In making some key appointments, President Reagan seems to do better the second time around. Three examples: Secretary of State George Shultz replacing Alexander Haig; Economic Council Chairman Martin Feldstein for Murray Weidenbaum; and, most recently, the newly designated administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, for Anne Burford.
If there is a common thread here, it may be Reagan's willingness--where the original appointee for one reason or another didn't work out--to reach for Republicans who were fixtures in the Nixon-Ford era rather than certified "Reaganauts."
In persuading Ruckelshaus to come to the rescue of EPA, Reagan showed a new sensitivity to public concern that his administration cares little for environmental safety and health. It isn't clear whether Ruckelshaus was ever considered for the EPA job at the beginning of the administration. But if he was, he didn't get it: at that time, the White House priority was to free industry from what it regarded as excessive regulation.
At State, Shultz has given the Reagan administration a touch of class that it had lacked before. He has survived the sniping from the striped-pants boys who scoff at his economic expertise and fault his diplomatic inexperience. Until he stepped in, there was no integration of foreign policy with economic considerations. He now is not only the chief adviser on foreign policy, but just as important, he is an economic adviser as valued as Treasury Secretary Donald Regan.
That logically raises the question why Shultz didn't get the job in the first place. His candid response: "I wasn't asked."
Feldstein, an academic with no factional political ties, has his own credentials as an extremely conservative economist who favors a retreat from Keynesian economics. But a year ago (before taking the CEA job), Feldstein observed that while Reagan had adopted a "sound economic program" in 1981, the nation's economic performance could not possibly live up to the "naive and euphoric forecasts" made by Reagan officials. Feldstein recognized that the policy would create a recession (which he thought was inevitable and necessary to curb inflation).
In trading Weidenbaum in for Feldstein, the president took on a man who actually worries about long-term budget deficits at a time when economic activity is moving up.
Weidenbaum, as CEA chairman, indulged in that excruciatingly embarrassing appearance with CEA member William Niskanen at an American Enterprise Institute Forum in December 1981, at which they said budget deficits didn't matter too much because there is no direct link between deficits and inflation.
Feldstein has been instrumental in pulling the president along a more traditional route, advocating reductions in the federal megadeficits. He has become a favorite whipping boy for diehard supply-siders. His support of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker has also embittered the supply-siders. They want to get Volcker out of there because he talks of tax increases and because he won't fool around with the notion of a gold standard.
Neither, apparently, will President Reagan. At a recent breakfast with reporters, Reagan was asked: "After two years in office, do you think now . . . that it is, first, desirable and, second, feasible to restore the gold standard while you are president?"
With a smile, Reagan responded: "You can point back to history and show that fiat money has never been successful, and in reality that's what we have--fiat money --now. (But) . . . there does seem to be more sentiment against it in this modern day than there is for it."
In sum, Reagan is dealing with the dilemma that each of his predecessors has faced: how to adjust ideology expressed as a candidate to the realities of the Oval Office.
Like others before him, Reagan takes heed of election results--which last November were highly unfavorable to the Republicans. His recent appointments avoid the hard-core right wing. Whatever the GOP platforms once said on ideological issues like gold or tax-withholding on interest payments and dividends, he may move the other way. Until the next election, at least, Reagan is likely to look and act more and more like a mainstream Republican conservative.