In his State of the Union address, President Reagan focused heavily on the concerns of the middle class, requesting patience with the nation's economic problems and offering new programs to broaden educational opportunities, provide jobs and contain inflation.
At the same time, he called on the middle class to make some sacrifices--including a six-month delay in cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, a one-year freeze on federal pay and pensions, and a willingness to accept a standby tax increase.
To get a sense of how his address was received here, six Washington Post reporters watched the speech at the homes of some middle-income residents of the Washington area.
While the selection was not scientific and their opinions clearly cannot reflect the full range of opinion, the people interviewed were chosen from specific segments of the population: a couple just starting out, a working mother who is raising two children by herself, a retired couple, a laid-off worker, a mid-level federal worker, and a man with a small business.
Here's how they reacted:
Nathaniel V. Keitt, owner of a small print shop on Georgia Avenue NW, didn't vote for Ronald Reagan. For the past two years, as high interest rates have squeezed his business, he has watched the president with suspicion.
Last night's speech did little to change the 55-year-old printer's attitude:
"I thought it was a good speech, but, as Reagan said, interest rates have to come down further. If they don't, it was just another speech. And he always makes good speeches," said Keitt. The lifelong Democrat said that in the past two years his business has been "making it" but that high interest rates have stopped it from growing. Recent reduction in rates, he said, have yet to filter down to him.
"The president should put pressure on the banks to turn the money loose. Unless those rates come down, they will choke us all to death."
High interest rates, he said, prevent him from carrying more than $5,000 worth of debt at any one time. So he ends up turning down jobs that could make his business more profitable.
Keitt described the president's basic economic program this way: "He thinks the rich will circulate some of the money that has been given them. But that isn't human nature. If the rich expand, they do it on someone's back."
Keitt said he was surprised and pleased to hear that Reagan was now willing to say that the federal government should lead the way to economic recovery.
"Reagan has mellowed. He's not the same bold guy as he was when he came in."