Advice we can do without

Robert E. Wolfe

March 11, 1993|By Robert E. Wolfe

DEAR President Reagan:

I saw on this page ("There they go again," Feb. 19) your article with advice to President Clinton. Like you, I am a bit uneasy about his programs, but I fear that taking advice from you is like consulting the captain of the Titanic about icebergs.

We watched you for eight years and frankly, some of us were not amused. For one thing, we found it difficult to determine your effective age.

Too often you seemed to be a toddler playing aimlessly with the machinery of government, pulling this lever and then that, to see what would happen. Vast areas of important work escaped your attention while you amazed us with trivial anecdotes and astounding pronouncements such as, "Trees cause 90 percent of the pollution."

Sometimes you were a first-grader playing cops and robbers: Bang! Bang! You're dead! We start bombing in five minutes! Go ahead, make my day!

In news conferences you were the high school boy, stumbling and inarticulate because you didn't do your homework. With embarrassing regularity your statements at such meetings had to be corrected afterward by your staff.

All the rest of the time you were an actor, of indeterminate age, reading your lines with skill and confidence -- when you had a script. Without the script you were lost.

You were widely known as the "Great Communicator," but in eight years you left nothing worth quoting except the foolish babblings of a pedestrian mind, unfocused and drifting. Now you propose to give advice to the new president.

The last time we saw you, you were testifying in connection with the "arms for hostages" debacle. I must say that at that time you did not appear to be well suited for the position of counselor. A president who must rely on "I don't remember" as much as you did should not be giving advice to anyone.

We might, generously, attribute that failing to your age, since you have passed the four score mark, and age must be accorded respect.

But you have chosen to stick your head into the kitchen, so you must take the heat.

Many have said, rightly I believe, that you did not always distinguish theater from reality. At any rate, the play is now over. History is writing your critique.

A president cannot take credit for all the positive things occurring in his term and blame the negatives on someone else. Especially you, President Reagan, because you, more than any other recent president, had near limitless public support and could have accomplished wonders.

For a large part of your administration you held the American people in your hands as no other president in modern times. You were admired, adulated, even worshiped by some. (Yes, in at least one published article someone called you "our savior.") Such public approval is power, and you squandered it.

With a following such as yours, you easily could have set a standard of ethics in government which, indeed, would have made our country stand tall in the eyes of the world and at home. The simple act of firing one unscrupulous cabinet member would have said more than all the empty morality preachments of your entire term.

You could have demanded honesty and accountability from your appointees and their underlings, and your popularity would only have increased. With your enormous supply of political capital, reinforced by your huge approval ratings, you would have

effectively confronted members of Congress and dissuaded them from the worst of the profligacy with which you charged them and which you claimed was responsible for the huge

deficits.

With your popularity, you could have shamed the bankers and other businessmen into some restraint of their insatiable greed. Had you been watching the store, as presidents should, you could have anticipated and averted the savings and loans scandals which have cost us hundreds of billions and have resulted in a large part of our intolerable national debt.

But you were not concerned with these things. Instead, you opted for a cloak of superficial patriotism and sanctimonious piety as you toddled off to play in the sandbox of history. You were asleep at the switch, and now we all must pay for it.

We do not know what President Clinton will be able to accomplish in four or eight years, but the task is enormous, and we do not need any advice from the one who, more than anyone else, is responsible for the mess the new president has inherited.

So please, Mr. President, do not offer any more advice to anyone. You can best serve your country now by retreating -- quietly -- to your home in the California hills, leaving the business of government to wiser -- and more attentive -- heads.

Robert E. Wolfe writes from Hampstead.

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