'There Is No Animus Here'

innocent bystander

From time to time, this space has been devoted to idle speculation on what it would be like to be a fly on the wall during some of President Reagan's discussions with aides, advisers and family. Every now and then, though, Reagan provides an opportunity for the public to observe first-hand the complexities, or lack thereof, of the presidential thought process.

Such an occasion took place earlier this week, when Reagan held his fifth news conference since taking office. Because much of the grist of what Reagan said may have been lost amid the nearly incoherent babbling, a few choice questions and responses bear repeating.

Nuclear war strategy has received much attention as of late because of contradictory remarks made by Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger over whether NATO has plans to fire a nuclear warning shot if the Soviet Union were to overrun Wester Europe. A reporter asked Reagan whether there should be a nuclear warning shot.

The president, commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces, leader of the free world, and, one would presume, a fairly important component of the NATO alliance, responded, "Well, that, there seems to be some confusion as to whether that is still a part of NATO strategy or not. And so far I've had no answer to that."

Later in the half-hour-long conference, we were treated to the following exchange:

Q: Mr. President, do you endorse the Schweiker proposal?

A: The what?

Q: Do you endorse the proposals made by your Health and Human Services Secretary?

When you've got to remember the names and titles of so many cabinet officers, not to mention their proposals, it becomes a little difficult sometimes, even when one was once your vice presidential running mate.

On the subject of cabinet officers, a reporter asked the unavoidable question about reported tiffs between Haig and other members of the administration.

In reply, the president allowed that "there seems to be too much just loose talk going around, but it has been exaggerated out of all reality." He continued, "There is no animus, personal animus, and there is no bickering or back-stabbing going on." Then, the punch line: "We're very happy group." Members of the press corp could not stifle their laughter at that remark.

But the president forged ahead, claiming that our foreign policy is not in disarray and stating, "We have our allies--I don't think we've every had a stronger relationship than we have with them in Europe." He also noted, "We have, I think, in the Middle East we've progressed there."

The news conference ended shortly thereafter, before the president could add that our economy has never been stronger and that our relationship with the Soviet Union has never been better.