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Absence, not age, matters.


As much as Walter Mondale insists that he wants to fight the election campaign on the issues, the progress he has made so far has been largely on the images. The spectacle of a bumbling Ronald Reagan on the debating platform in Louisville, Kentucky, contrasted sharply with the more vigorous and fluent Mondale. The President lost his place during the proceedings, repeated himself distractedly and at times seemed alarmingly at a loss for words. For the first time, many Americans saw the old actor perform without cue cards, stumped for answers to serious questions. "What Louisville did,' New York Times columnist James Reston wrote of the event, "was not to expose his age, which everybody knew, but to expose his mind, which the voters didn't know.'

Despite Reston's protestations, however, it is age that is likely to be raised by the press (and, of course, by Democrats) as a reason to be wary of a second Reagan term. That may not be the best approach to what is nevertheless an urgent matter. The cause of Reagan's dysfunction may be interesting to an American audience hooked on medical melodramas, but the consequences of his problem are truly important.

Presidents fully in command of their faculties and in control of the government do horrible things, but those who have abdicated a measure of their power pose a danger of a different kind. In such a situation, a group of inaccessible and unaccountable aides and surrogates run the affairs of state, make decisions and push buttons. And in the Reagan White House, that caretaker Presidency would comprise a cadre adhering to an aggressive and authoritarian ideology quite removed from the more pragmatic--and democratic--politics that support an elected President. With less than a month to go, the image of a disabled President is becoming an issue in itself.

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Title Annotation:Ronald Reagan as a disabled president
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Oct 20, 1984
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