" and then boarded the boat.

As for Congress, it also didn't have the courage of its convictions. At a time of epic budget deficits, it totally overhauled the tax code and made sure that the final product would be "revenue neutral." What the country needed, besides tax reform, was more revenue to close the budget gap. What it got was a new tax code but little more revenue. The budget gap remained, but congressional leaders nevertheless pronounced themselves satisfied with their work. The bullet they ducked they will now have to bite.

President Reagan's mind-boggling inconsistencies are nothing new. In the 1984 campaign, he appeared at a housing project for the elderly, and it made for terrific television. Never mind that he had tried to gut the program. He made a cameo appearance at the Special Olympics. Never mind that programs for the handicapped had never been his priority. He overrode doubts about his economic program with campaign balloons and a winning smile. The nation swooned.

This was the work of Deaver. This was the magic of a media master. His touch is what's missing now, his ability to package the inconsistent and the irrational and make it seem -- for television at least -- coherent. Without Deaver, we are stuck with Reagan shorn of his media makeup, a president who must somehow make it through the next 15 months until a less ideological, more realistic, replacement is chosen.

But Deaver is reluctantly attending his own perjury trial. The president should pardon him and take him back into the White House. Then maybe Deaver will make it seem as if it's "morning again in America." Let the next president pull the shades to see how dark it really is.