On Thursday, January 21, representatives of several dozen conservative organizations met at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel for a day-long session to review President Reagan’s first year in office. This program – which was closed to the press – consisted of panels on the Political Situation, Personnel, Social Issues, Foreign Policy, Economic Policy and Defense.
The basic feeling of most of the speakers and conferees was that although they admire President Reagan and his conservative principles, they feel that he has been ill-serviced by many of his advisers and the hold-over high level bureaucrats still riding the Administration.
This feeling was evident in the following statements issued to the press and signed by over three dozen conservative leaders:
The election of 1980 represented one of the great historic turning points in the annals of our politics.
By electing President Ronald Reagan and vastly strengthening conservative forces in the Congress, the American people unmistakably signaled their desire for change in fundamental direction for our government – away from collectivism in economic matters, vacillation in our foreign dealings and counterculture attitudes in the realm of social policy.
That electoral decision presented the nation with an opportunity for reform that is unique in our political lifetime. Properly utilized, it could mean the beginning of a new era of hope and freedom for our nation. Defaulted, it could cosign America, for many generations, to a dreary fate of impotence and regimentation.
President Reagan has responded forcefully to this mandate and has made a magnificent effort to articulate the case for limited government on the homefront, and a firm defense of free world interests overseas. We strongly commend him for his attempts to control the rate of federal spending, achieve tax rate reduction, and lift the stifling burden of unnecessary regulation from our economy.
Given the gravity of our condition, however, these initiatives – as the President has frequently noted – are only the beginning of a long and arduous mission. If we are to undo the damage wrought by decades of liberal dominance in our politics, further measures will be required, as well as faithful execution of those already attempted.
It is in this respect that we express our deep concern about the present conduct and future prospects of the Administration. In numerous cases, follow-through on the programs enunciated by the President has been week and halting. In others, promising initiatives have been blunted or reversed. In still others, there has been little or no attention to matters addressed so eloquently by Mr. Reagan on this campaign.
The net effect of these deficiencies is to undercut the Reagan mandate and default the opportunity for constructive change represented by the last election. The result of such default, unless corrected, could be calamitous for our nation.
We list our concerns about these matters under the following six headings.
1. By far, the most urgent problem in the Administration – from which many of the others appear to stem – concerns the appointment of key personal. In one department after another, crucial positions are occupied by people who have small history of sympathy with, or understanding of, the Reagan mandate, the principles on which it rests, of the sense of urgency that it communicates.
Such appointments have apparently occurred because of a selection process, which placed inordinate emphasis on prior government service or corporate managerial credentials, criteria, which effectively screened out many Reagan activists who had worked for the President’s nomination in 1976 and 1980, while screening in many who did not support him at all, or did so only after his nomination was assured, in many cases against their opposition.
The problem beings with the White House staff itself, and from there radiates throughout the government, and through the Republican National Committee. It is readily documentable that, in agency after agency, dedicated Reaganites who are in a distinct minority, if not entirely isolated. The State Department, Justice Department, Education Department, Voice of America, are obviously examples. The Republican National Committee, despite nominal Reagan control, contains only a handful of identifiable Reaganites out of 350-plus staffers.
Whatever the merits of such personnel on other grounds, they are ill-equipped to carry through the Reagan program, which to succeed must be audacious, resolute and willing to brave the liberal furies without flinching: people without strong philosophical commitment, however practiced in the art of politics-as-usual, are not the stuff from which a “Reagan revolution” can be fashioned.
2. The substantive impact of such personnel is apparent even in the area where the Reagan administration has concentrated most of its energy and resources – economic policy. Personnel committed to government-as-usual are not prepared to handle the onslaught of interest groups and media spokesmen angered by the Reagan effort to control expenditures. The tendency of those versed in the politics of yesterday is to accommodate such pressures and dilute initiatives that stir up public outcry, rather than focusing steadfastly on the larger goals to be accomplished if the Reagan revolution is to be successful.
