Well, surprise, though perhaps it ought not to be surprising. Ronald Reagan is conservative all right, but we need to understand that he is not so conservative or so ultracautious that he runs away from a political idea just because it is new or even unorthodox.
As readers of this column may know, I have been advocating for some time that it would be wise for the next president, whoever he may be, to create a bi-partisan administration at a high level. The purpose would be to bring promptly into being a government with sufficient authority and popular trust so it can effectively cope with the crisis problems which confront the US in the dangerous decade ahead.
What I am finding, and it is gratifying to report, is that Mr. Reagan is already well ahead with the idea, has been exploring it for some months, and is prepared at the right moment -- certainly before the election in November -- to announce the principal members of his cabinet so that voters can see what a Reagan administration would look like.
He is already responsive, I am informed, to the premise that in the conduct of foreign, defense, fiscal, and economic policy, partisan politics ought to be ruled out and the national consensus, regardless of party, be reflected.
Mr. Reagan seems to be aiming at an administration of national unity whose several Democratic members will be in sympathy with his own principal objectives and which will attract qualified people from a wide political spectrum.
He sees such a step as fostering a more cohesive nation, drawing to the government the kind of experienced talent which the times require, and strengthening its potential for sustained leadership.
There are precedents, and the need to do this is greater today than it has ever been in the past. When the overhanging peril of World WAR II was threatening the United States, President Roosevelt acted to give some bi- partisan content to his administration. He named two widely respected Republicans, Henry Stimson and Col. Frank Knox, as secretary of war and secretary of the navy. When President Kennedy felt that his narrow election in 1960 required him to reassure the financial community, he appointed a Republican , C. Douglas Dillon, as secretary of the treasury. He was a New York financier who had served as assistant secretary of state for economic affairs under President Eisenhower.
My information is that Mr. Reagan is disposed to go farther than that.He accepts the judgment that, with much of the world in turmoil, with the Soviet Union more openly aggressive and out-thrusting than at any time since swallowing Eastern Europe, and with inflation and recession weakening the economy, all the nation's problems are more divisive and more difficult for any president to handle than during war. War tends to unite; dangers short of war tend to divide. War draws the president and Congress closer together. Complex problems short of war tend to drive them apart.
It is for this reason that Reagan appears to favor a broadly based bi-partisan administration with the involvement of similarly minded Republicans and Democrats who are prepared to make the safe passage of the nation during the perilous events of the 1980s the moral equivalent of war.
He seems to perceive that governing the United States as far as one can see ahead is more than a one-man job, and it is not to be ruled out that he would apply his nonpartisan concept to his inner White House staff.
My impression is that he is not just thinking up something that would end up being cosmetic, but comtemplating something meaningful and substantial.
He believes that the voters deserve to know who will share significantly in policymaking in a Reagan administration before they are called on to decide whom they wish to put in the White House.
It seems to me that President Carter will be well advised to do the same thing.