"I was wrong about the president," the cabbie said. "He's not a mean fellow at all. In fact, he's really kind of nice. He's just nearsighted is all."
"What sort of left-handed compliment is that?" I wanted to know.
"Don't get shook," he said. "All I mean is that he has very good eyes for stuff that's close up, but he just can't seem to see the big picture."
"Perhaps if you gave an example or two, I could help you get your thinking straightened out," I offered.
"Oh, there's plenty of examples," the cabbie said. "Remember that story he always tells about the black guy he used to play football with, and how a restaurant refused to serve this black guy, so Reagan wouldn't eat either? See, that incident put a face on racism for him, so he could see it. But show him the statistics of racism, and he can't see a thing.
"Or take that phone call he made on behalf of the man who rescued that fellow from the subway tracks, or the visit he and Mrs. Reagan made to that family that had been harassed by the KKK. He could see the individuals involved, but not the big picture that they were part of."
"Be fair," I said. "What you're describing is human nature. If somebody got into this cab and said he was about to starve to death, either one of us would buy him a meal. But tell us that there are 18.7 million hungry children in Biafradesh and we tune out. Why should Reagan be any different?"
"Because he is president," the cabbie said. "If he doesn't look at the big picture, who will? And yet, there he was the other day talking about solving the nation's unemployment problem by urging each employer to hire just one more worker. You see how his mind works? He figures that he would give a job to some poor, deserving jobless guy, so he takes that little picture and multiplies it and thinks he has come up with the big picture. It doesn't be like that."
"Well you just hold on," I said. "If anybody is looking at the economic big picture, it would be The Wall Street Journal, right? Well, look what the Journal said in an editorial this week: 'President Reagan's suggestion that businessmen look around their shops and offices to see if they might be able to find room for one more worker was a good response to demands for a "jobs" program. The economy will recover faster, and idle manpower will be reabsorbed sooner, if there is no "jobs" program, either public or private. The good side of a recession is the contribution it makes to economic efficiency.'"
"I've heard that song before--probably from you," the cabbie said. "The government looks the other way while people go hungry, and that reduces taxes on those who are lucky enough to have jobs or businesses. Then the businesses have more money to expand, and the people with jobs have more money to spend, and that helps the economy get perking. I've heard it all.
"But what, pray tell, does the Journal say the poor slobs who have no jobs and whose unemployment comp has run out are supposed to do while they are waiting for the economy to get perking? 'Economic efficiency' my foot! It's efficient to let the weakest, poorest folks starve to death, I guess, but I wouldn't recommend it as a policy. Those people at the Journal act as though they've never seen a hungry person or an unemployed one up close. All they can see is the overall economy."
"Look," I said, "you were just complaining about Reag . . ."
"He can't see the big picture."
"But The Wall Street Journal . . ."
"Can't see the little one."