For President Reagan, whose skills are supposed to be as communicator, the past month has been a time of listening and learning instead.
In the period since his reelection Reagan has found some of his most cherished views challenged from within. His domestic advisers have told him that economic growth alone is no cure for the deficit. Some of his foreign policy specialists have suggested that his interest in a strategic defense initiative conflicts with his hope of an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Republican congressmen who have dutifully supported the Reagan defense buildup have said that now is the time for a military spending freeze or cancellation of the MX missile.
None of these views has given the president any comfort, nor has he been particularly comforting to those who remind him of unpleasant realities. Last Thursday he told a group of Republican congressional leaders that he intended to remain through their entire meeting because he had "overcome my distaste for seeing grown men cry."
Since his reelection Reagan has opened the door to some trimming of his military buildup, but has not said to what extent. He has told aides that an arms control agreement is his highest priority, but has not given up on the strategic defense initiative in space that is anathema to the Soviets. He has come to understand that dealing with the deficit is more complicated than he said it was during the campaign, but has not renounced his favorite nostrum, economic growth.
"The president is still feeling his way," a longtime Reagan intimate says. "He doesn't know where he wants to come down yet."
In the past, competing advisers have tried to overcome presidential indecision by waging an open struggle for Reagan's heart and mind. This time they have been more subtle about it, trying to educate Reagan about the nuances of budgets and strategic arms negotiations and hoping that his own desire for achievement will lead him into sensible decisions.
While Reagan in his few public post-election utterances has sounded like the unreconstructed conservative who burst into public view 20 years ago with a celebrated speech for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, in private he has been restrained and circumspect.
Aides say he has spent more than 16 hours in budget meetings, pursuing details so closely that he suggested to Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman that a federally subsidized housing program now divided 60-40 between urban and rural units be evenly divided. The Reagan proposal was incorporated into the working budget that the president presented to the Cabinet last week.
On arms control, Reagan has viewed the new Soviet willingness to enter into at least preliminary negotiations as confirmation of his long-held belief that the Soviets would deal realistically once it became clear that he would be around for four more years.
Reagan has never, as far as is known, even privately acknowledged that his first term was torn by arms control conflicts that he did little to resolve. But he has, in the words of one aide, "voted with his feet" by naming veteran negotiator Paul H. Nitze an arms control envoy reporting to Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
The effect of this has been to strengthen the hand of pragmatists such as Shultz, White House chief of staff James A. Baker III and deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver against Pentagon-based hard-liners who show no inclination for arms control.
Reagan is said to be entranced by the notion of being "a peace president," but he prefers the phrase "arms reduction" to the more customary "arms control."
"Arms reduction is a big idea," says an administration official. "For Reagan to get excited, he needs a bigger idea than a bureaucratic idea."
While some conservatives say they think Reagan, now that he can no longer run again, will be more ideological in his second term, others say the pressures of time and circumstance will make him more flexible.
"He will be more realistic and more pragmatic than he has been," said Deaver, who is expected to leave the administration for a major public relations job after directing next month's inauguration.
Others think Reagan will behave much as he always has, talking ideologically and acting pragmatically.
After campaigning against taxes while running for governor of California in 1966, he acceded to budget realities in 1967 and accepted the largest tax increase in the state's history. After being reelected in 1970 he went through a listening and learning period much like his present one and emerged in a mood to compromise with Democrats on welfare and taxes. After winning his budget and tax battles as president in 1981, he accepted tax increases in the guise of tax reform in 1982.
Reagan's key decision since his reelection this time was to sever his tax simplification program from the budget. He decided to fight Congress if necessary to obtain spending cuts, but to negotiate with the lawmakers on taxes.
This decision flew in the face of advice from some Republicans to work out a "grand compromise" with Congress in advance, but it was a ratification of Reagan's basic approach to negotiation.
Reagan, who prides himself on the years he negotiated for the Screen Actors Guild and led that union in its only strike, follows basic principles of negotiation that have become second nature to him. He doesn't make preemptive concessions; he fights for all he wants, and he strikes a deal at the end.
The "grand compromise" idea would have required Reagan to make concessions in advance, which he is always loath to do. He plans to campaign vigorously for his spending cuts after his inauguration, but probably won't make a deal until the spring or summer.
Reagan understands that his situation on a tax plan, for which he voiced a reserved blessing on Friday, is different and more difficult, aides said. His task is to initiate negotiations on a compromise of two congressional plans and the one proposed by the Treasury.
While the ultimate result of this negotiation may differ from Reagan's campaign pledge, Republican congressmen expect him to sign the final product into law. As an aide puts it, he is used to "some ultimate accommodation."
"Show me an executive who works long, hard hours, and I'll show you a bad executive," Reagan said during the 1980 campaign, and he has remained true to his word. He remains a 9-to-5 president, although his aides say the days are packed with a heavier workload than before.
Throughout the month in which reality has replaced campaign euphoria, Reagan has retained his sense of humor. Returning recently from a hospital visit to Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), Reagan spotted Deaver on the White House tennis courts and buzzed him in his helicopter.
Throughout the month, until his unscheduled news conference in the White House briefing room last Friday, Reagan remained resolutely out of public view as part of a decision not to sell his programs until he knows what he wants to sell.
"It's a deliberate decision to get the job done, the program done and present it to the people in January," said White House spokesman Larry Speakes. "We're not at all worried about not being out there right now."