Washington — The Ronald Reagan accession to power seems, so far, to be one of the smoothest of modern times. President-elect Reagan elicits friendly greetings as he moves attractively about the capital, affably waving his hand, the center of a snarl of Secret Service men, sweating cameramen, and curious sightseers wherever he goes. He is touching some of the bases that President-elect Carter, four years ago, neglected and opening lines of communication.
Reagan is telling congressmen he is going to see a lot of them in the next four years on a personal basis, and they like it. He has made courtesy calls on Republican leaders and also on taciturn Robert Byrd of West Virginia, leader of Senate Democrats, and powerful Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill of Massachusetts, leader of House Democrats. He is more vocal and expansive than Jimmy Carter.
Under the ritual of the stately transition minute that is going on in Washington is the basic question of how far the Nov. 4 election went: Was the capture of White House and Senate by Republicans a new era or just a deviation; a skirmish or a revolution?
Presidential candidates tend to overpromise themselves in a campaign; Jimmy Carter certainly did in 1976. President-elect Reagan's formal speeches lay out an ambitious effort: a repudiation of social, economic, and foreign policies handed down from the Roosevelt New Deal. Now as Ronald Reagan moves easily about the enigmatic capital, knowledgeable observers ask the same question: Will he try to put these policies into effect, and will he be able to if he tries?
But under the surface of the Washington drama of changing presidents and parties -- which even manages to have occasional light moments -- signs of conflict already appear.
Mr. Reagan goes out of his way to say that, as president, he would sign the controversial appropriations bill that would prohibit the Justice Department from seeking court-ordered busing in school desegregation cases. Some advisers of the still uncommitted President Carter urge him to veto it. Scores of other emotional issues like this lie just beneath the surface.
As Reagan moved about the capital his big transition team was hard at work considering personnel, mapping programs, examining agencies. There were hopeful economic signs. The Commerce Department announced that US corporate profits, after hitting a 25-year low mark the previous quarter, were up for a 7.9 percent gain in the July- August-September quarter. Many hope the nation may be slowly pulling out of its year's recession.
And the ebullient stock market, bent on a Reagan rally that chalked up 60 points gain on the Dow Jones industrial average since the GOP victory, started Nov. 19 with a peek-a- boo of the legendary 1,000 mark.Would it last? The Dow crossed the 1,000 mark Dec. 31, 1976, and finished at 1,004.65, but never reached this point again all the time Jimmy Carter was president. Business seemed to be sending a valentine to Governor Reagan over the ticker tape.
Reagan wasn't only establishing communications with the congressional world, it appeared, but with the Washington social world. This involved two exclusive dinners at which leaders in all sorts of fields were invited, Democrats as well as Republicans. Included in one, for example, was Robert S. Strauss, Mr. Carter's 1980 campaign manager. Reagan was reaching out to various sets, it appeared -- an undertaking easier in the honeymoon period than later.
"Now you're in the big league!" warned Speaker O'Neill as Reagan called on him in the Capitol. Talking to reporters later the speaker said, "He was a little surprised when I said that. It won't be the last time he's surprised."
But the overall mood for Reagan's starring role here this week seemed to be of friendly curiosity, of innocent wonder, as everyone tried to avoid brusqueness despite whatever had been said in the election.
It wasn't always this way: Resentment lingered for Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, and the nation suffered.
Reagan Wednesday met Chief Justice Warren Burger in the Supreme Court Building and later all members of the court. There may be as many as five vacancies on the court in his incumbency. Later he met with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts.
Most dramatic of all is the meeting with President Carter at the White House at 2 p.m. Thursday. Reagan returns to California Friday, where he will pick his Cabinet.
Press spokesman Jim Brady declared the Supreme Court visit revives "a tradition abandoned for many years." The transition team feels Reagan has given a hit performance with opposition leaders promising a "six months' honeymoon."