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Reagan style smooths first days in officeReagan style smooths first days in office

By Richard J. CattaniStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 26, 1981


He's been President for almost a week, and Ronald Reagan may fell like a man who stepped onto a fast-moving conveyer belt -- but he doesn't show it. * In spite of what seemed to many deliberate manipulation by Iran of the hostage release to blur the focus of the inaugural, Washington observers credit the new President with having handled the situation with coolness and grace. The gesture of sending outgoing President Carter as his envoy to meet the freed Americans in West Germany was worthy of a public relations wizard.

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* Mr. Reagan moved quickly to assume control of the executive branch, showing an almost boyish zest in the first few days for a job that will test his mettle time after time in the next four years. His now-familiar grin and way of putting others at ease with a quip were put to good use during early ceremonial functions and meetings.

* Organizationally, the pace seems rather plodding -- as it was in the transition period. But matters proceed in unruffled fashion: some half-dozen key sub-Cabinet posts are filled every day; new task forces and policy teams are announced almost every other day.

The latest such group -- and one of the most crucial -- is a budget-cutting squad manned by Martin Anderson, chief domestic adviser; Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; and David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Fortunately for the new administration, the Carter White House was able to negotiate the hostage release in those last hectic, emotion-ridden days. The Reagan role now is to bring the hostage drama down to earth, so to speak -- to offset an anticipated post-crisis letdown, and find a policy balance between a sense of injustice and US foreign policy interests.

More broadly viewed, the Reagan administration will have to contend with two forces -- the "unexpected" and the pressures of "compromise" -- observes Harvard's Richard Neustadt. Mr. Neustadt's book "Presidential Power," published in 1960 and recently revised, is considered a classic on modern White House performance.

The battle lines of compromise already are emerging in Reagan's Washington. And the Carter hostage crisis itself serves as a warning for Reagan vigilance.

"Unquestionably, every administration I can think of has had, if not an Iranian revolution that was unanticipated, then a set of developments domestically in a fashion unanticipated," Neustadt says. "Our control of the world and of the economy is too limited for it to be any different.

"The lucky people are the ones to whom history is kind, and to whom the unexpected doesn't happen their first year or so," Neustadt says. The improvident are the ones who don't seize the opportunity to find their way.

"Mr. Carter exemplifies both. He had, relatively speaking, a first year without history, in the sense he was to encounter it later -- the Iranian revolution, the doubling of price levels. These people [the Reagan administration] are not going to be that lucky on history, although how it's going to manifest itself at home is not clear."