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The opposition's book on Reagan (by now a public document) is that he is always underestimated. That too is a mark of the natural man —the fox taken for a fool who winds up taking the taker. Yet there is no Volpone slyness in Reagan. If he has been underestimated, it may be that he gives every sign of underestimating himself—not as a tactic, but honestly. So wholly without self-puffery is he that he places the burden of judging him entirely on others, and since he is wholly without self-puffery, the judgment is almost always favorable. He simply appeals to people, and despite his years, there is hardly anyone of any age who would not feel protective of him, would not wish him to succeed, would not forget the mistakes, who would not corral him in the hall and give him a job. Again this is not a tactic. It may well be his soul.
Does this mean, then, that his soul is not his own? The question is urgent in the minds of those who fear that the Reagan presidency will be shaped and conducted by the God-toting religicos or the fever-swamp conservatives who exult in the hopes that they are free at last. The answer to that question is no, but it ought not necessarily put the worriers at ease. Reagan's soul is his own, yet what sort of soul is it? For those who have observed Reagan lo these many years, the answer is clearly and consistently a most conservative soul, notwithstanding the formulaic chitchat about his having once been a hemophiliac liberal, which is simply a device for implying that policies aside, his heart is still with the people. A more precise question is: What sort of mind has Reagan? How intelligent is he? But with "natural" men, intelligence is not so readily definable.
For the moment, what we can see in Reagan is a vision of America, of America's future, at once so simple and deep as to incur every emotion from elation to terror. It is a little like the vision of the Hudson River school of painting —the brooding serenity of turquoise skies, patriarchal clouds and trees, very still, doll-like people (white and red), infinite promise, potential self-deception and, above all, perfect containment—the individual and the land, man and God locked in a snakeless Eden. James Fenimore Cooper wrote a novel, Satanstoe, about such a place, an ideal America in which everyone ruled his own vast estate, his own civilization. Whether or not Reagan sees Rancho del Cielo or Pacific Palisades as Satanstoe, his dream of the New World is as old as Cooper's.
At the center of that dream is the word freedom; it is a key word with Reagan, and it is the word at the center of all American dreams, from the beautiful to the murderous. Reagan's version seems to center largely on the question of free enterprise: "[Americans] have always known that excessive bureaucracy is the enemy of excellence and compassion." True. Therefore, freedom must be the ally of excellence and compassion. Sometimes. Since Reagan's way of understanding things is personal, he puts it thus: He dug a pond on his own property, and now if he wants to stock that pond with fish, he has to get a fishing license to catch his own fish. Bingo. If the vision of boundless freedom were to consist