This tendency to accommodate for what is perceived as short-term gain succeeded in whittling down the Reagan program in initial phases, and now threatens to undo its central feature – the Reagan tax rate reductions – by capitulating to demands for a series of Republican-sponsored tax increases allegedly needed to eliminate huge deficits.
3. Also in jeopardy, for related reasons, is the Reagan effort to bring the upward surge of federal spending under control. Although the federal budget continues to grow, the false impression of massive cutbacks has been created because of political ground-rules, which exempt huge categories of expenditures from careful scrutiny and reform, focusing all economies on narrow range of discretionary outlays.
Most of these excluded expenditures consist of so-called “entitlement” programs geared to eternal economic indicators. These programs have experienced enormous growth in recon years, and the automatic hikes built in to them have canceled the economies sought by President Reagan in the last summer’s legislative session. The net effect is to incur the poetical wrath associated with large budget cutes without the cuts themselves and without the economic benefits they are supposed to bring.
4. A crucial aspect of the promised Reagan revolution is a “new federalism” that would return authority and resources to the states. The so-called “block grant” program to achieve this is of the utmost significance, both for budgetary reasons and for reasons of social policy – since counterculture forces that have dominated many educational, legal and human services functions at the national level have much less leverage in local communities.
In the last session, the President got only a small part of his “block grant” program – in considerable measure because the white House legislative staff did virtually no ground work in preparing public and congressional opinion for the program, then in effect backed away from it when the rhetorical onslaught from irate special interest groups created political problems on the Hill.
5. In the realm of social policy, the Administration ahs taken almost no steps to pursue the themes enunciated by the President in this campaign – particularly on matters such as the right to life, the Equal Rights Amendment, judicial appointments (including the Supreme Court) and numerous related issues.
The stated reason for this inaction is the high priority given the economic program, which is no doubt a factor. It is evident, however, that the personnel problems referred to are a major element, since many personnel who govern the flow of policy in such matters are drawn from sectors of our culture opposing the social themes on which the President was elected. This is most obviously true of the Justice Department, which is heavily staffed with so-called “moderates,” Carter holdovers and careerists, and which has predominant responsibility in this area.
6. In foreign policy, the story is much the same. The State Department, with few exceptions, is staffed with remnants of the Kissinger regime and career officials whose idea of proper policy is to keep doing what we have been doing – which means a continued pursuit of the illusions of d√?∆? ¬©tente, restrained demeanor toward our Communist opponents and cavalier treatment of our friends.
President Reagan came to office pledged to reverse all of this, and there have been numerous statements suggesting that such change is intended. Beneath the surface, however, the substance of policy flows on essentially as before: Witness our behavior toward free China, the Administration’s position on foreign aid (including failure to push for repeal of the Clark amendment, our faltering response on Poland, the manifest weaknesses of the Voice of America and numerous related failings).
These are merely samples fro m a large and burgeoning record in which selection of non-Reaganite personnel has led to the abandonment, reversal or blunting of what were understood to be the Reagan policies.
In the vast reaches of the federal government, there are of course countervailing, initiatives from Reaganite personnel, which must be entered into the total balance. But such actions and personnel are to date unusual in this Administration, when they ought to be the norm.
It is impossible in a relatively brief statement to outline corrective measures for these problems, but we offer the following steps as a beginning toward a true reform that would fulfill, not thwart, the Reagan mandate:
First and foremost, it is essential that key positions in the government, from the White House staff to State to Justice be filled with people who share the philosophy articulated by the President’s program be accomplished. This is manifestly not the case today. By the same token, the Republican National Committee should be staffed by Reaganites, not with pragmatists whose political records place them on the opposite side of the Republican spectrum from the President
In the matter of tax policy, we urge the President to continue in his stated opposition to any tax increase. We believe the proper course instead would be to accelerate the rate reductions in the present law, which as they stand are not in fact tax cuts at all but merely a rollback of already existing programmed tax increases. The Reagan program has not yet had time to take effect. The suggested increases would strangle it in its cradle, with negative consequences both economically and politically.
