President Reagan's effort to court some of his critics with his State of the Union address left most of them still playing hard to get yesterday, waiting for the sweet nothings to turn into serious proposals of funding and legislation.
Most women's groups, organized labor, education experts, minorities and conservatives have been disgruntled over various aspects of administration policy. Most were only mildly appeased by the speech.
They called it "a Band-Aid approach," "lip service" and "the same old stuff," but some said they were glad to get a mention and hoped for concrete action.
This was one of the president's more political speeches, according to some Reagan watchers. Lance Torrance, a Houston-based pollster, said Reagan "targeted his audience more clearly" than in previous speeches.
Reagan approached the courting of alienated voting blocks with cautiously open arms but empty hands, having no spare cash to spread around this season even if he were so inclined.
The bows to various groups, said John Sears, Reagan's first campaign manager in 1980, were "very good and effective" rhetoric, but he added that when that hits the Reagan budget lid, "there is a lot of internal inconsistency that will be the subject of discussion."
Conservatives generally seemed to be satisfied with the speech, while the response of leaders of some women's groups and education organizations ranged from cautious approval to scoffing rejection. Many blacks and labor leaders, however, shrugged off Reagan's proposals as just more of the unsatisfactory same.
Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), speaking for the Congressional Black Caucus, said the speech had "the rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt but the stark realities of Herbert Hoover." The Black Caucus offered an alternative economic program to triple military cuts and set up a $10 billion public works jobs program.
Women, with whom Reagan also generally has been losing politically, gave him mixed reviews, however.
"Obviously the president's consciousness has been raised; he really is trying to shrink the gender gap," said Kathy Wilson, president of the National Women's Political Caucus, referring to Reagan's weaker backing from women than from men. "It's significant that he didn't mention his support for anti-abortion legislation . . . . But we were hoping for a strong specific program."
In his pirouette toward female voters, Reagan promised to eliminate "all traces of unjust discrimination against women from the U.S. Code." He said the administration "will not tolerate wage discrimination based on sex," and will try to beef up child support laws and, in an especially striking reversal of recent policy, "will also take action to remedy inequities in pensions."
However, Jeri Libner, president of Business and Professional Women, said she was "terribly disappointed" that Reagan "specifically failed to endorse the movement to eliminate insurance discrimination."
Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women, called the whole speech "crumbs thrown to women, the Band-Aid approach."
"To say he won't tolerate discrimination has a hollow ring from a man whose administration has led the attack on enforcement of affirmative action" and other programs designed to provide equal access to jobs and school funding, and who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, Goldsmith said. "We still do not see any substance."
Neither did labor spokesmen, including AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, who said that the speech "offers little hope" that the administration plans real policy changes. Though the president's "verbiage" had a more moderate tone, he said, the substance was "clearly the same old stuff."
Joining Kirkland in his statement were leaders of several other groups, including Goldsmith of NOW, Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, John Jacob of the Urban League and Dorothy S. Ridings of the League of Women Voters. They pledged unity in the coming battle of the budget in Congress.
In a news conference at labor federation headquarters yesterday, Kirkland criticized the president's lack of specific proposals in addressing the problems of the unemployed. He criticized the spending freeze idea as "not really a freeze" but a plan to raise defense spending at the further expense of social programs.
Kirkland and Hooks emphasized that while they favor more cutbacks on defense spending than the president proposes, they object to his plan--a major reversal of his earlier policy--to deny raises to military personnel, some of whom have joined the category of the needy. Already many servicemen are forced to use food stamps, Hooks said.
Saying that the United States has "the harshest industrial system in the world," Kirkland said the president failed to address the problems of jobless people who are being evicted from their homes and losing their ability to pay for health care.
The president's nod to blacks and other civil rights constituencies consisted of a promise to "ask for extension of the Civil Rights Commission, which is due to expire this year," and a pledge to work for "strengthened enforcement of fair housing laws."
The NAACP's Hooks responded, "We welcome his support in this instance," but he added, "As I listened I thought of Richard Nixon, who said 'watch what I do, not what I say.' . . . On balance, I think President Reagan has done an excellent job of diagnosing the disease but a poor job" in offering a cure.
Ralph Nease of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said Reagan has suffered "self-inflicted political wounds . . . because of his reliance on the rigid ideology of the radical right." Perhaps now, he said, Reagan "will begin to rely more on the recommendations of the moderate factions in the GOP."
Sears noted the speech's "active-government rhetoric," and said he expected that conservatives would "raise questions about the costs of all the things" Reagan mentioned.
However, Richard A. Viguerie, a right-wing fund-raiser and publicist, pronounced himself satisfied.
"I feel like he gave the conservatives a decent amount of what he had to distribute," Viguerie said. "But he gave something to everyone this year."
Prominent conservative Phyllis Schlafly said she thought Reagan had put it "very well. We're in favor of just discrimination against women, as in the military draft." She noted that members of Congress applauded Reagan's endorsement of restoring prayer in schools and said she hoped Congress would soon bring the measure to a vote.
Some education activists, however, denounced Reagan's proposal for an education savings account plan to help finance college educations.
"It's lip service," said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "They'd increase the budget deficit and really help only those who can save right now, which is the higher-income bracket. Lower-income people wouldn't even qualify," he said.
A teacher with a $25,000 income and two children summed it up, according to Mary Hatwood Futrell, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association:
" 'I don't ever have any money to save. How can I use savings as an incentive?' she asked us."
Robert Aaron of the American Council on Education, a research and lobbying organization for higher education, noted that the administration "got a helluva lot of mail last year" from educators opposing proposed cuts in loans and scholarships for needy students.
"It looks like they heard us," he said. "They're looking at some creative alternatives, but we don't know yet what's in the budget, so we can't say much about them yet."
Rayma Page, president of the National School Boards Association, said she was "very encouraged" by the speech. "I heard him putting education on his priority list and toward the top," she said.
Futrell opposed Reagan's call for tuition tax credits to help private schools, saying they "would set up a dual system: public schools for the poor and private ones for the rest."
But Edward Anthony, director of the educational assistance office of the U.S. Catholic Conference, praised the idea as having "long-term economic benefit for the country" in freeing tax dollars that would otherwise go for education. "It's a great satisfaction knowing the president shares this view," he said.
The president has been under fire from some Catholic leaders for his arms buildup, however, and a conference spokesman indicated that those aspects of the speech "still have to be studied."