In his amiable way, Ronald Reagan ends his first year as president by striking an optimistic note. He's going to stick with his economic program, certain that it will produce the desired results in the end.
By following his plan, he says, the United States will experience "increasing prosperity and productivity for all." And, he adds, "that's what our program is aimed to do, and I have every confidence it is going to do it."
Every American joins him in that hope. But this year ends with increasing evidence that many of his fellow citizens are growing less confident of his leadership. The latest Harris Survey, among others, shows Reagan's approval rating now dropping below Jimmy Carter's after the same time in office.
Much of this erosion in popular support is inevitable, part of the pattern that makes the modern presidency so difficult. With Reagan a deeper political problem exists.
It involves the belief that, despite his assertions, his program is not for all. It benefits the few at the expense of the many.
There's demagoguery in this. It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss such talk as only partisan politics. Doubt about the fairness of the Reagan economic program comes from a wide spectrum of society. Not the least, it includes those who voted for Reagan, still want him to succeed, but are becoming disillusioned.
Consider the concern, carefully and thoughtfully expressed, by one Reagan voter in the heart of Reagan country in the West.
I.A. (for Ivan Alwyn) Goodall, 73, a driver for more than 50 years ("and I never even had a parking ticket"), who operated a limousine service at the time of his retirement, writes, in longhand, from Fredonia, Ariz.:
Please may I take the liberty of writing to you and to ask if you would publish the contents of this letter in your newspaper? I realize that if it was sent to any source in the White House that it would not get any further than the person who opened it.
Along with many other people I have a grievance about certain things in the present administration. Re: Social Security and some other programs.
My wife and myself are getting by on a combined income of little more than $130 per week. Some people are even on a less income than that. One big worry of ours is medical payments. Out of our Social Security we all pay toward Medicare. To help support that we have to pay many more dollars for other insurance, out of the allowance we receive, which cuts our income down considerably. To date we have to pay the first $60 for doctor's office calls, which I understand is being raised to $75 in January. On top of this we have to buy the medicine prescribed by the doctor. Just recently my wife had to have a prescription which cost $35, which is a medication which has to be renewed every few weeks. A week or two ago I had to have a prescription which cost $29 to be refilled in three FOR ALL 6 weeks' time. Several people we know are ill enough to go to the doctor, but say "what is the use? We cannot afford to buy the medicine anyway." In January hospital costs on Medicare are being raised by 27 percent which means that supplementary insurance is being increased accordingly.
It grieves me to hear Mr. Stockman and the president say that they will have to make further cuts into various social programs. Many handicapped, mentally defected etc. children and adults are being deprived of education and training which would make them more or less self supporting or less dependent on government help.
Recently, as was very much in the news, Mrs. Reagan was not happy because the china in the White House did not all match.
I wonder, does she realize that many people do not possess even odd dishes and if they did they do not have sufficient food to put on them?
Which brings forth another point. Many times the president holds "breakfast meetings, luncheon meetings etc." Is it necessary to have an expensive meal at the taxpayers' expense to hold a meeting? It is in bad taste for anyone to speak with their mouth full anyway.
The president has said many times that his family were poor when he was being raised. I wonder just how poor, as he does not seem to have too much feeling now for the poor people.
My wife and myself both voted for Mr. Reagan as we thought he would be good for the country generally. Not realizing that now, he and Mr. Stockman are making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
My suggestion would be that when they are discussing cuts, they ought to stop at the top and work down. If all the thousands of government officials would set an example and take a cut in salaries of 1 percent or 2 percent I am sure this would help the economy as much as anything and set an example for others. That would only be a small reduction in their high salaries, but I feel sure would reap a considerable benefit for many poor people. Also if they would cut out their "tax paid" expenses would be another suggestion.
I could go on with many more, but I do feel, as others do, that these mentioned would make the majority of people feel better if they felt that those in the upper income groups were willing to play their part and take cuts.
I trust that I will receive a reply with possibly some comments from you, as to how you feel about these matters. Respectfully yours, Mr. I.A. Goodall
I don't know how Mr. Goodall would turn up in the poll figures, if at all, but his words, so temperately expressed, should register in the highest volume inside the White House.
Clearly, he's one of the millions who felt something was wrong with the way the country was functioning. Like them, he wanted to give the sytem a shaking to make it better. He's no ideologue, and he doesn't want something for nothing. As he says, he expects to take his share in any sacrifices necessary to achieve a new prosperity. But he wants the burden applied equally, and senses--no, now believes--that isn't the case. They aren't playing their part.
Comments, Mr. Goodall? You need none, except this. You're right. This program is weighted solidly in favor of the better off, with people like you paying the greater price. The trouble is, the president doesn't seem to realize it, and that spells more problems for him, and us, in the months to come.