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Book Review : U.S. After the Reagan Revolution

August 06, 1987|JONATHAN KIRSCH

Post-Reagan America by Archibald L. Gillies, et al (World Policy Institute, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10017: $8.95, paperback, 174 pages)

"Post-Reagan America" is a briefing book for the new generation of Democratic presidential candidates, an off-the-shelf global strategy for the survival of American affluence and influence in what the authors insistently characterize as a "geo-economic world."

The five earnest essayists collected here, all affiliated with a progressive Washington think tank called the World Policy Institute, offer "ways of thinking that are much more appropriate to an emerging 'geo-economic world' than acting tough and showing the flag." They advocate a program of economic rejuvenation based on centralized government planning and spending, an end to Cold War confrontation, the reduction of nuclear and conventional military spending.

Still, after reading "Post-Reagan America" against the background noise of the Iran- contra hearings, I can only wonder if any politician who actually embraces these sensible but uninspiring policies will ever see the Oval Office.

The Cutting Edge

The contributors to "Post-Reagan America" style themselves and their policies as the cutting edge of political discourse, confronting "questions of an epochal proportion" and characterizing the 1988 presidential election as a test of our political system. The world of the late 20th Century, the authors insist, is one in which "economic strength and political dialogue, not military might, determine a nation's influence."

Yet, I fear that "Post-Reagan America" is already an antique, since it was conceived and written before we witnessed the moral self-immolation of Gary Hart and the spontaneous public beatification of Lt. Col. Oliver North. Our very recent history suggests a miraculous revival of Reaganism, and the Democrats are on the defensive once again.

Of course, if the Democrats want some new ideas, the authors of "Post-Reagan America" have a few. But the ideas in "Post-Reagan America" seem politically sterile--if the American electorate can fall in love with a desk-bound Rambo-like North, with his Reagan-like genius for simple solutions to complex problems, his gunpowder patriotism and his facile sentimentality, what will the voters make of the cool, complex, cerebral policies that are offered up in "Post-Reagan America" as the last, best hope for democracy?

The essayists simply write off the Reagan Administration and "the Babbitry of its spirit."

"(Reagan's) politics represented one last desperate attempt to recapture American prosperity and security, largely through laissez-faire economic policies and military assertiveness," writes Archibald L. Gillies, president of the institute. "But for all his talk of an America standing tall again, Reagan did nothing to reverse America's decline (in fact, he only accelerated it) or to relieve the tensions between America's overextended, overmilitarized international role, and its weakened economic and social base."

And the unreconstructed Democrats are not much better, according to "Post-Reagan America." The mainstream of the traditional Democratic Party "cannot conceive of prosperity and social justice except in terms of small, narrow programs that pit the near-poor against the poor," writes contributor Jeff Faux. "Their analysis would lead us to conclude that we must be reconciled to a future of unemployment, job insecurity, the destruction of the family farm, and helplessness against unfair foreign competition. All we can do is hunker down while the forces of history run over us."

Going With the Flow

Of course, the authors of "Post-Reagan America" have a pretty good notion of how to go with the flow of history. Their alternative, which they cheerfully characterize as a radical one, emphasizes government planning and spending to achieve increased employment, higher wages and greater Above all, "Post-Reagan America" guarantees its own irrelevance in the upcoming presidential campaign because it wholly ignores the most important single element of American politics in an era of public opinion polls, packaged candidates and 30-second spots--the vocabulary of values, aspirations, and ideals which can be used to capture the imagination of the American voter. That's the real genius of Reagan, of course, and North, too. And the absence of such a vocabulary is the real failing of "Post-Reagan America."

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