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With the U.S. trade deficit continuing to soar (to a near record $13.4 billion in June alone), the Administration has sat back while Congress considered a raft of retaliatory measures, many of them dangerously protectionist. Nor has the White House exerted much leadership or imagination in dealing with other problems that cry out for fresh approaches, including immigration and the hard-core poverty that defies general economic recovery. Indeed, at a time when many predicted Reagan would reach the zenith of his power, translating a historic re-election mandate into his vaunted "second American revolution," he and his men have instead acquired a mantle of fatigue. The dimout has nothing to do with the President's illness but a lot to do with the intellectual vitality of his Administration. Nodding toward the White House domestic-policy office, one top official admitted, "It's like a morgue over there."
The malaise stems in part from Reagan's firm belief that, rhetoric aside, the basic agenda remains what it always was: to reduce the scope and cost of Government. He felt no urgent need to search for new horizons following the election, and those around him who normally provided sparks of initiative failed for once to ignite. Admits one: "There was burnout among most of the people who counted." In hindsight, even some Reagan loyalists now concede that, same agenda or not, there was a need early in the second term for an infusion of fresh ideas. Says one: "It is just at this stage of a presidency when you need a new supply."
There are plenty of new faces around Reagan, to be sure, but they have yet to master the technical subtleties of using the White House's clout to full advantage, let alone serve as well-springs of innovation. Nor, as the budget tiff made clear, have key White House officials developed sufficient appreciation for Dole's independent style. In the end, however, the push must come from Reagan.
Columbia University Historian Henry Graff attributes the Administration's second-term torpor to a sort of history-book complacency. "They have nothing further to prove," he says. "They don't have a sense of going for glory." Perhaps. But the period just after Labor Day is also a kind of second new year in the U.S., a time of fresh starts and revived enterprise after the summer doldrums. For both Reagan and the 99th Congress, that would still leave time--but not much--to go for glory. --By William R. Doerner. Reported by Laurence I. Barrett and Neil MacNeil/Washington