Dallas — Cruel politicians having a good time, behind the gloss of Ronald Reagan, was what this Republican National Convention was all about. Moderate Republicans who wanted some sensitivity shown to Americans who earn under $75,000 a year were shoved aside. Long time Republican women delegates were appalled, some vociferously, at the GOP Platform which never mentioned women’s rights.
The extreme minority right wing was clearly in charge. They were meeting everywhere, working hard, raising gobs of money (one party sponsored by billionaire Bunker Hunt grossed $1.5 million for NCPAC) and controlling the Platform Committee with a steel grip. This was what one observer called a “NCPAC Convention.”
Ostentation and opulence mixed with confidence and complacency. Women were on display at corporate hospitality suites and gratuity receptions. A cosmetic company gave away free hair care and perfumes. Joan Rivers gave away dirty jokes at a Nancy Reagan luncheon to the risqué amusement of supposedly, religious conservative women. A small group calling themselves “Ladies Against Women” heaped satire on the Convention’s pervasive sexism. Corporations were not as subtle. A major weapons manufacturer, United Technologies sponsored a veterans reception. Perhaps, sensing the political wind, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) sponsored a reception in honor of Mr. Reagan’s confidante, Senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.). Other members of the media thought ABC was stepping over the line with that initiative.
I spotted Lyn Nofziger standing near a limousine. He has been a leading Reagan strategies and successfully kept his leader from the press during the 1980 campaign. “What have you got planned, Lyn,” I asked. “As little as possible,” he replied. “Stu Spencer (another Reagan strategist) is reported to have lightly suggested that Mr. Reagan go to Hawaii until the election is over “I observed. “Not a bad idea,” he nodded. That is how far ahead the closest Reaganites think they are.
What is most remarkable about such confidence is its -Foundations — the image of the ever-reassuring Ronald Reagan, no matter what the facts. On the positions adopted by the Republican Platform Committee, the Republicans would be lucky to receive a third of the people’s vote. “The platform was a slap in the face to women and politically stupid,” declared Elisabeth Griffith, Republican co-chairwoman of the Women’s Campaign Fund. The categorical ban against any tax increases, including those that would end some of the huge corporate tax loopholes, clearly would not receive majority support in these deficit-ridden years. Nor would the back of the hand given in the Platform to consumer rights, worker safety and a mutually verifiable nuclear freeze. A Los Angeles Times poll found the 2390 Republican Convention delegates, by contrast, in favor of such a freeze by a margin of over two to one.
Few cared. Republicans were riding high on Reagan — the man who filled his acceptance speech with many factual errors and had the gall to say that the Democrats spend like drunks as he pushes through Congress annual budgets that are building a greater Government deficit than all those from George Washington to Carter combined. No matter to the Republicans on the convention floor. A Maryland delegate, who expressed misgivings about the Platform,” voiced the euphoria with numbing concision: “President Reagan is a leader. The country needs leadership more than it needs issues.
Hearing this, I wondered how many other times in history the same sentiments were voiced to the later regret of those who supinely followed the Maximum Leader. Democracy means grappling with issues and bringing them democratically to resolution, if it means anything. It does not mean prostrating before a Leader, especially one who so blatantly aligns himself with the rich and powerful and showers the rest of the people with those smiles, stories and symbols.
Mr. Reagan’s leadership is to have other people’s patriotic achievements rub off on him — this jingoistic man who spent World War II in Hollywood. Whether it is the triumph of the Olympics and other athletes or the relatives of the defenseless Marines in Lebanon, Ronald Reagan is ever ready either to exploit dramatically the occasion or avoid the responsibility. He is the supreme no-fault President who blames others, mostly Democrats for what ails his very own wasteful, callous and risky regime. It takes a very good actor of fiction to pull off that performance.