EACH JANUARY, President Reagan's State of the Union address is an occasion to cart out the old cliches and extoll the virtues and glory of the almighty American people: "The American people brought us back with quiet courage and common sense....The American people deserve our thanks," the President solemnly uttered in his message to Congress last Tuesday. And, as a token of appreciation which has become a Reagan trademark, the President took time out from assessing the state of the union to praise heretofore unnoticed American heroes.
Unfortunately, the dramatic irony of the occasion was all too obvious. Reagan's policies--specifically his latest budget proposal--display a committment to the kind of person he so often finds occasion to praise which is as wavering as his breathy voice.
THE THEME OF this year's crop of heroes is the promise which America's youth holds for the future. Reagan praises Richard Cavoli, a young science and medical expert, Tyrone Ford, an accomplished 12-year-old muscian, Shelly Butler, an honors student who saved a girl from being run over by a bus, and Trevor Farrell, a 13-year-old who aids Philadelphia's homeless.
The President's heroes exude stereotypical appeal, but they are heroic precisely because they have surmounted obstacles which the Administration has willingly left in their paths. How many future science prodigies will the President stifle by eliminating the Health Professions Training Program and by reducing research grants and university funding?
And how amusing it is that Reagan praises Tyrone Ford for "surmounting adversity" to become an accomplished musician and calls for greater opportunity. Meanwhile, he pursues cuts in funding for the arts, threatening the opportunities of promising young musicians.
Once again rhetoric fails to touch base with reality.
In Shelly Butler, Reagan embodies the heroic potential of young Americans, yet how many Americans like Shelly will not receive adequate educations as a result of the President's cuts in educational spending? Under Reagan's 1987 budget, federal revenue-sharing funds used by states to support school districts will be cut. Federal financial aid for college students has been under constant siege since Reagan took office. The President honors Shelly Butler only in his speech; he prefers to attack her and countless other upcoming Americans with his educational policy. Quite a way to treat a national hero.
Trevor Farrell, who helps the homeless, draws the President's praise for displaying the "living spirit of brotherly love." "Private values," Reagan said on Tuesday, "must be at the heart of public policies." But that is precisely the President's problem; he lacks heart when it comes to helping those to whom Trevor is devoted. Mutual aid is the message which Trevor Farrell conveys; a benevolent government should adopt Trevor's "private values" and follow its hero's example. The homeless are the responsibility of more than just a 13-year-old boy.
Reagan also emphasized the virtues and importance of family Tuesday night. "Family and community are the co-stars of this great American comeback," he said. Then, on Wednesday, he asked Congress to approve a budget which will reduce federal housing assistance. Apparently, support for the family does not include a place to live.
Reagan's reputation as The Great Communicator is well-deserved. Few figures in history have spoken so forcefully for the cause of the common man and acted so determinedly against it. The pattern has become all too clear.
In next year's State of the Union, I predict that Reagan will focus on the elderly. Our future hero will have rejected relief during the Great Depression, despite being unemployed and having to support 10 kids. He will have joined the army during World War II but will have refused to take advantage of the G.I. Bill because he has always loathed the idea of using the government's money for self-improvement. And now, in his old age, he rejects social security and medicare. Make way for Juan Jackson-Goldstein, arrayed on the balcony beside Nancy, another mascot for the Reagan Revolution.