A few formerly unutterable, if not unthinkable, thoughts should now be recorded about President Ronald Reagan. With the sole exception of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Reagan is the most successful U.S. political leader since the Civil War, and the only other one to have won two consecutive landslide presidential elections (here defined as a lead of more than 10% of the total vote over the principal opposing candidate, while carrying at least one house of Congress).
In political subtlety and dexterity, several of Reagan's achievements rival Roosevelt's mobilization of the nation's energies in the Great Depression, and his rout of the isolationists in 1940-41.
Reagan has allowed his opponents to regard him as "an amiable dunce" (ambassador Averell Harriman) and "a monument to the embalmer's art" (novelist Gore Vidal), to produce an almost continuous state of overconfidence among his adversaries which he has skillfully exploited.
Seldom heard now is the hysterical abuse he once aroused to the effect that El Salvador would be another Vietnam; that Reagan would blow up the world or, failing that, destroy relations with China; that he would prove to be a heartless racist, a stooge of the country clubs and the religious extremists; that he would preside over a "sluggish and anemic recovery," and many other variations of that tenor. In four years, Reagan has not behaved recklessly in any aspect of international security involving the great powers.
After the Soviet destruction of the Korean airliner and the imposition of martial law in Poland, it took him less than a day in each instance to say that he would not really do anything about the outrage. El Salvador has actually been a qualified success for democracy, and there continue to be fewer than 75 U.S. military advisers in the country.
The foundation of Reagan's arms control policy-a verifiable equal-aggregates-arms-reduction agreement or "an arms race they (the Soviet Union) can't win"--has already been vindicated. The whining comments of Soviet spokesmen that Mr. Reagan was making Moscow's defence investment "obsolete" following the fiasco of the Soviet attempt to prevent deployment of NATO's Euromissiles; Reagan's successful rebuilding of U.S. military strength, especially the navy, through three consecutive budget years, and the scapegoat firing of the Soviet army chief of staff are indicative of the only conditions possible for serious arms control discussions.
The slovenly habit in the Western Alliance of considering the United States as a great St. Bernard, strong but obedient, a deterrent force to be unleashed only at the command or importunity of its principal allies, has ended. It was a preposterous and unnatural state of affairs, borne of America's progressive abdication of leadership during the Vietnam, Watergate, and Carter years. The final curtain on that dismal epoch was rung down with becoming finality in the Grenada episode, which provoked the most ludicrous, if short-lived, cries of anguish (even from Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Thatcher), and implicit championship of former deputy prime minister Bernard Coard and his regime of assassins.
Reagan has virtually eliminated the former U.S. obsession with international popularity--an absurd preoccupation for any great power-- and- with it the penchant of many well-intentioned Americans to think that if there is evil in the world the United States must be at or near its source or an accomplice in its continuance; what Malcolm Muggeridge has apostrophized as the "great liberal death wish."
The contumely of recent presidencies and the inanities and vacillations of the Jimmy Carter era have given way to a healthy, but not belligerent, national recognition of America's rights as a great and generally benign power. There is now in the United States, where there was not in the previous decade, a widespread recognition of the need for continuity in foreign policy, for an end to quadrennial lurchings and for the definition and protection of Washington's legitimate strategic interests throughout the world.
Even Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who was weaned in the U.S. Senate on George McGovern's unilateral-disarmament apostasies, advocated defence budget increases only marginally more modest than Reagan's, and inflicted a series of disingenuously resolute television spots upon his incredulous countrymen, including the famous clip from the aircraft carrier Nimitz, whose construction Mondale had opposed.
The Democratic Party's once-admirable practice of piling minority and special interest voting blocs on top of one another, through a generous administration of the U.S. Treasury and the presentation of the resulting invoice to the compassionate, indulgent and slightly guilt-ridden middle class of America, has been exposed as the profligate electoral trumpery that it had, in recent years, become.
Reagan's tax and spending cuts have permanently reduced the political temptation to prodigality and reckless election promises, and have importantly altered the balance between public and private-sector spending.