Little by little, the great hand of Father Time is winding the Reagan administration's cuckoo clock, and all kinds of people are popping out. First came the Department of Education official who said the handicapped ought to stop grousing and accept their plight as the will of God. And now comes another appointee who edited a book characterizing blacks as lazy, shiftless and sexually akin to hamsters. These birds are telling us something.
Naturally, blacks have taken umbrage at the book "Foundations of Sand," edited by Marianne Mele Hall, now chairman of the Copyright Royalty Tribunal. The book says that blacks "insist on preserving their jungle freedoms, their women, their avoidance of personal responsibility and their abhorrence of th work ethic." This is racist trash which Hall does not excuse but rather explains. She was paid $1,000 to edit the book and in a moment of youthful exuberance, not to mention indiscretion, asked that her name be put on the cover. It was.
Close, but as the saying goes, no cigar. Unless Hall was about 31/2 when she worked on "Foundations of Sand," she ought to have known that it contained the oldest and slimiest of racist canards -- and quit. Either because of racism or poor judgment, she was an awful choice for a government post.
And that raises a question: Where do these people come from? How is it that people who may hold antediluvian views about race or the handicapped manage to get through a process that is supposed to screen out kooks? The answer, I fear, is that they are not seen as kooks.
Indeed, these are political appointees recruited by still other political appointees. Eileen Marie Gardner, the Education Department special assistant who wrote that aid to the handicapped was "misguided," was chosen for her post by Education Secretary William Bennett. She was not unique. When she and a like-minded aide resigned, a third quit in protest. He thought Bennett ought to have stood up for his appointees.
Bennett, of course, did nothing of the sort. Instead, after praising Gardner, he went into that ritual dance native to Washington -- distancing -- in which you strike a pose of mock astonishment: Who is this person anyway? The answer is that "this person" is more typical than Bennett would care to admit. This person is in fact what you get in an administration hospitable to right-wing ideologues. Occasionally, one of them will say in public what is routinely said in private. Call it trickle- down candor.
Other administration aides have made similarly revealing remarks. From one, T. K. Jones, we learned that "with enough shovels" we could survive nuclear war. From Clarence Pendleton, whose antipathy to affirmative action does not include his own appointment as chairman of the Civil Rights Commission, we get a quote a week of expressed hostility to the very idea that government has a role in securing civil rights. And from Ronald Reagan himself we once were told that trees -- kind, beautiful trees -- are polluters on a par with belching factories. Those were the days when Reagan was Reagan.
It is probably true that any administration -- conservative, liberal or something in between -- is going to have the odd official who's going to take things to extremes. The difference this time is that extremism, if not the norm, is far from odd. What, for instance, do you make of presidential aide Patrick Buchanan's stated view on feminism -- that Nature intended women to stay at home? No one is yelling for Buchanan's resignation.
If Reagan were not so personable, the severity of his policies and their ideological genesis would be apparent -- and people would not be able to say, as they do now, that underlings are misinterpreting presidential policies. Gardner's views on the handicapped may be harsh, but they are no harsher than the administration's decision not to require drinking water and toilets for migrant workers.
The fact is that the officials who are now embarrassing the administration are not all that atypical. They are, instead, representative of many ideologues who came to Washington to toil for Ronald Reagan. As time winds the clock tighter, they will continue to pop out. You will know them by the sound they make.