Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s policy dispute with the White House may have been on everyone's mind last night, but it was not exactly on everyone's lips.
This hands-off treatment characterized a party for Energy Secretary James B. Edwards and his wife, Ann, given by their fellow South Carolinians, former chief of protocol Marion Smoak and his wife, Frances. The secretary of state was invited but sent his regrets.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.): "I don't know all the facts. I'd be reluctant to make any statement."
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.): "Not here, honey. This is not a political meeting."
Gen. David O. Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "I'd rather not comment."
Secretary Edwards, more expansive on the subject than most, called the disagreement between Haig and the White House over who would head the administration's crisis management team "a normal happening -- settling-in process."
Edwards, whose energy turf Haig trod earlier this week in meetings with Japanese officials, exuded forgineness.
"You can't have a clear-cut delineation of authority," said Edwards. "There's an overlapping. I'm a member of a team; everybody around that Cabinet table is a member of that team. These are growing pains and transition pains that each administration runs into."
Asked if he is going to abolish the Energy Department, Edwards replied: "I'm not going to say we're going to abolish it, but we're certainly going to streamline it so we can manage it better."
Deputy White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, doing his best to stay clear of the Haig issue, said there had "never been any suggestion" of Haig's resigning.
"The president and the secretary got together this morning after the press events of yesterday and everything was resolved; everything was fine," Deaver said.
Were things calamed down then? someone asked.
"Oh, yeah, as far as the White House is concerned," Deaver said.
Rep. Robert McClory (R-ILL.) said he thought it was "wonderful" that President Reagan looked to George Bush as someone who could help resolve domestic and international crises.
"I think it's important to have a civilian in charge of resolving a crisis situation," McClory said.
Attorney Leonard Marks, head of the old USIA for Lyndon Johnson, remembered that John Kennedy tapped his brother Robert, then attorney general, to head crisis management.
"It's not something inherent in the secretary of state's responsibility. But Haig was candid and spoke his piece. And I admire the fact that this administration is willing to air its differences," Marks said.
The Smoaks included a number of ambassadors among their guests, all of them predictably noncommittal about the activities at the State Department.
Strom Thurmond, usually loquaciuos out on the party circuit, suggested that the whole thing may have been "kind of blown up more than it should have been." His Democratic colleague from South Carolina, Sen. Ernest Hollings, said he'd been too busy on appropriations to take much notice of anything else.
The Smoaks decided recognition of Edwards was long overdue for his 1968 support of Reagan as a presidential candidate.
The South was for Reagan, but Strom [thurmond] told us to stick with Nixon through the first ballot," Frances Smoak recalls, telling how Jim Edwards had given "an impassioned" speechon behalf of candidate Regan at the Miami convention.
"Impassioned, but still not good enough," said Edwards, laughing.