Reagan the cabinetmaker

A thoughtful friend wishes the press would wait and see what the Reagan team actually does in office before firing off so much punditry. We thought of him as the word came in on the President-elect's first wave of cabinet appointments. It is idle to mark their report cards before they have taken their first tests in jobs where previous credentials are incomplete guides to performance. What can be responded to is something less tangible but extremely important, the contribution made by the appointments to the tone of the administration to come.

Notable in this respect is the upsetting of any notion that Mr. Reagan would take refuge mainly in Nixon-Ford "retreads."

To take a central example in relation to today's Topic A, the economy: Mr. Reagan named young David Stockman, a Michigan congressman, as director of the Office of Management and Budget. The announcement came on the heels of a report that Mr. Stockman, along with Rep. Jack Kemp, had submitted to Mr. Reagan an "impassioned" paper calling for an emergency economic program for the first hundred days of the new administration. Mr. Reagan himself has said he would get going on the Kemp-Roth tax proposals during the first 24 hours of his term. There is no doubt that some genuine sense of urgency must be conveyed by the incoming team in deeds as well as words if the public and Congress are to be brought along in the kind of effort necessary to halt the debilitating blend of inflation and recession.

The reported Stockman-Kemp document has to be seen as matter for internal discussion, not necessarily what will or should be done by Mr. Reagan. Some of it sounds like an extension of deregulatory and investment-incentive approaches begun under President Carter. The document's predictions of economic disaster in the absence of its prescriptions should be evaluated along with the many predictions on which economists disagree.

A sense of urgency or even emergency should not become cause for the kind of fear that can undercut constructive action. Rather it should aim to arouse each American's determination to do something before things get worse. With stockbroker Donald Regan as treasury secretary there would be someone on board with reportedly less enthusiasm for broad tax cuts than the Kemp-Roth school. It would be useful for Mr. Reagan to continue to get counsel of various sorts; then to act decisively on final judgments.

Among yesterday's announcements the only cabinet head from the Nixon-Ford days is Caspar Weinberger, now nominated for secretary of defense. And here Mr. Reagan showed his own flexibility and his refusal to be dominated by one segment of his supporters: He was not deterred by Mr. Weinberger's Who's Who listing as a member of the Trilateral Commission, an organization whose philosophy and "undue influence" on Carter policies Mr. Reagan has reportedly deplored in the past. It may be recalled that Vice-president-elect George Bush was dogged in the GOP primary campaign even by a brief Trilateral membership that had ended earlier.

Mr. Reagan's independence may also be indicated in the health and human services nomination of Sen. Richard Schweiker, whose balancing-the-ticket choice as Mr. Reagan's 1976 running mate so outraged many conservative Reagan people.

The key cabinet appointment of secretary of state is among those still to be announced. And Mr. Reagan's choice will make a major contribution to the governmental tone of the "new beginning" heralded by him and his party. So far that tone seems to partake of the buoyant Reagan spirit that will be so valuable when matched to effective programs.

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