It figured that President Carter would rebound from the Lance resignation by doing something splashy like announcing an 11-day visit to eight countries on four continents.
For in structure and philosophic attitude, the Carter administration centers on the President and his two most prominent White House aides - Hamilton Jordan, the political adviser, and Jody Powell, the press secretary. Other people in the White House - notably Vice Presidnet Walter MOndale and domestic-affairs adviser Stuart Eizenstadt - and such Cabinet officers as Harold Brown at the Pentagon and Joseph Califano at HEW may be important.
But their responsibilities are sharply difined. The distinctive thing about Carter and the two leading aides is that they go across the board. They deal with politics, congressional affairs, public relations, foreign policy - everything.
All three are persons of strong intellectual powers, with a particular flair for learning new and complex matters. Their experience, however, is limited. Not only are their roots in a relatively provincial part of the country. More important, the biggest thing that ever happened to them was winning the presidency.
But the nomination was gained and the presidency achieved not by party connections, or ethnic affinities or exploitation of a great name. Still less was it a matter of embracing a comprehensive platform of populat issues. By their own admission, on the contrary, Carter and his men took office without a pronounced ideology.
Precisely because the President and his men did not come from a background of high ideological commitment, they were expert at using issues as political counters. Over and over again they took specific positions on particular issues to woo different groups of voters, without painting themselves into ideological corners.
That capacity, which served so well in the campaign, has dominated the Carter presidency in every area. In economic policy, Carter came to office with a top priority of reducing unemployment. In that sprit he moved to stimulate the economy by several proposals, including a $50 rebate to most taxpayers.
But the business community began to grumble. Pretty soon Carter was talking about a balanced budget by 1981 - a reduction in inflation from 6 to 4 per cent annually - and the most limited intervention in the wage-and-price field. Now it is practically impossible for Carter to meet his different objectives on employment, inflaction and a balanced budget.
In domestic affairs, Carter's chief campaign commitment was to reorganize the government and establish a comprehensive energy program. But very soon he began hearing complaints form prominent liberal interest groups, many of them key supporters in the presidential race.
Pressure from blacks led him to surface a comprehensive welfare program. The labor unions were accorded new minimum-wage proposals with recommendations for attaching the base pay to the growth of inflation.
The Chicano community squeezed out a comprehensive program for dealing with illegal immigration. When bumper harvests sent crop prices into a tailspin, the farmers drew from the administration a new program including acreage restritions and price supports. Continuing complaints from business about lack of incentives for investment oblige the administration to put forth tax-reform proposals - also comprehensive, of course - before thr comprehensive, of course - before the Congress adjourns this fall.
Not surprisingly, these various programs are already getting in each other's way. Energy is going to preocupy the Congress for the rest of this year. That means the administration ought to defer welfare, tax reform and immigration until next year at least.
As to foreign policy, there is also a terrific logjam. The Panama Canal treaties, though virtually certain to pass the Senate, face extended hearings and vehement opposition. As long as Panama is undecided, the President cannot take the tough stance against Israel required for progress in the Mideast because that would align the pro-Israel hawks in the Congress with the anti-canal lobby. Nor can he afford to make with the Soviet Union the kind of arms-control deal that would join the anti-detente forces to the canal diehards.
The project for another trip abroad is, by itself, not a bad idea. Most of the countries on the itinerary - Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria, India and Iran - are regional powers. In safely reducing American commitments abroad, Washington ought to be passing on some of the burden to those nations.
But now is plainly not the time for putting new items on the agenda of presidential business. On the contrary, the Carter administration has already surfaced enough projects to last a single term.
The present need is to establish priorities, to lay out a sequence of preferences in economic policy, domestic legislation and foreign affairs. To that end, the President ought to be bringing into the administration, as a replacement for Bert Lance, a strong and expienced person, capable of acting across the board, and with a powerful sense of discipline.