(13 of 14)
Theoretically such a vision should produce the government that Reagan has promised, the kind that governs least. If corporate America is part of nature—of the nature of the country, the nature of man—then it must be free to grow to its fullest capacity, like an individual. Tax cuts, reduced federal interference and other prods to Big Business (including the corporate character of the Cabinet appointments) are simply ways of making pioneers of businessmen, of restoring some of the old make-a-buck fire. Yet the character of the Reagan Administration will not depend wholly on his political vision, which in any case will be modified by wary liberal Democrats in Congress, by the normal exigencies of the modern presidency and by his own ability to compromise. Rather the Reagan years are as likely to be shaped by the temperament and intelligence of the head man, and that is precisely why those years are so difficult to envisage.
If one were to take all of Reagan's qualities—the detachment, the self-knowledge, the great voice and good looks—and project them into the White House, he would have a first-class B-movie presidency. That is no insult. The best B movies, while not artistically exquisite, are often the ones that move us most because they move us directly, through straightforward characters, simple moral conflicts and idealized talk. Reagan once called himself "the Errol Flynn of B movies," which was astute (except that Errol Flynn was also the Errol Flynn of B movies). The President who remains above the fray yet is also capable of stirring the people is the kind of President of whose life B movies are made. After several years of The Deer Hunter and All the President's Men, perhaps The Ronald Reagan Story is just what the country ordered.
The trouble, however, since we are watching our lives and not a movie, is that in reality a detached presidency puts decisions in the hands of everyone else. No harm is done when the issues are trivial, but as the piecemeal nature of the Cabinet appointments has demonstrated, relying so totally on advisers is a dangerous game. The prospect grows considerably more troublesome when it comes to making major decisions. And there will be plenty of those as soon as Reagan takes office—all complicated and many urgent.
For starters, he faces an economic situation growing more frightening by the moment. Almost at once he will have to decide what to cut in this year's budget and where to attack the one for fiscal 1982, which is about to be submitted by Carter. These decisions will affect his proposed tax cuts and his plans to increase money for defense. They will also bear on whether or not he will have to cut real social welfare programs, not the "fat" he is accustomed to citing. On top of these, he faces rising unemployment, monstrous interest rates and U.S. industries (like cars) that are running on square wheels. And there are difficulties that are his, which he may not see. What happens to a black teen-ager in Harlem or Watts in a free enterprise system that leaves him free to go to hell?
In foreign affairs, everything in sight seems an emergency, from the hostages to the Polish frontier. Whatever happens in Poland, Reagan will not be overeager to negotiate an arms-control pact with the Soviets. What sort of agreement, then, will eventually be