THE Bush administration is to be a continuation of the Reagan administration in some ways, but there is already a big difference. Ronald Reagan came to Washington with a band of ideological conservatives. The prime examples were Edwin Meese, who was going to revive Puritan morality, and James Watt, who tried to sell off public lands for private exploitation.
George Bush is not bringing back any of those early members of the Reagan team who fell by the wayside. He has several recognizable ``conservatives'' on his team so far, but they are more traditional Republican conservatives for political reasons than conservatives with passionate ideology.
Dan Quayle, the vice-president-elect, is a modern reaction to too much New Dealism in a naturally conservative state, Indiana. Jack Kemp is a believer in supply-side economics rather than an emotional conservative of a Pat Robertson stripe. John Sununu, to be White House chief of staff, is a tough conservative, yes, but a practical politician also, who would never sacrifice a block of voters unnecessarily for the sake of an emotional policy dear to self-styled conservatives.
John Tower, the new secretary of defense, is conservative in that he believes in a strong defense. But he also knows the defense industry and knows which big-ticket items can be sacrificed without cutting real strength. He has the background knowledge for justifying cuts which a known ``liberal'' would not.
On the other side of the coin, James Baker, the new secretary of state, is the only survivor of the original Deaver-Meese-Baker troika at the Reagan White House. He was an anathema to the leaders of the conservative movement. He was the one who often steered Mr. Reagan down safe and practical paths. He was the one at whom was aimed the cry, in early Reagan days, ``Let Reagan be Reagan.''
Brent Scowcroft is to head the staff at the National Security Council. He is a veteran in that job. He was there in the Kissinger days. He was frequently consulted during the Carter administration. He is known in Washington as a professional civil servant of the first order of integrity and selfless dedication to the public service.
Clayton Yeutter is another of the same variety, a person trusted by Democrats as well as Republicans to do an objective and nonpartisan and non-ideological job. As secretary of agriculture, he can be expected to grapple with the thorny and insoluble problems of that department with wisdom and tenacity. That he could solve them is another matter.
None of these appointments are going to run into serious trouble on Capitol Hill. Mr. Tower may be challenged over his association with defense industries for which he has worked as ``consultant.'' But as a former senator, and a man with many friends among Democrats, he is assured of confirmation.
Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, is to be continued as attorney general. He was picked by Mr. Reagan precisely because he was politically and ideologically noncontroversial. He was accepted by the Democrats when he was nominated to succeed the highly controversial Mr. Meese. His continuation is one further sign that Mr. Bush knows that he can only govern with the consent of the Democratic majorities in both House and Senate.
Add that as Christmas approached, Bush invited in for a friendly chat not only Michael Dukakis, but also Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King. He is salving the wounds left over from the campaign.
In other words, he is signaling by his appointments a strategy of working with the Democrats, not in confrontation with them. That he must do so is true if he wishes to make progress with his policies. But it is also true that he seems to be trying to tell the country that he proposes to be a conciliator rather than a counterrevolutionary.