I write three columns a week. They are almost always on different subjects, and they almost never refer to previous columns. Three times a week, I suggest that three different subjects are, to exaggerate just a bit, the most important issue in the world. Even I, though, tip my hat to Ronald Reagan.
The president is a bit like me. Once he was a movie actor, which meant showing up every day to film scenes that did not necessarily have anything to do with one another. You could shoot the end of the picture first and the beginning last. It did not matter. Later, he went into the business of writing newspaper columns, radio speeches and, of course, politics. He knows even better than I do that what you say one day does not necessarily have to have anything to do with what you said the day before.
Maybe this accounts for the disconnected feel of the Reagan administration. The other day, for instance, the president went down to the wire on aid to the Nicaraguan contras. He lobbied on the phone; he lobbied in person. He employed the truth, and something less than the truth and implied that Western Civilization was at stake. He lost, went on television -- and talked about the budget.
I'm aware that he intended all along to talk about the budget. Still, there is something just plain weird about not mentioning an event that moments before had the entire capital on the edge of its chairs. Instead, it was as if Nicaragua were a burlesque act, and someone had gone for the hook. Bring on the budget.
Lots of issues have been yanked off the White House stage in this manner. Remember Lebanon? It is not even mentioned anymore. It closed out of town. Once, it was worth dying for -- literally. Once, it was all that stood between the Soviet Union and San Diego; the importance of Lebanon was beyond dispute. Now it is beyond the horizon. The same thing happened to the Middle East peace plan. It was announced in a television speech, pushed for a couple of weeks and then abandoned, although the Middle East is still there and peace is not.
To be fair, the administration has stuck to certain themes -- an arms buildup and a reduction in the size of the government. And where it's been persistent, it's been successful. But in most ways, the administration's concentration span mirrors the media-zonked country's. Issues go by like boxcars on a freight train, and not because they are solved. But the world refuses to conform to administration doctrine. Drug abuse will hardly disappear because Florida was assigned to Vice President Bush, who, armed with a press release and a wholly inadequate budget, was supposed to put the Sunshine State in a drug-free bubble.
Lebanon, too, had a reality that defied presidential rhetoric, and so does Nicaragua. Calling the contras the "moral equivalents of the Founding Fathers" does not make them so any more than referring to Lebanon's Amin Gemayel as a national leader made him anything more than a sectarian chieftain. The words are dissociated both from events and reality -- as if simply saying them, movie-fashion, made them true.
Issues shoot across the Washington sky like shooting stars. Remember discipline in the schools? Oh, what an issue! The president himself raised it. What exactly happened after that is not clear. Probably nothing.
The list goes on: terrorism. This is a perennial. Any day now, we are going to go to the source -- sometimes Cuba, sometimes Iran. The Grace Commission. Quality in the schools. Prayer in the schools. Almost anything in the schools.
Even the vaunted economic program, a success of sorts, had goals that were enunciated as if simply proclaiming them would make them happen. The budget was supposed to be balanced by now -- a goal at least as important as reducing taxes and increasing the defense budget. It has, though, gone the way of the Libyan terrorists who were reported to be en route here to kill high U.S. officials.
In Ronald Reagan's Washington, one thing often has nothing to do with another. That's because Ronald Reagan's Washington is like Hollywood: Someone keeps yelling, "Cut!" Once it was a director. Now it's reality.