There has been much discussion, heightening in recent days, about the character and ideological inclinations of those who surround the president. It's time to risk one or two homespun thoughts on the general matter, at the risk of saying what ought to be obvious.

I have excluded myself rather rigorously from speculation about the surreptitious ADA affinity rating of such as James Baker, Michael Deaver, Edwin Meese, William Clark, et al. In part this is because the staff of a chief executive is supposed to be ideologically neutral. This characteristic is traditionally identified with the British civil service, where it is generally supposed that when one prime minister moves out and the quondam leader of the opposition moves in, no personnel changes at No. 10 Downing Street are really necessary, since the top professional clerical class is as disposed to nationalize steel as to privatize steel, the will of the prime minister and the majority of the House of Commons being sovereign.

Now it is true that human nature doesn't really work that way. Too much passion flows in the political veins of most Americans. If it is the dream of an American to nationalize medicine and he finds himself invested with a portfolio as secretary of health and human services to do exactly that, that he finds elation in the execution of his job -- and satisfaction in the performance of his duties -- is one of the reasons that violinists with the Metropolitan Opera get paid less than a lot of truck drivers.

In England, the tradition of priestly self-abnegation from the political direction of one's political superiors begins at a higher level than in America. Here, the professional civil service is thought of as beginning, really, below the level of presidential appointment. From that point up, it is generally supposed that there is some identification between the presidential appointee and the president's program.

So where does this leave us in regard to Baker, Deaver, Meese, Clark, et al.? It leaves us wondering what the inclinations of individual players are. We know that the entourage of the prince can be formidably influential in directing royal policies. It is probably correct to say that Baker and Deaver are "prags," as they put it to designate policies that harmonize most easily with establishment opinion; while Meese and Clark are "conservatives," by which is meant those who identify themselves with the need for organic reforms in national policy. But having acknowledged as much, the questions need to be asked: "What is the makeup of the chief executive? What is it that he feels he uniquely needs?"

The first thing to remember not only about presidents but about everyone is that no one can know what exactlyit is that draws two people together. Someone once remarked that an element in the magic of Bebe Rebozo's enduring friendship with Richard Nixon was that Bebe Rebozo never, ever brought up a subject acting on his own initiative. Instead, he merely reacted to whatever Nixon brought up. Whether or not it is true, it is illuminating. Perhaps Ronald Reagan, himself inclined to radical conservative reform, feels more comfortable working in close quarters with someone who is there to bring up the establishmentarian alternative, someone to keep him reminded of the awful traction of real change in a democracy. Who knows?

That is the main reason for accepting philosophically the unlikelihood of Reagan's surrounding himself with the Cabinet imaginatively suggested on the cover of a recent issue of the Conservative Digest: SecState, Jeane Kirkpatrick; Chief of Staff, William Clark; Dir of OMB, Peter Grace; SecTreas, Lewis Lehrman; Dir of Communications, Patrick Buchanan; NatSec Adviser, John Lehman; Chairman of GOP, Newt Gingrich.

Having said as much -- namely, that no one can hope to get in the way of the chemistry that defines presidential friends and associates -- it does not follow that criticism is out of order. Conservatives do well as a matter of tactics to dissociate themselves from the prince when he engages in policies they deem mistaken. The big tax hike of 1982, for instance, to the extent that it could be laid on the shoulders of Sen. Robert Dole, preserved the essential innocence of Reagan, notwithstanding that he fought for that meas

So: Conservatives should continue to criticize, while realistically taking human nature into account.