For a while, the disclosure of the Reagans' weakness for astrology was good for a brief chuckle at the expense of the First Family.
Indeed, at first the White House itself was inclined to laugh off the flap brought on by former chief of staff Donald Regan's new book - which finally hit the bookshelves this week after a big word-of-mouth buildup.By now, the jokes have worn thin. Since it involves only a foolish foible, the flap should have died a natural death days ago. But the snide talk goes on and on, thanks to a shoddy book promotion campaign and the willingness of some of the President's detractors to see problems where none exist. Enough has now become far too much.
Looking at the results of this episode, it's hard to discern any winners, only losers. Among them:
The Reagans, for being made to look naive even though plenty of other Americans read horoscopes without putting stock in them and no government policy decisions were ever based on this silly superstition.
The presidency, which suffers as an institution when the Chief Executive and the First Lady can't speak candidly to subordinates for fear that private disclosures may end up in print.
The press, for feeding endlessly on such an inane triviality.
Donald Regan, who comes across as petty, disloyal, and vindictive after having been unceremoniously ousted as the president's right-hand man.
The public, which is hurt when the stature of the President is needlessly and unfairly impaired and when tattle-tales give America's friends and foes alike the impression that high U.S. officials are not to be trusted.
By all means, the public has a right to know who and what influences the First Family and how policy decisions are reached in the White House. But in the end, it's results that count. Among the results of the Reagan administration are the whipping of inflation, the lowest unemployment in 14 years, a potentially far-reaching new treaty to curb nuclear weapons, and the restoration of pride in America after a long nightmare of self-doubt.
It's still far too soon to say how history will judge the current administration. But at this point it doesn't take a fortune teller to see that Ronald Reagan certainly stands tall, particularly when compared to some of the pygmies among his recent detractors. The last laugh seems likely to be on Regan rather than the Reagans.