Presidents usually grace their annual State of the Union address before Congress with several servings of stirring language. But this year Ronald Reagan filled his address with soaring rhetoric which camouflaged falsehoods behind politically cunning expressions designed to keep hope springing eternal.
Reagan wants people to see him as a new prophet who, promptly from his Oval Office, is bringing happiness, prosperity, freedom and a spiritual revival to all America. A factual analysis of his speech, though, is an embarrassment to any citizen who would like to think highly of the Presidential office. Reagan has never been accused of accuracy in his public statements, but his performance the other evening entered new dimensions of manipulation. Here are a few examples:
–Reagan — “Our children come first.” Reagan’s children policies have been criminally neglectful if not contemptuous of the littlest Americans. From doing almost nothing to help thousand of schools clear out asbestos, a cancer causing substance, to reducing poor infant nutrition programs to cutting the tiny budget designed for protecting children from unsafe products to defending the power of exploitive television to manipulate five and six year olds with programs of violence and deceptive commercials, Ronald Reagan had made cur children his lowest priority. (For further information, write to the Children’s Defense Fund, 122 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001).
–Reagan — “The prime rate has been cut almost in half…Hope is reborn for couples dreaming of owning homes…” As the bankers tell us, the. real prime rate (the interest rate minus the inflation rate) has never been higher than under Reagan. And the percentage of young couples who can afford a home has never been smaller in decades.
–Reagan — “Preservation of our environment is riot a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.” Mr. Reagan is plenty late in coming to this realization. His demolition of even modest law enforcement against perpetrators of environmental diseases, while demanding that Congress weaken the air, water pollution and pesticide control laws, has become an international disgrace.
With his annual budget deficit four times that of Carter’s, Reagan tells the people how much he is saving, blaming “previous years” and the Democrats for the huge budget deficits he himself lobbied through Congress.
There is additional Reaganite doubletalk about his concern for women’s rights, industrial workers and minorities — most of whom cannot wait for his smiling brand of insensitivity to be retired after November. Some large areas of American life are so beneath his concern that they did not receive a word from the calculated checklist compiled by his speechwriters. Mention was neither made of consumers nor of the major health and safety missions which he swore to uphold in January 1981 and then promptly blocked.
Reagan’s state of the union speech was one giant mask covering the grim reality of the damage he is doing to the poor, the shrinking middle class — indeed to all but the rich and the powerful who were judged by a Wall Street Journal article to be the chief beneficiaries of his economic policies.
Granted, there were records set under his Administration. Tax shelter misuse by the wealthy reached new peaks. The number of poor people and the plight of the homeless in Reagan’s America increased. Not since the Depression have more workers been asked to take pay cuts, while Reagan’s big business brethren set all time highs for what they paid themselves. And never has a President so used the media as if he were a clever actor.
The Democrats will not defeat Reagan if they are believed to be different, if they only engage him in an exchange of lofty generalities. They must campaign on specific issues that pull off the mask and expose how much his government is responsible — for taxpayer bailouts of mismanaged business, government secrecy and censorship, utility ratepayer gouging, workplace and environmental cancer epidemics, education cuts and vast military contracting waste, fraud and abuse. These injustices provoke deep voter concern according to national polls.
People do not like a government that puts big business on their backs and in their pockets. It is fortunate for Reagan that the major Democratic Presidential candidates, thus far, have not decisively moved their campaigns into those vote—getting arenas where their campaign money is riot to be found.