Peter Hart takes good polls and makes good sense -- especially to the Democratic governors and U.S. senators who survived difficult election races in 1978 and 1980: Half of those Democratic winners won with their own Peter Hart poll. Sens. John Glenn and Dan Inouye, both Hart clients, suggest that the pollster will also work for popular Democratic overdogs.
So when Peter Hart starts offering lots of advice and a little encouragement to the Democrats, it's worth paying attention. In House calls to Democrats, Hart's manner is less bedside than brutally frank. Democrats since Vietnam, according to Hart, have failed to provide the American people with a "definition of what our national interest is." Democratic officeholders are reminded that "most eligible voters have no firsthand experience with the Depression" and that, with both spouses working (probably in white-collar jobs), the median family income is now close to $20,000.
There remains no coherent Democratic remedy to double-digit inflation, Hart reminds his party colleagues. He further twists the blade into the Democratic body politic by stating that the party is in imminent "jeopardy of being perceived [by the American voters] as the 'no growth' party." Hart concludes his preliminary diagnosis with the observation that the Republicans are now seen as the party of change and new ideas while the Democrats are regarded as the party of the status quo.
Still, Hart does offer a note of encouragement to Democrats. After such discouraging words have been heard, simple charity would require no less. Hart believes that the Republicans, in what he calls their "give business everything" approach, particularly in tax and environmental policy, may have simply surrendered a piece of the political center to the Democrats. The question yet to be answered is whether the Democrats have the wisdom and the will to claim the high middle.
Hart's complete counsel would make a book, and an interesting one. But a couple of tactical advantages, which Hart did not mention, are available to the congressional Democrats who lately have indicated a zest for combat with the president not seen since the last major battle of the Italian army.
As Reagan conceded in his interview with Walter Cronkite, one major adjustment the president faces is that not he and his colleagues are the "they" of government against whom he so long and effectively ran.
With such a passionately intense constituency as the president's, there is always the problem of political theology evicting pragmatism in the making of public policy. The Democrats can recall when their own admirable commitment to civil rights and opposition to racial discrimination somehow ended up defending government "tests" that guaranteed a result based on an individual's race, not his achievements.
Republicans are already badly split; Some libertarians resent even the traffic signal as an unwarranted governmental intrusion, while some new-right codifiers of human behavior will be busy reading other people's library cards and boycotting drugstores that sell contraceptives.
Reagan's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado lawyer Anne Gorsuch, championed in the state legislature the transfer of responsibility for hazardous wastes from the state to the counties. Lawyer Gorsuch may be a pioneer theologian in advocating the exciting new concept of "counties' rights," as distinct from county option.
At any moment, a legislative rider opposing abortion, homosexuality, pornography or dancing could split the fragile coalition being so carefully constructed for passage of the whole economic program.
There are a few personnel matters to consider. Does Alexander Haig want to run for president and, if so, what do George Bush, Jack Kemp and Jesse Helms intend to do about it? When will Paul Laxalt and Howard Baker have their first big argument and what will the president do about it? All of these are potential problems for Reagan and the Republicans. And, of course, in the final analysis the public's judgment will be made on what Ronald Reagan and his team are able to do about lowering inflation and interest rates.
Peter Hart may have put it best: "All the style and all the smiles don't count for anything at the