Ronald Reagan: A Relaxing View
From the Nov. 28, 1967, issue of NR.


William F. Buckley Jr.

Such questions as these Mr. Reagan has not asked, as yet: and, indeed, he has not perfected any line of communication to the academes. Meanwhile, the question rests. The case for the firing of Clark Kerr is at least defensible. Certainly it is true that he’d have been fired irrespective of Reagan’s adventitious attendance at the regents’ meeting on January 20, 1967; and, as regards tuition, the seed has been planted and voters are aware that a public question has been raised. The state of California provides, typically, more than one-half the expenses of the university. The university proposes a budget, the regents examine it, it is submitted to the governor, and he in turn submits it to the legislature. Reagan persuaded the regents this year to spend $20 million of their own reserves, and he vetoed a supplementary appropriation proposed by Unruh. And the university emerged from it all with $10 million more than it got the year before: but the percentage rise was reduced. And more important, heuristic questions have been raised, questions which should have been raised before, questions which quite properly relate higher state education to the total resources and needs of a community. The exact formulation of the ultimate questions neither Governor Reagan nor anyone else is ever likely to come up with. But Reagan has naysayed the superstition that any spending in the name of higher education ought (a) to be approved of, and (b) to be exempt from public scrutiny. And that, perverse thought it may sound, is a contribution to public education.

Concerning mental health, it was widely disseminated that Reagan’s superficiality caused him to ignore the salient point. True, the in-patient population had reduced from 34,000 to 20,000; and true, the state budget for the maintenance of the mentally ill had not reduced at all. Why not, asked Reagan, reduce it pro tanto? Because, his critics leaped, the fact of the diminution of in-patients is testimony to the effectiveness of the entire working force of the mental hospitals, and precisely the wrong thing to do under the circumstances is to reduce their total firing power. Reagan countered that that was supposititious, that he was quite prepared to reverse his recommendations in the event of a decline in the rate of the cured.

Sounds reasonable, one would suppose. But the point, of course, is that economics are never easily effected, and just about never effected when the emotional instrument at the disposal of the spenders is, no less, the mentally ill. Take the incidence of stricken mothers-in-law and multiply it by the prospect of their repatriation, and you have an idea of the size of the political problem. If President Eisenhower was unsuccessful, even during his relatively brief period of militant frugality, in eliminating the Rural Electrification Agency because of the lobbies available to agitate for its survival, one can imagine the difficulties in paring the mental-health agencies of a single state of the nation. So Reagan yielded — actually he had no reasonable alternative than to do so. But again he had made a public point. And, as in the case of education, the point would yield dividends, or should at any rate, when the time comes, as routinely it always has, to augment the budget for mental health. Reagan’s position is after all distinguishable from the position that says that the states should ignore their mentally ill. It is a position that says: If modern psychiatry advances, e.g., through the use of tranquilizers, permit a diminution of the problem, even as the Salk vaccine has diminished the problem of polio, oughtn’t the state to adjust their budgets accordingly?

And then, of course, the big question of the budget. It is a matter of universal hilarity. The most economy-minded governor since the inauguration of J. Bracken Lee as governor of Utah in 1953 forwards to the legislature the highest budget in state history! Loud guffaws. Not utterly wholesome guffaws, to be sure. Nelson Rockefeller, who at least noticed, though he did not precisely run against, the extravagances of his predecessor Averell Harriman as governor of New York, also proceeded to submit a higher budget than that of the Democratic Mr. Harriman. But in Rockefeller’s case, that was considered an act of statesmanship, or at least it was considered as such by the same kind of people who have reacted so ardently against Ronald Reagan.


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