Basement Diplomacy

For the past six years, Ronald Reagan and his administration have virtually controlled Washington. The national political agenda for both the Republicans and Democrats has been set by the White House. More important, this administration managed to control the national news media to a degree unknown before the Reagan years. But finally, the administration, and even the president himself, are being forced to accept a new reality.

This loss of power was not caused by an aggressive campaign mounted by fed-up Capitol Hill Democrats. And it wasn't precipitated by an aggressive, or even particularly alert, Washington press corps. Neither can those of us who have tried for the past several years to expose the underside of this administration take any credit for recent events.

In the end only the president and his staff can be credited with their change in fortune. The scandals that led to their current problems leave no doubt that members of the Reagan administration have purposely misled and lied to the American people in order to pursue their policy objectives.

When all is said and done, the changes forced upon the president by this series of scandals will probably appear to be quite small. But real changes have taken place. And they are major.

The change that is mentioned most often concerns credibility. One of the major strengths of the Reagan administration has been the public sense of trust in the president and his associates. No matter what was said by the administration, it seemed to be believed by a majority of the American people. The MX missile was a "peacekeeper." Space weapons were a "defensive shield." The economy was improving. Poor people were better off than ever before. The contras were only trying to stop an arms flow from Nicaragua to Salvadoran guerrillas. And all of this country's problems were caused by former President Jimmy Carter or the Democrats.

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