Ronald Reagan's great experiment, Barney Frank's other vices, Abraham Lincoln's mental health. THE PASSIVE VOICE

(FORTUNE Magazine) – As we tap out these words on our trusty 101-key enhanced keyboard, the Dow Jones industrial average is around 2700 and also looking enhanced. Approaching the second anniversary of the great thud of 1987, one cannot help noticing that the stock market is back to where it was before this event. (Possibly it will even stay around there until you folks get to read this analysis.) What we truly relish about the comeback is that the Dow did it while thumbing its proboscis at the dirigiste diagnoses and prescriptions that filled the airwaves and op-ed pages after the bath. Reviewing the post-crash hysteria, you rather get the sense that a falling stock market serves to confirm everybody's notions about what's wrong with the world. Being mostly Democrats and instinctive regulators, the media pundits felt confirmed in positing that the crash (a) signified fundamental flaws in Reaganomics, (b) threatened a recession or worse, and (c) required immediate action on the budget deficit, none of which was happening because of (d) the President's lack of leadership and remoteness from reality. It was a strong story line, and Nexis can point you to 106 news stories between October 19 and the end of 1987 in which ''Reagan,'' ''stock,'' and ''leadership'' appear within 30 words of each other. To be sure, there was no consensus on the operational meaning of leadership, not to mention reality. Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, then burnishing his own credentials to occupy the White House, was making speeches decrying Reagan's lack of leadership after the crash and shouting (the New Republic says he shouted): ''What would Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman have done about that? They would have presented a vision and a plan of action.'' Wow. Other faces in the crowd demanding leadership belonged to Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, economist Fred Bergsten, the | editors of the Washington Post and New York Times, and columnist Anthony Lewis of the Times. Cuomo's idea of leadership was to call for creation of a National Economic Commission that would tell us all what to do. Lewis began his own indictment of Reagan's unleaderly ways with this gripping lead: ''For some years now, Washington has been the site of a fascinating controlled experiment. The . . . question: Can the American system of government work, in the modern world, with no one in charge?'' Said Lewis: ''The results are in, and they are conclusive. The answer is no.'' Lewis bemoaned Reagan's ''detachment'' and ''passivity.'' The Times itself could not believe Ron's relaxed posture. ''With . . . the country anxious for leadership,'' the paper groaned after the crash, ''it gets an astonishing rerun of Herbert Hoover.'' Most of those demanding that Reagan do something had the deficit in mind. Mostly what they wanted him to do was raise taxes. But the Washington Post editorialist sensed that the market's plunge carried a more profound message. ''You have heard an intolerable amount of bosh over the past seven years about the deep and infallible wisdom of markets,'' said the Post on October 20, adding portentously, ''In fact, markets are perfectly capable of nervous breakdowns . . . They need regulation and, in times of trouble, strong guidance.'' (Why do we have this feeling that the editorial writer had just got a margin call?) In the event, of course, there was no guidance, no presidential leadership, no meaningful action on the deficit -- and the stock market nevertheless recovered its losses while the economy just kept merrily plugging along. Come to think of it, maybe we did have a controlled experiment.