In Washington at this very hour those blank faces that have dumbly beheld the so-called Reagan Revolution are being transformed into scowls. So are faces that heretofore were beaming. These are the faces of liberal and conservative activists. For a year the liberals have been in a catatonic trance, while the conservatives were feeling rapture.
The conservatives were feeling the rapture thanks to naivet,e, a product of many years of political powerlessness. The liberals were in a stupor because they knew the truth. For over a year they have devoted their formidable powers of obfuscation to mystifying this truth, but it remains unscotched and unscotchable: during the Carter regime the liberals tried out almost all of liberalism's most advanced prescriptions for domestic and international bliss, and they practically blew up the country. Rhetorically they were undone.
When Jimmy headed his mule back to Plains, American influence in the world was at its lowest ebb since before World War II. Unemployment had risen to 7.4 percent. At the end of 1980, the prime rate was at 21.5 percent, inflation had chewed up 12.5 percent of every dollar, and productivity was doddering.
President Reagan has had only some 400 days and the prime rate is only down to 17 percent, inflation in December was only 4.8 percent, unemployment had actually climbed a percentage point, and productivity is almost unchanged. This makes the liberals mad. Possibly some of the conservatives are even angrier. Their president has had over 9,600 hours in office, and he has yet to transform Russia into a Christian commonwealth, undo the Yalta agreement, or turn the Middle East into a land of happy, beer-drinking Semites.
Moreover, the conservatives are inflamed that not enough of them now sup at the public trough. What the hell has Reagan been doing with his time, they protest. With the liberals they are in rebellion; Ronald Reagan has had an entire year and still the smile button is not a reality for millions of Americans!
Allow me an anthropological observation about the scowl as it is worn in our nation's capital. A certain species of low-grade Washington operator believes that the scowl is the mark of intellectual heft and destiny. After all, Churchill was a scowler; De Gaulle scowled even more.
Thus in Washington, over lunch and in conference, you will see a surprising number of scowls. They are not to be taken too seriously. Churchill and De Gaulle were foreigners; successful American statesmen have generally been smilers. Furthermore, a scowl is not an adequate replacement for intelligence even in Washington.
In Washington too many people scowl and too many grouse. Prudent visitors see through these artifices. After viewing the grumbling several weeks ago, Luigi Barzini, who has written on politics and even practiced the dark art in his native Italy, commented that "in Washington people talk too much. They are too impatient. They do not realize that great things take time." Barzini is one of the wisest political observers in the West. The complaints of liberals and conservatives against the Reagan administration are mostly hot air.
The liberals have tried their every statist scheme short of martial law. Unless they would have us experiment further with the political economy of Dr. Wojciech Jaruzelski, they have no new prescriptions for the economic problems they bequeathed us. The conservatives have somewhat better grounds for their complaints, but their differences with the administration are not yet substantial enough to justify their exaggerated anger.
The sad fact is that there are simply not enough seasoned "Reaganites" to fill every slot in the government with competent people. Nor is there enough of a consensus in the land to justify accepting whole hog their social legislation. Rather than quibble with their ally in the White House, they should support his administration while taking their case to the grass roots. They have been highly persuasive there, and with continued diligence they might yet shape the consensus that a president needs to change policy effectively.
It is time that the scowlers face the reality of our present condition. America is weak. We must rebuild our economy after years of prodigal spending and idiotic regulation. We must rebuild our defense capacity. We need to make further cuts in the non-defense sector of the budget and to lower interest rates. In the meantime let us hope Secretary of State Haig can continue to buy us time abroad. Finally, America needs no more bogus drama in Washington.