The 1980 version of the old trade-off between guns and butter provides the best gauge for judging for formation of the Reagan administration. So ar, Gov. Reagan has learned hard in the direction of butter -- perhaps to the point of a tilt that could unbalance the rest of his administration.
In modern dress, to be sure, guns and butter are barely recognizable. Guns is shorthand for the reassertion of American influence in the world. Butter, by constrast, puts the stress on domestic goals, particularly the fight against inflation.
Absolute, either/or choices, are, of course, not at stake. These days guns and butter are not two ends of a seesaw, where one goes up as the other comes down. Progress in both areas over a period of time is possible. Still, between guns and butter, between foreign and domestic concerns, there is a tension. Each asserts rival claims on the limited assets of money, time and public acceptance available to a president. It is a question of striking a balance -- a big trade-ff.
Reagan has repeatedly asserted that economic problems "come first." Two of his closest associates -- William French Smith, his personal lawyer, and Michael Deaver, the public relations man who will manage his calendar in the White House -- explicitly reiterated that priority in recent chats here in Los Angeles. Other high-ranking aides talk of putting into effect at the earliest opportunity a freeze on federal hiring. The primary legislative target is a tax cut.
Top appointments, though not yet final, tned to reflect that bias. The trinity of senior aides designated to work with Reagan in the White House -- Edwin Meese, James Baker and Deaver -- all come from a background that features domestic politics over foreign policy.
It seems as if the swing man in the Cabinet will be Casper W. Weinberger, a former finance director for Reagan in California and a former secretary of health, education and welfare. He seems slated to bring his famous budget-cutting talents into the post of secretary of defense. All the candidates mentioned for secretary of the Treasury, another crucial post, are veritable St. Georges when it comes to the dragon of inflation.
By constrast, a heavyweight who would have accepted an invitation to be secretary of state -- George Shultz -- was at first turned away by a halfhearted request. Gen. Alexander Haig, the original choice for the job, is an official of high ability familiar with all the issues. But even if he makes it, he will be on the defensive, partically because he is a military man and partially because of his involvement in Vietnam and Watergate. Richard Allen, who seems set to become the special assistant for national security in the White House, has also been put on the defensive by revelations about past dealings with foreign clients of his consulting firms.
Powerful arguments can be advanced for the bias toward domestic matters that Reagan clearly favors. Inflation is a true curse but has to be mastered if this country is to recover its morale. As the battle will be long, as early start makes sense, especially since, if the election yielded a single mandate, it was, as Reagan's aides here point out, "Stop Inflation."
Unfortunately, battling inflation consumes presidential assets immediately, while yielding only the slowest payoff. High interest rates and relatively high unemployment are necessary features of a major war on inflation. But given the stickiness of wage rates, and the price increases almost certain to come in energy and food, it will be years before the basic inflation rate dips significantly. In the meantime, the president will have jeopardized the reservoir of support that comes in the flush of electoral victory.
Concentration on foreign policy, on the other hand, can yield some early gains. New cohesion among the allies is one obvious bet -- especially if matters go sour in Poland. Putting negotions in the Middle East back on track is another possibility. So is an increase in the defense budget.
Out of such successes a new administration can draw the credit necessary for the continuing fight on domestic problems. Restraints on wages and prices could be made a national security requirement. High taxes on gasoline for the purpose of conserving energy and raising funds could be retionalized as a defense measure.
In other words, an emphasis on fighting inflation now tens to foreclose the future for the incoming administration. A stress on rebuiding American strength opens wider opportunities. The new administration now only needs to be right in its first steps; it requires, even more, that the first steps be part of a coherent strategy for the next four years.