The Reagan White House looked back on its first year in office yesterday and found it good.
On categories ranging from "Human Concerns" to "Initiatives for Peace and Freedom," the president's men found that 1981 has moved from success to success, and they released a 128-page report card that any president would be proud to receive.
To add impact to the arrival of the report card, White House counselor Edwin Meese III and chief of staff James A. Baker III appeared together before reporters and cameras to discuss the year's achievements.
"It's been a very active year and, we think, a very good year," Baker said. "We would be willing to take another one just like it."
The book begins in a Dickensian tone: "It was a time of crisis and renewal. Not since the opening days of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal had an incoming president been faced with such a broad array of challenges . . . ."
It moves quickly to summarize "major Reagan accomplishments in 1981." The list includes:
The largest tax cut in history, a cut in the growth of federal spending, regulatory reforms, making government work, a productive relationship with Congress, modernization of strategic forces, furtherance of the cause of peace and freedom, and better relations with foreign leaders.
Results are enumerated. Inflation and interest rates are down, $2 billion worth of fraud and waste have been eliminated, the strategic "window of vulnerability" is being closed, and President Reagan held 72 meetings with foreign leaders.
There is scarcely a discouraging word. Under the heading "Labor," the report card-book announces Reagan's determination to promote the American worker's welfare. In this regard, it cites his elimination of all CETA public-subsidized jobs.
Black leaders have complained they are shut out by the Reagan White House, but under the heading "Blacks," they will learn that the president "personally held 11 meetings with representatives from the black community" during his first year in office "to assure a continued open line of communication."
Meese and Baker were asked why the book's printing cost, which they put at about $10,000, is being paid by the Republican National Committee although the book was written in the White House under the direction of Michael E. Baroody, director of the office of public affairs.
Meese said they went to the RNC so that they wouldn't be asked, "How can you justify putting out a booklet like this at federal expense when you're cutting the budget everyplace else? " A reporter asked whether there was also concern that the book might have political uses.
"We doubt it will be used politically. This is a factual document," Meese replied with an all-out effort at a straight face.
Meese, the president's top foreign policy man in the White House, was asked, in view of the Poland crisis and the clash between the administration and Israel over its annexation of the Golan Heights, what grade he would give the foreign policy apparatus for 1981.
"It's hard to give a grade," Meese began. Then, throwing modesty to the wind, he decided it really wasn't so hard. "I'd have to say it's an 'A,' " he said.
Meese and Baker ducked an opportunity to give the administration a grade on economic forecasting. Baker conceded that budget deficits and unemployment turned out to be worse than forecast. The inflation rate, however, is lower than was predicted.
Only in one section, a chronology of the year, do any blemishes appear. In the catalogue of presidential speeches and actions, such unsought moments as the cancellation of proposed school lunch regulations defining ketchup as a vegetable, the raising of the national debt ceiling above $1 trillion and the decision of national security adviser Richard V. Allen to take a leave of absence are noted.
The report card is titled "The Reagan Presidency: A Review of the First Year." It mixes lists of Reagan's activities (for example, all 72 of his meetings with foreign leaders) with sections on policy goals ("Reducing Judicial Activism").
It highlights what Reagan wants government not to do as well as what he thinks it can achieve. In a brief section on antitrust enforcement, for example, it explains that "antitrust laws will not be used to interfere with sensible joint ventures, with efficient methods of distribution, or with mergers that pose no credible risk of cartel-type behavior."
In response to a question, Meese and Baker said the biggest mistake of Reagan's first year was the decision in May to propose reforms of the Social Security system. Baker made it clear he thinks it was a tactical, political mistake, not an ill-conceived policy.
The president, Baker said, deserves an "A+" for political courage for his proposal, but Democrats "took it and beat us severely about the head and shoulders with it."
Baker and Meese were not inclined to take the blame for the current recession. "The recession was not caused by this administration," Meese said.
Baker said that everyone in the White House believes Reagan's economic program will bring substantial economic recovery in the spring or early summer of next year.
Meese cited the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman justice of the Supreme Court, as one of Reagan's major achievements.
He also hailed Reagan's handling of what Meese called "the greatest collection of strategic decisions that any president has faced," in deciding on a basing mode for the MX missile, proceeding with the development of the B1 and Stealth bombers and ordering upgrading of U.S. air defense and communications and control systems.
At the end of his presentation, Meese was asked what overall grade he would give the administration for its first year. "We'll leave that up to you," he replied.