I have long considered those who disparage our president for his Hollywood roots supremely obtuse. Every American pol is, au fond, an artist in false face, or he is no pol at all. An aspiring statesman might be brave, bold, and brilliant. He might also be abounding in Christian charity and all the desiderata glorified by the masters of your local mental health association, but unless he can actually demonstrate these personal treasures he might as well be a sausage.
Last Wednesday Ronald Reagan was not the only actor sitting in the ornate President's Room of the Senate discussing a budget compromise. There was also the Hon. Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, who, had he not been engaged in the political arts to these last four decades, might very well have become a Shakespearean player of the first rank. What a rumpled and roisterous Falstaff he would make! Trimmed down and cross- gartered, he would make a splendid Malvolio; and with suitable alterations he is the Constable Dogberry! Watching him profess his solicitude for the poor and the lame and the halt reminds the theatergoer that here is one of the great greasepaint moralizers of all time.
The illustrious Speaker blubbers that the Reagan administration is thrusting orphans and cripples into the cold. He laments the cruelties of their budget cuts. He does not reveal that the budget for fiscal 1983 is an estimated $38.1 billion more rotund than fiscal 1982; or that the budget for fiscal 1982 will probably expand in real terms by at least 5 percent over fiscal 1981 with the growth in non-defense roaring along, gouging a record 17.4 percent of the GNP, up from 15.9 percent in fiscal 1979.
He does not reveal that the Reagan administration is cutting only the rate of budgetary growth that he and his spendthrift colleagues built into the budget by passing idiotic laws that enjoin the government to pay more and higher benefits whether the funds are available or not and whether the taxpayers have approved or not.
He pretends to be totally ignorant of one of Washington's mosty appalling realities, namely: the growth of the federal budget is wholly out of control, insulated from the will of the American people by a Keystone Cops guard of liberal Democrats and oldtime pork barrelers who have no intention of cutting it back.
With great flourishes of emotion the illustrious Speaker is explaining how he has saved the little fellow from the Reagan budget cuts. He is not explaining that he also wants to deny the little fellow the pleasure of the third round of the Reagan tax cuts. Even with the present round of Reagan tax cuts, taxes went up 15.8 percent in the last calendar year. But the Speaker wants more tax revenue and he wants it from the very same lttle fellow whom he claims to protect. Bear in mind that the Democratic leadership through the Brodhead Amendment has already lowered the top tax rate on the highest personal incomes from 70 percent to 50 percent. As Rep. Jack Kemp is pointing out, the Reagan cuts will merely preserve a tax cut for the ordinary American, the fellow earning less than $60,000. Only a player of consummate skill could claim as the Speaker did last week that this final Reagan tax cut is a "program of giving billion-dollar tax cuts to the rich."
Yet the Speaker's most breathtaking bit of theater is his insistence that he wanted a budget compromise. Actually all the accommodation came from the president, as he backed off on his tax policies and his budget cuts and his defense increases. The entitlement programs were hardly touched. All the Hon. O'Neill will agree to is more spending and heavier taxes. If the president does not yield the Speaker will gladly sit back and watch the economy stumble along until the fall elections when he will blame the economy on the president and hope for more Democratic seats. Then he can return to his age-old policies of inflating the currency, buying off more voters, and allowing taxes to rise.
Nonetheless, the speaker did do the republic some good last week. By sticking so stubbornly to the profligate policies of the past he saved the president from doing dreadful damage to the administration's own policies. The president's willingness to do violence to his own program of tax and budget cuts was an amazing spectacle. It showed how deeply influenced he now is by the pragmatic Republicans. They believe they can stay in power by ingratiating themselves to the big spenders. Once again, the pragmatic Republicans have been proved wrong.