At one time or another, Ronald Reagan has said the following:
The men arrested for the Watergate break-in in 1973 should not be regarded as criminals because "they are not criminals at hearts." (May 1973.) Also, "Espionage is not considered dishonorable in political campaigns." (August 1974.)
"I don't think anyone would cheerfully want to "use atomic weapons [in Vietnam] . . . But the enemy . . . should go to bed every night being afraid that we might . . . We should win a victory as quickly as possible. I'd like to see the end in 24 hours if it could be done." (July 1967.)
"I've already spoken about the antinuclear-power people and the fact that they've being manipulated by forces sympathetic to the Soviet Union." (July 1979.)
"Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal." (May 1976.)
For connoisseurs of skeletons in the closet candidate Reagan has left literally thousands of closets to search through. As the above suggest, the search may prove rewarding to Reagan's opponents this year.
Reagan is an unusual figure in American politics. Probably not since Adlai Stevenson has there been a major party candidate for president who has taken as personal and original an approach to public policy issues.
Reagan obviously enjoys producing glib formulations like those mentioned. With the help of writers who have long helped him produce radio broadcasts, newspaper columns and speeches, Reagan has established himself as a political wordsmith.
It is difficult to know the ultimate significance of Reagan's comments. for years friends and associates have dismissed the former governor's more exteme rhetoric, insisting that he should be judged by his actions, particularly as a relatively pragmatic governor of California, not by his words.
But in modern presidential politics, words tell. President Carter's remarks in 1976 ("ethnic purity, "lust in my heart") gave him some very uncomfortable moments. A boner from Gerald R. Ford unilaterally liberating Poland from Soviet domination may have cost him the White House.
Of course, Carter's rhetorical closets are also filled with skeletons that can be used against him this year. For example, he promised in 1976 to reduce defense spending by $5 billion to $7 billion; this year he actually boasts about his dramatic failure to fulfill that promise. The president promised to slash the number of government agencies; in fact he created two new Cabinet departments.
But in this campaign Carter is the incumbent, Reagan is the challenger. The country has lived through Carter's changes of heart. Reagan could find it more difficult to shrug off his past statements.
The Carter campaign has been culling through old Reaganisms for months. An aide to the president's campaign, Martin Franks, has prepared an extensive "book" of old Reagan statements, which he says will be used to brief the president for campaign debates provide cannon fodder for anti-Reagan Carter commercials and contribute to speeches by vice president Mondale and others.
Locating Reagan statements that could alienate some groups of voters in 1980 is relatively simple, because Reagan has rarely had anything to hide. One small book published for his 1976 presidential campaign. "Ronald Reagan's Call to Action," contains good sampling of the kinds of statements and themes that could land candidate Reagan in political difficulties this fall.
On many issues there is a long-term consistency to Reagan's remarks. For example, the candidate caused a flap last month with his declaration that the Vietnam war was "a noble cause" that the United States was afraid . . . to win," but this is an old Reagan position.
In that 1976 book, whose authorship is attributed to "Ronald Reagan with Charles D. Hobbs," a writer who organized Reagan quotations and interspersed them with commentary, Reagan said:
"I think we were right to be involved in Vietnam . . . The plain truth of the matter is that we were there to counter the master plan of the communists for world conquest, and it's a lot easier and safer to counter it 8,000 miles away than to wait until they land in Long Beach . . .
"The communist master plan, as we know it from published reports, from intelligence sources and from our own painful experience, is to isolate free nations one by one, stimulating and supplying revolutions without endangering their own troops . . . I don't think the people of the United States would be so ashamed of the Vietnam war if they understood the communists' plans; I think they'd be just plain mad. But they'll only understand when the government acknowledges, officially and with supporting facts, that there is a communist plan for world conquest and that its final step is to conquer the United States."
For many years Reagan has advocated a policy of confronting Soviet power, of "beating the communists at their own game," as he put it in the 1976 book. That game, he said, was to foment and then help promote revolutions around the world and he urged that the United States "supply and encourage people in other nations who are not communists, and . . . use our technological might to keep those nations free."
It should be American policy, Reagan continued, "that those free nations will be our allies in what we fully expect will not be a warlike showdown, but a political face-off in which the Soviet Union and the other communist nations will realize that they cannot destroy freedom in the world."
But "if they push it any farther," Reagan continued, "they'll have to confront us nose to nose and . . . we know they won't do this because they cannot be guaranteed victory."
Reagan has talked many times about using American forces in symbolic demonstrations of U.S. interests in far-flung places. He has specifically discussed a possible need for American forces in Portugal, Rhodesia, Panama and Angola, and for a blockade of Cuba to counter the invasion of Afghanistan, among others.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) electrified the Domocratic National Convention last month by quoting Reagan's view that "fascism was really the basis for New Deals," Reagan said precisely those words to the editors of Time magazine in an interview published May 17, 1976. But he has said the same thing at least several times, and reiterated it when questioned at a news conference earlier this month.
According to Reagan's recent pronouncement, "Anyone who wants to look at the writings of the Brian Trust of the New Deal will find that President Roosevelt's advisers admired the fascist system . . . They thought that private ownership with government management and control a la the Italian system was the way to go, and that has been evident in all their writings."
Extensive efforts to find any such references produced no results. According to the definitive scholarly work on American attitudes toward Mussolini's Itlay, "Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America," by John P. Diggins, "The published writings of the Brain Trusters reveal no evidence of the influence of Italian fascism upon the New Deal."
Diggins wrote that this accusation was made by "both left and right during the '30s," but found no evidence to support it. Several historians of the New Deal period questioned by The Washington Post said they had no idea what Reagan was referring to.
On one important issue in 1980, Reagan's message had changed markedly just in the last four years: the economy. This year his economic policy is optimistic: we can cut taxes, he promises, create a new boom in the economy, "put America back to work again," increase defense spending and balance the budget, curing inflation in the process.
In the 1976 campaign book, Reagan said, "Several economists -- hardheaded ones who aren't afraid to draw unpopular conclusions from logic and history -- have said that higher unemployment is the necessary evil we must face if we are going to stop inflation . . . We have to be able to accept that unemployment is going to rise before we can get over the disease of inflation. To pretended it isn't going to rise is like trying to ignore the fever by breaking the thermometer."
This sort of hair-short approach to economics characterized Reagan's rehotoric for many years. He has often suggested, for example, that the raw statistics on unemployment can be misleading. In the 1976 book he put it like this:
"All over the country there are job skills in short supply. How can we say that 500 welders are unemployed in Los Angeles if there are openings for 500 welders in Dallas? There should be a place in every city where a person can go to find out where in the United States his skills are needed.
"There are also a lot of jobs available that some people now call menial.' Maybe we need to get back the Depression mentality, where there were no menial jobs. A job was a job and anyone who got one felt lucky."
In the weeks ahead, the Carter campaign will add to these examples, and try to make them issues in the 1980 campaign. Reagan's announced tactic is not to respond to criticism from the Democrats, but to make Jimmy Carter the issue.
How this will turn out is anybody's guess. The matter will be resolved by ordinary citizens, and Ronald Reagan has long since declared his faith in them. "The people's instincts are still right," as he put it once.