Facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence in his ability to lead, President Reagan on Wednesday night tried to assure Americans that he will move to regain the trust that he lost when the grievous blunder of his Iran arms enterprise became known. For the first time, albeit reluctantly, Reagan acknowledged that his attempt to trade arms to Iran for hostages in Lebanon was "a mistake"--a fact that was witheringly documented by the Tower Commission in its report on the scandal.
Americans want to see their President succeed. Just as certainly, as the opinion polls starkly show, powerful doubts now exist about whether he can do so. In the wake of the Tower Commission's findings, popular respect for the President has given way to widespread disappointment, while affection has been diluted with pity. Reagan's casual approach to his job has never been a secret. Until now, however, few outside his inner circle had grasped how uncertain and detached from key issues he has been, or had known of the unwise profligacy with which he yielded power to others.
Reagan is said to have been shocked by the criticisms in the Tower Commission report. The American people were hit even harder by its revelations of presidential inattentiveness and managerial sloth. A speech can't wash this mood away. Lost confidence can be restored only if the President is seen clearly to be taking command of his job.