REVOLUTION : We May Never Be the Same Again : REVOLUTION <i> by Martin Anderson (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: $19.95; 486 pp.) </i>
Martin Anderson’s Reagan “Revolution” is really a Reagan Evolution. For the first time, a policy insider to Reagan, first as California governor and as President, reviews the development and implementation of the Reagan agenda. Whereas Michael Deaver’s book told us how to “sell” the President, Anderson tells us what the President stands for. Unlike Larry Speakes, he does not put words in the President’s mouth; Anderson instead discusses the conversion of the President’s ideas into national policy.
He puts into an intellectual, political and historical perspective the evolution of conservative policy. He does not simply offer blind praise to his boss, with whom he has worked for nearly 20 years. He gives us a rather objective policy analysis: “The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and many of the events that followed were the political results of an intellectual movement building for many years in the United States and, to a lesser extent, throughout the world. But what has been called the Reagan revolution is not completely, or even mostly due to Ronald Reagan. He was an extremely important contributor. He gave the movement focus and leadership. But Reagan did not give it life.”
Anderson says the Reagan revolution or evolution was “the logical outgrowth of policy ideas and political forces set in motion during the 1950s and 1960s, ideas and forces that gathered strength and speed during the 1970s, then achieved political power in the 1980s, and promise to dominate national policy in the United States for the remainder of the 20th Century.”
“There have been many contributors to this movement: the traditional Republicans and the old conservatives who formed its core; the libertarians who gave it consistency and sharply defined goals, at the same time widening the boundaries of intellectual debate; the neoconservatives whose desertion from the left seemed to confirm the validity of the movement and who infused that movement with new intellectual vigor; the new right with their political enthusiasm and persistence; and the Moral Majority with their large numbers and moral certitude. They were all necessary, though none by themselves sufficient, to have achieved the kind of intellectual and political change that occurred in so short a time.”
According to the author, it was no coincidence that conservatives returned to power in the United States, England and Canada. Socialism had failed everywhere, including the West. Even France was turning its back on the planned state economy. And Communist countries, too, were turning to free market solutions: the Soviet Union, China, Angola, Mozambique, and Vietnam. For example, the Soviets in 1986 authorized 29 different types of individual private enterprise. The Chinese instituted supply-side tax policy “with a vengeance.” They told about 80% of the population, the peasants, that they were free to keep for themselves all agricultural produce--after meeting the quota owed the state. “In effect, this was a 100% tax on the first part of the peasant’s crop, and no tax at all on what he grew or raised beyond that. The marginal tax rate was zero. . . . In the late 1970s, China was stalked by drought and famine. Within a few short years, she was self-sufficient in food. By the middle of the 1980s, she was a net exporter of food to the rest of the world.”
After a brief historical and global assessment, Anderson focuses his attention on Reagan. He stresses that the President’s unstated belief, yet guiding principle, is that “ideas create policy; and people implement it.” He details how Reagan’s management style required both firm ideas and committed people:
“Reagan’s management style is unique, making it possible for him to achieve legendary changes in economic policy and nuclear weapons strategy, magically and seemingly without effort. But it is a style with dangerous flaws that were masked until the Iran-Contra affair exposed them and nearly destroyed his presidency. It is a high-risk style; not deliberately so, but one that is his by instinct. When it works, it is spectacular. When it fails, it is also spectacular.”
“The problem with Carter,” said candidate Reagan, “is that he tries to do everything at once and he tries to do too much of it himself. If we win we are going to set priorities and do things one at a time.” According to Anderson, “that is exactly what Reagan did when he was elected, and it was probably the wisest thing he did as President.”
Reagan established two top priorities. The first was to rebuild America’s military strength, the second to rebuild America’s economic strength. All other issues, important as they might be, were virtually set aside. Reagan handpicked key people to whom he delegated the authority and responsibility to get the job done.