- To deal with prospective deficits, we believe an all-out must be launched to bring indexed entitlements under control. Until these automatic spending increases are restrained, all budgetary estimates are meaningless and a balanced budget impossible. We understand that the Administration is working on a program of entitlement reform, and we trust it will address the mechanisms of the system rather than relying on easily disregarded numerical “caps.” As a long-range corrective, we urge the Administration to give its full support to S.J. Res. 8, the balanced budget tax limitation constitutional amendment.
- We also urge the Administration to pursue its original block-grant proposal, with a full-scale campaign to explain this crucially important concept to the American public. In other aspects of social policy, we urge the President to announce his support for the principle of a pro-life constitutional amendment, and hope he will make a personal appearance before tomorrow’s March for Life to dramatize his strong commitment. We also urge the Administration to support private education and religious liberty in the spirit of the 1980 Republican platform, including tuition tax credits.
- In foreign affairs, we believe the Department of State must be staffed, not with relics of the Kissinger era and the Carter Administration, but with those who understand the hard realities of the global struggle. The Voice of America, Arms Control and Disarmament agency, and the Peace Corps are in need of similar re-shuffling. On matters of defense policy, we urge a much more vigorous crackdown on high technology sales to the Soviets, the People’s Republic of China, and the Eastern bloc, and an explicit renunciation of the doctrine of “mutual assured destruction.” We deplore the recent policy denying the FX fighter to Taiwan, and urge a reversal of this decision. We urge maximum efforts to provide aid to freedom seekers everywhere, especially those in Afghanistan, Angola, Cuba, Nicaragua and Poland.
Signers (titles for identification only): Steve M. Antosh (Executive Director, Center on National Labor Policy), John D. Beckett (Intercessors for America), William Billings (President, National Christian Action Coalition), Neal Blair (President, Free the Eagle), Judie Brown (American Life Lobby), Paul Brown (Life Amendment P.A.C), Joe Cobb (Executive Director, Silver Dollar P.A.C.), John T. Dolan (Chairman, National Conservative Political Action Committee), Bill D’Onofrio (President, National Association for Neighborhood Schools), M Stanton Evans (Columnist and author), Edwin J. Feulner Jr. (President, The Heritage Foundation), Fr. Charles Fiore, O.P. (Catholics for a Moral America), Paul Fisher (The Wanderer), Peter B. Gemma Jr. (Executive Director, National Pro-Life Political Action Committee), Gary Jarmin (Christian Voice), Rep. Woody Jenkins, Louisiana (Executive Director, Council for National Policy), Gordon Jones (Executive Director, United Families of America), Albion W. Knight (Brig. Gen., U.S. Army, Ret.).
Also, Beverly Jean LeHaye (Concerned Women of America), Tim LaHaye (Family Life Seminars), June Larson (Legislative Chairman, Citizens for Constructive Education), John Lofton (Editor, Conservative Digest), Connaught Marshner (Chairman, National Pro-Family Coalition), F. Andy Messing (Executive Director, the Conservative Caucus), Charles L. Orndorff (Director, Virginia Conservative Education Research Institute), J. L. Parker (Lincoln Institute), Howard Phillips (National Director, The Conservative Caucus), Dan Popeo (Washington Legal Foundation), Lawrence D. Pratt (Gun Owners of America), John Rees (Washington Editor, The Review of the News), Prof. Charles E, Rice (Notre Dame Law School), Ron Robinson (Young America’s Foundation), William Rusher (Publisher, National Review), Bill Saracino (Gun Owners of America), W. Cleon Skouson (President, Freemen Institute), David Sullivan (Independent Consultant), Kathleen Teage (Executive Director, American Legislative Exchange Council), Dan Todd (Executive Director, American Conservative Union), Richard Viguerie (Publisher, Conservative Digest), Paul M. Weyrich (President, Coalitions for America), and Thomas S. Winter (Editor, Human Events).