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President's Central America speech: a political dud?

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The wisdom of President Reagan's address to Congress on Central America - as political strategy and as a way of influencing legislative action - was quickly called into question here.

Mr. Reagan risked a rebuff from Congress that would underscore the recent pattern of weakening presidential clout on Capitol Hill, worried Republicans said.

He risked accelerating the pace of confrontation between the two parties.Judging by Democratic reaction to the President's speech, the 1984 election is already fast becoming the driving force in Washington deliberations.

He risked focusing on a region considered peripheral to most Americans' interests, as opposed to a political strategy of recouping support among blue-collar, Hispanic, and women voters, to whom the United States economy remains paramount, GOP strategists said.

In his speech to Congress Wednesday night, Reagan sought to allay fears that a buildup of military and economic aid for Central America could be a prelude to a subtle Vietnam-style escalation that could eventually draw in American troops.

He tried to rally Congress and the public to a heightened sense of urgency about the region. ''The national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America,'' he said. ''If we cannot defend ourselves there, we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere. Our credibility would collapse, our alliances would crumble, and the safety of our homeland would be put at jeopardy.''

But there was little evidence anyone in Congress was persuaded to change his view on Central America. And only time will tell whether Americans generally were roused to give the region higher priority. Recent surveys found that only 1 in 10 Americans favor increased military aid to El Salvador and only 1 in 5 approve greater economic aid.

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