The President said, “You surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the overall policy that you’ve decided upon is being carried out. In Cabinet meetings, I use a system in which I want to hear what everybody wants to say honestly (some Cabinet members who have been members of other cabinets told Anderson there had never been such meetings). I encourage all the input I can get. . . . And when I’ve heard all that I need to make a decision, I don’t take a vote. I make a decision. Then I expect every one of them, whether their views have carried the day or not, to go forward together in carrying out the policy.” According to Anderson, “the only true test of a management style is whether it works or not. In the early years of his presidency, it worked brilliantly.”
Reagan’s campaigns had vital task forces; his Administration a Cabinet Council with its intricate sub-Cabinet working groups, called “policy chokepoints”; and all were staffed with carefully selected, diversely talented, loyal supporters of his two priority-policy objectives. Anderson is particularly insightful because he and Ed Meese were instrumental in putting these teams together.
In putting together people to implement the Reagan agenda, a historical step was taken in the late spring of 1980. Meese contacted an old friend, E. Pendleton James, a nationally known expert in executive recruiting, and asked him for a plan for “filling the top positions in the government in preparation for a Reagan victory.” Determined not to repeat the failures of the Nixon Administration in 1968 and Carter Administration in 1976--whereby neither was able to hit the ground running when he took office, Pen James’ personnel team identified the top jobs in government and established a talent bank of qualified candidates for positions in every major policy-making area. This work was pivotal.
It allowed the incoming Administration to move on its policy agenda in the all-important first 100 days. James’ assumptions were: (1) appointments were absolutely critical to the success of the Administration; (2) that the number and quality of appointments could only be achieved through a careful, thorough personnel organization; and (3) appointments had to be centralized and controlled tightly by President Reagan and a few others on the White House staff.
Then, the demise. Unfortunately, the systematic staffing that took place during the transition was not sustained. Gradually, people less talented and less completely committed to Reagan’s policy agenda began to fill the ranks of the Administration. The results were disastrous. One consequence was Iran-Contra, something that never could have happened if Meese, Baker, Deaver, and Richard Allen had remained in the White House to advise the President.
According to Anderson, then-White House Chief of Staff Don Regan put the economic agenda at risk, and CIA Director Bill Casey the national security agenda, by effectively cutting off the kind of policy discussions and review that the President vitally needed.
The worst case was that of Casey, according to Anderson. “Stripped to its essentials, (the super CIA) was accountable to no one--not any elected official in the land, no congressmen, no senators, not even the President--no one but its self-appointed masters. As concocted by Casey, Poindexter, and North, this small, super CIA would generate its own funds (secretly), determine what operations it would carry out (secretly), and then, I assume, judge whether or not it did a good job (again secretly). It was to be the ultimate covert activity, accountable to no one, yet all the time able to use the power and to invoke the glory of the U.S. in carrying out whatever activities it deemed appropriate. . . . It was a prescription for disaster.”
Both government policies and management were at risk. Anderson suggests there were signs that the Meese-Baker-Deaver team would have understood what was going on. But Regan’s and Casey’s effort to concentrate power in essence “choked off the policy chokepoints.”
Asking, “Have the nation’s hopes for lasting security and permanent prosperity been left in the wake of these turbulent episodes; or were these damaging events largely independent of new revolutionary forces at work?” Anderson effectively argues that the Reagan revolution will continue.
Anderson concludes: “What Reagan and his comrades have done is to shape America’s agenda well into the 21st Century. The prospects are nil for sharply progressive tax rates and big, new social welfare programs, some of the former mainstays of the Democrats’ domestic policy agenda. Everyone is for a strong national defense, differing only in the degree and quality of it. Massive funding for nuclear missile defense efforts and the turning from arms control to arms reduction will remain high on our foreign policy agenda. . . . Of course, many policy problems remain. The large federal deficit, and the imbalance in foreign trade will be difficult and unpleasant to solve. . . .
“But the course has been altered.”
Implicitly, Anderson provides some important advice to Vice President George Bush: Build on the successes of the Reagan/Bush Administration here and abroad. Further, identify clear policy objectives and, now not later, put together a team of solid supporters to advance “peace, prosperity and individual liberty.”
“Revolution” is a textbook for managing government and a warning against government organizations accountable to no one.