RONALD REAGAN has been in office more than a month now. He came to office with an electoral landslide and a change in the Senate, something almost no one expected. The man whom many pundits said was too old and too conservative to be elected President is now President. Still, the question remains, "Can he now lead the American people?"
The "age issue," of course, all but disappeared in the last part of the campaign. Mr. Reagan had shown that he could successfully withstand the rigors of the campaign trail. His health remained strong. Of course, I for one never entertained for one moment the idea that Mr. Reagan's age should be any impediment to his assuming the responsibilities of President of the United States. Having been the close companion of a man who, though he is older than Mr. Reagan in physical years, has successfully shouldered duties and responsibilities comparable to those of the President, I knew that mere age would, if anything, only enhance Mr. Reagan's ability to lead. Adenauer, Churchill, Mao — many of the leaders of great stature in this century have undertaken incredible responsibility when they were advanced in years. The same should apply to Mr. Reagan.
Mr. Reagan certainly had the abilities and qualities to be elected. Of course, one would expect a professional actor to be good on the stump.
On the other hand, while Mr. Reagan's background as an actor has attracted criticism throughout his political career, it is an invaluable asset. As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who is no fan of Mr. Reagan's, has noted, one of the most important duties a President has is to communicate with and educate the American people. As a communicator, Mr. Reagan is superbly qualified.
Mr. Reagan has drawn criticism for supposedly preferring "simple solutions" to sticky, complex problems. In response, he likes to argue that there are indeed simple answers — just not easy ones. Here again an area of supposed weakness may work to Mr. Reagan's advantage. It is generally agreed that one of Mr. Carter's weaknesses was a tendency to become bogged down in details. Mr. Reagan is known to take more of an overview, leaving details to his subordinates.
Mr. Reagan's trait for preferring simplicity to complexity may work to his advantage another way. A true leader cannot be like Shakespeare's Hamlet — indecisive. As the Bible says, "if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (I Corinthians 14:8). A leader cannot be beset by self-doubts engendered by the "complexities" of the modern world. Many Americans voted for Mr. Reagan because he seemed more confident — more positive — than his predecessor.
Of course, the fact that Mr. Reagan is such a good communicator could also be his own undoing. During the campaign he managed to seem all things to all men — and in the election he did extraordinarily well among people who would normally vote Democratic. Has Mr. Reagan made too many promises?
Under any administration, some people prosper while others may suffer — at least relatively. Yet to an uncommon degree Mr. Reagan embodies the hopes of millions of people: can he now ask for sacrifices for the national good? I wonder. Society is becoming more selfish and inward looking, and as Walter Lacquer has recently written, "Even the most talented leaders will be unable to save democracy for a society whose supreme value is satisfaction of the ego."
One of Mr. Reagan's apparent strengths is an unusual — for a politician — measure of humility. As governor of California, Mr. Reagan kept a very interesting plaque on his desk. It read: "You can accomplish much... if you don't mind who gets the credit." Mr. Reagan certainly has shown himself willing to delegate authority. He is said to depend heavily on his staff. Of course, this can be carried too far — a leader must himself be diligent if he is to succeed (Proverbs 12:24). On the other hand, "in multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 24:6), and even Mr. Reagan's political enemies give credit for seeking out well-qualified subordinates and being willing to listen to their advice. One reporter, for example, has remarked that Mr. Reagan "does not appear to have a large ego stake" when it comes to delegating power.
This lack of a grasping, all-the-glory-for-myself attitude is one of the most positive things about Mr. Reagan. The Bible says a leader must be more interested in serving those who follow him than in the glory and power of high office for their own sakes (Matthew 20:25-28). Similarly, Moses was specifically advised in the Bible to appoint "able men" to positions under him (Exodus 18:21).
However, Mr. Reagan may need more than respected counselors and able staff people if he is to attack problems which are, at bedrock, spiritual. Mr. Reagan takes office during perilous times (II Timothy 3:1). Such times call for unpopular action — yet there is a real question whether any leader in this world would be able to take that action.