You can look at the 26-to-11 vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday in favor of the mutual, verifiable nuclear freeze resolution in several ways.
For Republicans who joined Democrats in endorsing it, you can say it was a simple matter of survival, the grass roots having served notice that they will be laying for the nay-sayers in the fall campaign. You can look at it as a response to events 12 days ago in Central Park, when 750,000 Americans voted with their feet against nuclear weapons.
What it demonstrably is not, however, is a vote of confidence for Ronald Reagan and his curious position that the way to stop the arms race is to accelerate it. A White House statement after the unexpectedly bipartisan embarrassment said sulkily that it was "not the last word from the House or the American people."
Skepticism about the Soviets was freely expressed. Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R-Ill.) said it was "just nonsense" to imply that anybody but the Soviet Union was the culprit. But skepticism about Reagan hung unspoken in the air.
The hawks' attempt to turn the debate into what Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) called a clash between "fuzzy-minded liberals who naively put their faith in the Russians and hard-headed conservatives who understand the Soviet Union" did not carry.
Lantos, a Hungarian exile with, as he says, as little reason as any man in the House to trust the Soviets, declared his faith in verification procedures called for by the resolution.
"If we don't believe verification is possible, there is no point in talking about disarmament," he said. To the president's oft-repeated contention that the freeze would put the United States in an "unacceptably inferior position," Lantos pointed out that U.S. military leaders have testified that they would not exchange our nuclear defense capability for that of the Soviets.
The president's failure to persuade even Republicans that he hates the bomb was of his own doing. His recent $12 million European journey was undertaken at least partly in the interest of showing him as dove. But his rhetoric on tour and since his return have belied that image change.
His speech to the United Nations was a diatribe against the Soviets. He still cannot pass the Anti-Communist Saloon without stopping in for a quick belt. He creates the impression that he equates disarmament with squishy-softness about the Soviets.
Last Friday, apparently to prove to his old right-wing constituency that he is the same hard-liner they knew and loved, he took the extraordinary step of reinstituting the war against the Soviet-European pipeline. European allies have indicated that there is no turning back on a project that will make them dependent on the Soviets for energy. In the eyes of some experts, nothing other than Soviet incompetence can stop, or even slow, the gas deal.
But Reagan seems almost desperate to make the point that while he is for what he terms "genuine" detente, as opposed to the usual kind, his talk of arms reduction, as opposed to mere arms control, should not for a moment indicate any slackening of his lifelong suspicion of the Soviets.
In his first 18 months in office, he stoutly refused to talk with them, thereby recruiting vast numbers of demonstrators in Europe. His subsequent promise to sit down with the Soviets was, to judge from the hordes in Central Park, interpreted at home as a sop to the galloping nuclear freeze movement.
Unfortunately for a man who insists that he pants for arms reduction, the only people with whom he can reach that goal are the Soviets. How he succeeds in building up a climate for a productive atmosphere at the bargaining table by taking every opportunity to belabor their perfidy, treachery and general rottenness is a mystery only he understands.
According to one conservative Republican freeze sponsor, Rep. John LeBoutillier (N.Y.), White House lobbying on the House vote was minimal. He reports just one last-minute call from State Department liaison Powell Moore, who asked for an anti-freeze vote "because we don't want to go to the table with the Soviets with a show of dissent in Republican ranks."
Some speculate that this indicates that the White House will let House members, all of whom must face the voters, go free on the freeze, while concentrating on holding the Senate to Reagan's "peace through strength."
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), an original freeze sponsor, wants to rush the issue to the House floor. "It's a winner now," he said. Central Park was "the superseding, intervening event" that explains why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against, 10 to 6, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted for, he said.
As for the remarkable conversion of such anti-freeze Republicans as Rep. Toby Roth (Wis.), who not so long ago was warning the House that it takes two to tango on disarmament, jubilant Democratic Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (N.Y.) had an explanation:
"They fear not the bomb but the voters."