President Clinton has made a good start on his hoped-for era of bipartisan cooperation by appointing a chief of staff who is respected on both sides of the aisle in Washington. North Carolinian Erskine Bowles is a multimillionaire investment banker who headed the Small Business Administration with distinction and has had experience as a deputy chief of staff. He is also a friend of the president's - close enough, it's to be hoped, that he will be able to tell this idea-a-minute chief executive when he's veering off-task, or off-base.
Mr. Bowles replaces Leon Panetta, the former California congressman who's heading to his home state and is expected to make a run at the governorship. Mr. Panetta brought critically needed glue to a loosely run early Clinton administration. Most important, he knew the processes of Congress intimately and could steer Mr. Clinton toward more effective partnership with the country's lawmakers.
Legislative know-how is not Bowles's strong suit, but he's likely to bring in staff members who can bolster his efforts in that regard. He'll need such personal qualities as a quiet authority and an ability to inspire confidence in a staff.
Like other presidents, Clinton started with a philosophy of openness, of letting all points of view be heard, that sometimes sowed chaos in the Oval Office. A strong chief of staff, who can wisely keep the gate but resist the temptation to revel in his own power, seems a necessity of the modern presidency.
That may be particularly true of a second term, when a president hopes to make his mark on history. The strength and durability of that mark owes much to little-remembered aides who know how to order a president's day so important work can get done.