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'Reagan Can Still Come Out on Top'

March 01, 1987

Robert Hunter writes in his article (Editorial Pages, Feb. 17), "Reagan Can Still Come Out on Top," that the President "has all the latitude that he needs in the next two years to make his mark as a great statesman."

Wow! "Latitude?" Every President has the latitude to make his mark as a statesman, great or not. No one has ever denied any of them that freedom. What some have lacked was the aptitude. During six years in office our present President has not given proof of a single statesmanlike act or intention.

Complete disarray has marked what is euphemistically referred to as this "Administration." Never has America's prestige been so low.

Hunter is right about one thing: The Iran- contra folly is not decisive. It only helped open the eyes of the electorate--meaning TV audiences. Their comfortable confidence in a mediocrity--even as an actor--was shaken. His ratings therefore dropped.

It isn't that Ronald Reagan lacked or is lacking opportunities to be a ,statesman. It is that he is only interested in photo opportunities. For a while, he--and the other salesmen behind the cameras--handled that unessential part of his job with skill. Except for the scripts. Their contents, as his movies used to be, were always in the B class.

But overexposure on the screen is at best a gamble. It often boomerangs. In his case it did. He stood tall in tiny Grenada. Not so tall in Lebanon. His visit to SS graves in Bitburg was confusing to some, abominable to others. His stumping for loyal candidates for the Senate and House was spectacular, but a failure. The publicity stunt of a hastily improvised summit meeting a disaster. The Iran-contra shambles merely made him look foolish even to his devotees.

The screen can make you very popular. But it can also be very cruel.

People are wrong when they speak of a crisis of the presidency, when they exhort us to rally around its present occupant for the good of the country or advocate impeachment. There is a crisis of the American electorate. For the good of the country it must stop being a TV audience. It must try to elect a good President who not only has the latitude, but also the gift and wish to be a statesman.

GOTTFRIED REINHARDT

Los Angeles

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