Jimmy Carter with Ronald Reagan.

Analysts of President Reagan’s reelection landslide have made much of the point that it was not necessarily a mandate for tougher policies: the voters’ endorsement should be seen as primarily an enthusiastic expression of hope for continuance of the state of economic well-being and patriotic euphoria in which Americans, by and large, found themselves in late 1984. Be that as it may, it does seem quite clear by contrast that four years earlier Jimmy Carter lost votes on foreign policy issues. If Washington’s relations with the outside world are going well, they may not be a decisive vote-getter, but the sense that they have gone badly can be a decisive vote-loser. Nothing fails like failure.

In my view, however, the two successive foreign policies have differed more in the images they have created at home and abroad than in their substance. Furthermore, in Mr. Reagan’s case, ironically and

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  • Coral Bell is Senior Research Fellow at Australian National University. She is the author of The Diplomacy of Détente and editor of the series Agenda for the Eighties.
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