TALK of lineup changes among White House players can sound like so much inside baseball to most Americans. Along the Potomac, it can serve as Washington's peculiar form of society gossip. But in another sense, the official company a president keeps and how he chooses to organize his administration should be of more than passing interest to citizens concerned about their elected executive's stewardship.
Mr. Reagan has recently approved yet another top-level restructuring of his Cabinet and White House staff operation. In effect, he will now have three policy czars: Treasury Secretary James Baker will head a new Cabinet council on economic policy; Attorney General Edwin Meese will chair a similar Cabinet council on domestic policy; Secretary of State George Shultz has already assumed the lead in foreign policy, although with a continuing rivalry with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger where their domains overlap.
The Baker-Meese councils provide considerable continuity from the first Reagan administration and should prove a support to Donald Regan, the new White House chief of staff. They ensure a certain symmetry. Mr. Baker represents in style and background the pragmatic George Bush-Gerald Ford wing of the party. He is accepted as a Washington insider. Much of this may be an injustice to Mr. Baker's Texas conservatism, but in the realm of perceptions this is the way it is. He has the confidence of Nancy Reagan, who has her husband's Washington success very much in mind. Giving Mr. Baker a lead role in such projects as tax reform assures the President a knowing touch on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Meese's natural relationship with the President, we have long argued, is as a counselor, rather than in an administrative capacity such as attorney general. He represents knowingly Mr. Reagan's California origins, the fundamentalist Reagan values that powered the Sacramento governor's drive to the Oval Office. According Meese greater prominence over domestic policy should be reassuring to those Reaganites who are constantly on edge about conversion of the President to cynical compromise in Washington.
The third member of the original Meese-Baker troika, Michael Deaver, is leaving the White House to try his hand at making his fortune in consulting. As keeper of the President's image, as scheduler of major events, and in other sensitive duties, Mr. Deaver has served the President and Mrs. Reagan with distinction. He will not have a replacement, as such. Some of his responsibilities will be taken up by Patrick Buchanan, the conservative columnist and former Nixon speechwriter. Whereas Mr. Deaver had often aligned himself with Mr. Baker for moderation, Mr. Buchanan has reportedly begun to lobby for a more confrontational Reagan thrust.
A president's entourage usually seems to personify the president's own often-competing tendencies. The record shows there is a Ronald Reagan that sticks to his guns and a Ronald Reagan that accommodates political realities. It serves his purpose at times to have fundamentalist aides who send out messages of no give on issues like tax increases, and another set who as persistently, if more quietly, prepare for the bargain that will have to be struck. With the further observation that Mr. Reagan has now done what other presidents have done before him in giving prominence to economic, domestic, and foreign policy players, he appears to be perpetuating the appropriate personal and Republican Party balance his administration needs.
Americans want more from their presidents than good staffs, however.
Some roles are uniquely the President's.
Reports that Mr. Reagan has become the driving force behind arranging a meeting with his Kremlin counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, brushing aside his own administration's caveats on agendas and staging, have to be welcome. There are other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, where the power of a president's personal commitment is an essential -- though not the only essential -- element for success.