The Presidency: Will These Mud Crawlers Learn to Fly?

Will These Mud Crawlers Learn to Fly?

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"We believe that to err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics."

-- Hubert H. Humphrey

Come the morning light with victory, the President-elect, whoever he may be, will have to shed his warted and rancid campaign in a hurry if he wants success in the Oval Office. He will have to be human again.

Like the metamorphosis of some ugly caterpillar that has been crawling in the dirt, a triumphant candidate should change his manner and mood. Particularly in this grungy year. The presidential election seems more than * ever to glorify and reward talents and passions that a President should lock away once on the job: anger, glibness, distortion, evasion, hostility and self-righteousness. Effective Presidents, for the most part, do not taunt and humiliate adversaries when conducting diplomacy or pursuing legislation. In war, yes, but war is a last resort. A President's task is to reconcile, to include. Hence, Richard Nixon, a bareknuckle anti-Commie on the way up, spent as much time at his first summit trying to persuade Leonid Brezhnev that they would both be winners with an arms-limitation agreement as he did espousing the U.S. position. John Kennedy early in his presidency grew heated and called Big Steel men "s.o.b.'s," then quickly cooled down and made amends. "If they don't do well, I don't do well," he explained. Even Lyndon Johnson, renowned for his arm twisting, had a more prosaic explanation for most of the successes so often credited to his legendary rage and threats. "Remember the prophet Isaiah: Come let us reason together," Johnson used to say. "Telling a man to go to hell and making him go there are two different things."

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit," said Harry Truman. While Americans for the moment seem to have abandoned this axiom, Mikhail Gorbachev has picked it up. In a private White House ceremony not long ago, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze handed President Reagan a Russian box. Inside was a glittering gold medal, the first struck in the Soviet Union commemorating the new arms agreement. "The General Secretary wanted you to have it since you are the architect of the INF treaty," said Shevardnadze. Reagan's surprise was as great as his gratification.

One big worry now is that the negative, strident presidential politics of this age, which never let up because of the permanent industry of polling, consulting and campaign handling, will carry over into the Oval Office. The winner, intensely engrossed for so long in confrontational tactics to gain his prize, knows little else. Jimmy Carter, the avenging angel of the politics of "goodness," was so taken with his campaign achievement, narrow though it was, that he tried it with arms control, springing a plan for huge cuts on the Soviets. He offended the Kremlin with his arrogance and lost precious years in arms control. Had Reagan heeded Speaker Tip O'Neill's plea to meet him partway and moderate the deep tax cuts of 1981, the deficits and debt might not now threaten Reagan's place in the history books.