If the received wisdom from Washington is that it's risky for a politician to attack President Reagan personally, the message got garbled on its way to Ohio Democratic Rep. John F. Seiberling.
At a town meeting here in the heart of the recession-ravaged Midwest, the safely ensconced liberal, six-term congressman wasted no time getting his licks in at the president.
"He's got it made and he doesn't know about the people who don't," Seiberling said of Reagan in response to one question. "There's no use talking to Reagan. His mind is made up and he doesn't want to be bothered with the facts."
The attacks were hardly surprising, given Seiberling's 100 percent Americans for Democratic Action voting record, his unwavering environmental stances and his anti-Pentagon spending priorities.
What was surprising was that the partisan edge in his answers were somewhat discordant with the tone and thrust of the questions.
It was a sympathetic crowd that turned up for the town meeting at the VFW hall in Barberton, a hard-hit industrial town southwest of Akron. They were blue collar, union oriented and Democratic.
Now, given Ohio's more than 600,000 unemployed, and given the Akron area's post-war record 11.9 percent unemployment rate, Seiberling's constituents would seem primed to be rabidly anti-Reagan.
Not quite. There was plenty of rancor vented by the questioners, but not at Reagan. The villains were elsewhere: the Japanese who undersell American companies, the bureaucrats who enforce environmental laws, the tax system that stifles industrial investment.
The questions reflected a constituency troubled less by the details of the budget cuts and more by the longer view: the sweeping economic trends that are sapping the nation, and particularly the Midwest, of its heavy industrial base.
In the past seven years, Goodrich, Goodyear, Firestone and General Tire have all closed down large tire factories here, leaving 8,600 rubber worker without any jobs.
"Things were fine until the late 1970s," said Larry Mauer, a former mayor of Barberton, placing the onset of the area's economic woes before the onset of Reaganomics. "Then everything started to go down fast. What we need is a rebirth, like the Christians."
To be sure, there was anger expressed about some of Reagan's policies, especially the fear that he may cut back on Social Security benefits.
One questioner, a World War II veteran, asked, "How come this country keeps on building bombs instead of feeding people? . . . I saw on TV not too long ago where they have soup lines in Chicago."
He seemed poised to launch a broadside against Reaganomics, but instead he veered off sharply in another direction. "Why don't the Democrats stand for something? Why don't they do something?"
Seiberling explained that while his party has nominal control of the House, the Dixiecrats "boll weevils" have given Reagan an effective ruling majority. He said he has fought with his own party's leadership to get them to take stronger stands against Reaganomics, but without much success. Still, he concluded, somehwat half-heartedly, "The Democrats aren't as bad as the Republicans."
The drift of the questions was not lost on Seiberling. "People are just sore about everything," he said after the meeting. "When they get mad this way, they're discontented with all politicians."
No matter how strong that current may run, Seiberling himself appears to have little to fear from it.
When the conservative tide ran in 1980, the only damage it did to Seiberling was to reduce his winning margin from the the usual 75 percent to 65 percent.