Jellybeans -- the new ovals in the Oval Office

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The jellybean is about to replace the peanut as the national nibble -- and just in time, the way the peanut crop is going. The gourmet line of jellybeans Ronald Reagan prefers -- a California brand known as "Jelly Belly" -- is said to include an exotic bean flavored with peanut butter. This makes a nice transitional touch. Only peanut brittle -- beloved by Lyndon Johnson -- could build a better bridge between administrations.

The nutty vs. the sugary, the salt vs. the sweet -- what a neat system for dividing liberals and conservatives! But a bit of research seems to indicate that the sweet tooth has been bipartisan as far as the White House is concerned. The great and the not-so-great presidents have expressed a common humanity in their desire for the gooey munch.

George Washington nibbled on chess cakes (lots of egg yolks, lots of butter, lost of sugar). Warren Harding snacked on almond cookies.

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And now the presidential jaws are about to close upon jellybeans.

Political leadership, the pundits insist, has become a matter of gesture, of symbolism. What is the jellybean trying to tell us? A friend who voted for Reagan has defined what he calls the Jellybean Style.

Jellybeans, he points out, come in all colors, all flavors. This suggests to him a taste for the spectrum -- a nibbler of flexibility, open to variety and a degree of experimentation.

Here, our friend argues, is no peppermint drop fanatic, numbing his palate on a single dogmatic flavor until he can recognize no other.

Gently gumming a jellybean is about as far from an act of aggression as a candy-eater can get, our friend further maintains -- unlike, for instance, grinding a sour ball between militant teeth, with every muscle in the jaw distended.

Talk about your ruthless pincer movements!

If the idea of a jellybean-nibbler in the White House still bothers anyone, our friend invites him to think of a president who sucks "Red Hots" -- those devastating concentrates of cinnamon that set your head on fire. As his tongue turned red, his eyes watered, and his whole mouth burned, what rash act might a chief executive not be capable of before the vice-president could fetch him a glass of water?

As we went down the confectionary counter, as if were, we could see the case for the Jellybean Style. Caramels are incapacitating. Chocolate bars are untidy, threatening to fingerprint White Papers. One does not really want to think of a president reading a confidential report on Poland while pulling on a lollipop.

By contrast, the jellybean seems genial, bland, and ingratiating. If it is hard to think of a hero eating jellybeans, it is hard to think of a villain nibbling them either.

Jellybeans say what everybody is saying about the new president: Let's wait and see.

We trust other powers will not mistake jellybean- nibbling for weakness -- the French, for instance, who consume about 25 percent less sugar than Americans.

Henry Kissinger's sweet tooth has not made him a less awesome figure in Paris , or in any of the other capitals of the world, though -- for that it is worth -- he has tended to stick with hard candy.

We don't want to make a mountain out of a hill of jellybeans. The chewy little ovals are something to write about when not an awful lot is understood about the incoming president.

Still, on such details depend the dramas of history. We would love to be in the Oval Office when Mr. Kissinger, rattling a hard candy about his molars like a cannon ball, first confronts Mr. Reagan, popping a mild violet jellybean.

Make ours a licorise twist.

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