A Republican congressional candidate interrupted President Reagan during a political speech in the White House yesterday, and told him that he was ruining the country with "Tylenol taxation" and foreign policies that favored the Russians.
"Shut up," responded Reagan, his face flushed with anger, after an initial defense of his policies failed to quiet the defiant candidate, Gary Richard Arnold of Santa Cruz, Calif., whose campaign slogan is "Looks Like Lenin, Talks Like Lincoln."
The unusual scene in the East Room occurred during a meeting of 65 GOP congressional candidates, whom Reagan had referred to as the "superstars of 1982." They were listening quietly to a routine Reagan campaign speech on the evils of past Democratic administrations when Arnold arose, pulled himself free from another candidate who was trying to restrain him and launched into a right-wing critique of the president.
"Mr. President, you have given us the largest tax increase . . . in the United States history," said the bearded Arnold, his face covered with perspiration and his tie slightly askew. "Incumbent Republican candidates were told that if they did not support the tax increase their funds would be cut off. I was against the tax increase. I did not receive one cent . . . .
"We do not have the president supporting presidential programs. You've reversed yourself on Taiwan, the Soviets have a higher increase in trade, the Soviets get the wheat and the Americans get the shaft. We have a Tylenol taxation situation here, and we have a Reagan-mortis setting into the nation's body politic."
Reagan, appearing both angry and surprised, said nothing for a few seconds while another unidentified member of the audience arose and applauded Arnold loudly.
"Okay," the president responded when this clapping had died down, "I don't know who the two of you are, but you haven't said a word that's true yet. The tax increase that we reluctantly supported, in order to get continued reductions in spending, was not the largest tax increase in history. A third of it was our promise to start trying to collect money that is owed by taxpayers who are ducking their taxes and that we're trying to get."
Reagan went on explaining his policies, his anger cooling as he spoke.
But Arnold, undeterred, launched into a new attack, this time criticizing Reagan for investing his administration with members of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, and for good measure denouncing Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan; the brokerage firm of Merrill Lynch, of which Regan was chairman before joining the administration; industrialist Armand Hammer; and recent mergers of various savings and loan associations.
"I thought this was for Republican candidates," said Reagan, trying humor as a remedy.
The other candidates in the room laughed and applauded the president but when Arnold persisted in shouting his criticisms, Reagan lost his temper and told him to "shut up."
It was a scene reminiscent of Reagan's final speech in the 1980 presidential campaign, when a heckler persistently interrupted him during a San Diego rally. Reagan also told this heckler to "shut up."
Some in the audience also were reminded of the climactic moment in his 1980 debate in Nashua, N.H., with George Bush, where Reagan grabbed the microphone in a burst of anger, won the plaudits of the crowd, the debate with Bush and the New Hampshire primary three days later.
Reagan has always been most politically effective when aroused. His speech had been delivered without visible enthusiasm until the Arnold interruption, but the president was noticeably more dynamic when he returned to his text.
"It put fire and conviction into him," said Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.).
Arnold, closely watched by Secret Service agents who made no move to interfere with him, went out onto the White House driveway after the speech and distributed a fuchsia leaflet boosting his candidacy, denouncing the Trilateral Commission and challenging Reagan's "suicide policy" of taxation.
Little is known about Arnold, the Republican congressional nominee in California's 16th District, a central coastal area including Monterey where the congressional incumbent is Democrat Leon E. Panetta. An Associated Press report said that his campaign office is a post office box and that his campaign answering service telephone has been disconnected.
Arnold told reporters afterward that he had been angered by the president saying that Democrats were out of touch with their constituencies when "Reagan was out of touch with Reaganomics."
"Reagan is not Reagan," Arnold said. "Somebody has to say that the emperor has no clothes."