The White House has undergone an almost unnoticed transition that is likely to transform national policy profoundly. On March 1, Martin Anderson, President Reagan's domestic policy advisor, returned to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and was replaced by Edwin Harper, formerly the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Anderson's departure is troubling for several reasons. The first is that the final link between the highly ideological Reagan presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980 and the Reagan presidency has been severed. Political advisor Lyn Nofziger and national security advisor Richard Allen, the two conservative ideologues who also had helped guide both of Reagan's presidential bids, left in January; there is now no senior Reagan presidential aide who helped shape Reagan's philosophical development over the years.
More important, Anderson's resignation removes the one important Reagan official who held a consistent philosophical commitment to individual freedom, economic liberty, and noncoercion. The upper levels of the White House are now ideologically barren: Ed Meese and Mike Deaver submerge their personal philosophies; Jim Baker possesses a personal ideology of pragmatism; and William Clark focuses on foreign policy.
Anderson has been the aide most willing to force the president and his officials to confront fundamental philosophical principles when making policy decisions. Unfortunately, it seems that Harper shares neither Anderson's ideological concerns nor his intensity of conviction. Those who know Harper say that he is a competent manager but has the mind-set of a typical conservative businessman. He seems less likely to challenge the reigning pragmatic orthodoxy, oppose business interests, guard campaign commitments, or heavily involve himself in noneconomic issues such as the draft.
Indeed, the magnitude of the loss caused by Anderson's departure can be better measured by surveying the issues in which he's reported to have played a major role:
Draft registration. Anderson led a lonely fight against the national security establishment to eliminate draft registration. Though losing in the end, he was able to engineer the December 1981 hold placed on prosecutions and to gain administration opposition to a plan to give the Selective Service System access to Social Security and IRS files.
National ID card. Attorney General Smith and some White House aides proposed national ID cards to help enforce the immigration laws. Anderson—and his wife, Annelise, an associate program director at OMB—vigorously and unsuccessfully opposed this step towards Orwell's 1984.
Tax increases. Anderson was the only senior administration official to oppose the recent proposal for tax increases. His trenchant critique of the so-called sin taxes was a major factor in derailing them.
Japanese auto imports. Anderson joined Reagan's other economic advisors in opposing any auto import quotas. He lost, but the quotas imposed were less stringent than originally proposed.
Law of the Sea. The draft Law of the Sea treaty has been in the making for a decade and would sacrifice American philosophical, economic, and national security interests, while ratifying the Third World's demands for a redistributionist New International Economic Order. Anderson took the lead in preventing the US government from signing the treaty last year and in having the US delegation demand substantial changes this year.
Defense budget. Last fall, Anderson joined most of Reagan's other advisors in proposing reductions in the growth rate of the defense budget. Though committed to a strong defense position, Anderson was concerned with the rate money was being showered on the Pentagon.
Natural-gas deregulation. Anderson spent the past year pushing support for legislation to deregulate natural gas. Lack of enthusiasm on the part of congressional Republicans has apparently left the decision in limbo since August.
Export of Alaskan crude oil. Despite maritime union pressure and doubtful legislative chances, Anderson led the fight to eliminate the autarchic ban on the export of Alaskan crude oil. Unfortunately, it looks like no decision will translate into an adverse decision.
Coal slurry pipeline. Anderson stood virtually alone in opposing proposals to grant federal eminent domain authority to coal slurry pipeline companies. Reagan went along with Anderson's arguments against using eminent domain power and overruling state governments.
Anderson's departure leaves a philosophical void on these types of issues that Harper is not likely to fill. The void will be enlarged by the concurrent, though unrelated, departure of John McClaughry, a senior policy advisor in Anderson's office. McClaughry, formerly head of the Institute for Liberty and Community, has been an active libertarian and decentralist and may run for the US Senate.
Moreover, some other of Anderson's staff may also leave. For example, insiders say that Anderson's chief personal aides, who reportedly share his individualistic philosophy, are likely to depart in time as well.
Finally, Anderson's departure will do more than just eliminate his nagging presence; it will dampen the nagging of others. However many philosophically sound people remain in the Office of Policy Development, Harper is likely to reorganize the office to emphasize managerial efficiency rather than ideological purity. Paper, not philosophy, will prevail.
A similar impact will be felt by other, independent, Reagan officials as well. People such as OMB Director David Stockman, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Murray Wiedenbaum, and Treasury Secretary Donald Regan generally take the correct policy positions. But they will now lack reinforcement by the one long-time aide who linked and emphasized campaign and philosophical commitments.
Even Anderson's presence did not stop Reagan from making a number of disheartening decisions. But his absence almost guarantees that the administration will become more devoted to pragmatism and compromise and less to principle and challenge. And as it does so, our prospects for increased liberty will decline.
Robert James Lee is a Washington attorney.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Washington Watch: Ideology’s Gone Packing".