CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Former actor Ronald Reagan, drawing a movie analogy for a young Midwestern audience, declared Wednesday that the Democrats brought the nation such economic and foreign policy horrors in the late 1970s that "their memory lane . . . starts to look like 'Nightmare on Elm Street.' "
In a one-day political foray from Washington to try to boost the political fortunes of his vice president, George Bush, and of Republican congressional candidates from Missouri, President Reagan cited double-digit inflation and high unemployment as the economic legacy of the Democratic President he succeeded, Jimmy Carter.
And, turning to foreign affairs, he said:
"If you want to remember how things really were just a few years back, think of the year 1979. In that one year . . . Iran fell to the ayatollah. Nicaragua and Grenada were taken by the communists.
'Peace and Prosperity'
"Today we have peace and prosperity. And the liberals are trying to pretend those economic and foreign policy nightmares they gave us never happened."
The President's appearance at a Missouri Victory '88 rally at Southeast Missouri State University here was warmly received by an enthusiastic crowd of 8,500 students and residents.
Reagan ridiculed Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis' recent statements that he favored a strong defense and drew applause with another movie reference: "We haven't seen such a radical transformation since Dustin Hoffman played 'Tootsie.' "
Missouri is expected to be a closely contested state this November. Carter carried it by a small margin in capturing the White House 12 years ago, but Reagan took it by wide margins in 1980 and 1984.
Later, addressing a Republican state fund-raising dinner in St. Louis, Reagan again played on the themes of an economically and militarily strong America under Republican leadership.
Reduced Inflation Rate
"In the last eight years, our Administration cut interest rates to half of what they were and inflation to a third," the President said.
Turning to national defense, he said: "We have fought a liberal mentality that said there was safety in weakness . . . we have worked to restore America's strength."
The President said Dukakis "would cut the B-1 bomber, the Midgetman missile, our Strategic Defense Initiative and two carrier battle groups."
"In fact, what they plan for the Navy is so bad," Reagan quipped, "by the time they get through, Michael may have to row the boat ashore."
In Washington, however, Reagan's defense policies were the target of criticism by Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), who charged the Republican Administration with failing to deal with the vulnerability of the nation's land-based missile force.
Byrd noted that Reagan entered office promising to close the so-called "window of vulnerability" created by the increasing accuracy of Soviet missiles, which could easily destroy U.S. land-based missiles, all based in fixed silos.
Contending that the Administration has ignored its own warnings, Byrd said: "Now it is not just the window which is open, the whole side of the house is open."
Staff writer John M. Broder contributed to this story.