On the official birthday of George Washington, the father of our country, Ronald Reagan was depicted at two angry press conferences as a stingy, short-sighted, bellicose stepfather.
At one, he was accused of having declared unconditional war on America's needy children. At another, he was charged with trying to drag us into war, on the wrong side, in El Salvador.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, led the holiday dissenters by presenting a detailed analysis of what happens under Reagan's 1983 budget to its youngest victims and the poor, handicapped, abused, sick and homeless. She turned her well-informed rage on the way we pamper our military and deprive our children.
Edelman, who was the first black woman to be admitted to Yale Law School and the first black woman to be admitted to the Mississippi bar, had done her homework.
She had figured out, for instance, that if Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger were to give up his private dining room, 1 million low-income school children could get back their mid-morning snack. She suggested that the president might set an example of self-sacrifice to small belt-tighteners by cutting back on his own life style at the White House, for which he wants an additional $800,000 next year.
Reagan cut $10 billion from programs benefiting children last year, and proposes an additional $8 billion cut for fiscal 1983. Edelman's tongue could hardly keep up with her swift-running indignation.
She does not care for Reagan's figures. She cares as little for his attitude.
"He has preyed on the fears and resentments of those Americans who want to believe that most welfare recipients cheat--they don't--and implied that if we just end fraud and abuse . . . we will solve our economic problems. What he has not told the American public is that 70 per cent of the welfare 'cheats' he is ridding us of are children."
She wants to cut the military's perks instead of the children's snacks. She'd like to see war on military riding stables, bowling alleys, golf courses and "servant programs."
Edelman thinks it's pretty funny that Reagan has offered to negotiate on his 1983 budget. Since he closed off tax-cuts and defense spending as negotiable items, she says, "he has simply boxed himself in so that he has no one else to attack but needy people."
She recommends outright rejection by Congress of Reagan's "outrageous" proposals.
Reagan fared no better at the Washington Hilton an hour and a half later, when another group of exercised Americans took him apart over his El Salvador policy.
The president takes film folk pretty seriously, and Edward Asner, the star of "Lou Grant," everybody's favorite newspaper editor, seems to feel that if one movie star can make foreign policy, so can another.
Asner, a liberal activist, is a member of the board of directors of a brand new protest organization called "Medical Aid for El Salvador." It has already raised $25,000 and turned it over to Dr. Gloria Torres, whose Mexican group is to see that it gets to the guerrillas and to the peasants, whose medical services have been "confiscated" by the junta.
Ralph Waite, who plays Pa Walton on "The Waltons," said he was "chagrined, embarrassed and shocked by the statements of our leaders--I feel they have been lying to me."
Howard Hesseman, who plays Dr. Johnny Fever of "WKRP in Cincinnati," said he wants to send bandages to "balance the bombs and bullets" that our government "insists on sending."
Asner ran into the kind of hostile questioning he encourages in the reporters on his television show.
"Do you favor communism in El Salvador?" he was asked.
"I do not favor communism anywhere," he replied. "But if they choose communism, so be it . . . . We co-exist with China and Yugoslavia."
But, another questioner asked, did he not understand that the guerrilla forces are being supplied by Cuba and other communist nations?
Asner said that, according to the revolutionaries, "the vast majority of the junta arms seem to be coming from the Mafia in the U.S."
Asner and company have more in mind than raising a million dollars for medical supplies for the rebels. His sentence neeeded the kind of editing his character does on "Lou Grant," but its meaning was clear.
"We intend to prevent further involvement in this war, so we don't have to work to stop it once it gets started," he said.
What Asner and Marian Edelman did was to tell members of Congress that if they want to stand up to the president--and speak up for children and peasants--there are people out there to help.