TILL today, inauguration day, George Bush has been scrupulously correct about not getting in President Reagan's limelight. But there have been enough little signs to indicate just how the Bush White House will change in both style and substance. In style, the Bush White House is apparently going to be more easygoing, have more of a family character.
It will be overrun, at times, by children and grandchildren. Not since John F. Kennedy's time will there be so many pictures of a president frolicking with family tots.
There will be family church going, setting a welcome new tone for the country.
There will be less Adolfo, more ready-to-wear gowns, less glitz. The eminently sensible Barbara Bush seems to revel in identifying with more matronly American women rather than attempting to become a svelte fashion plate. Dare we hope that over the months there will be less Sinatra, less Hollywood ballyhoo, in the White House too?
Whether George Bush can indeed - as he says he will - run downtown to pick up a pizza and a couple of video tapes for home movie viewing remains to be seen. The President of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world, but Mr. Bush has not yet tried testing wills with that most tautly inflexible of institutions, the White House Secret Service detail.
And there will be puppies in the White House. Yes, Millie, the Bush dog, is expecting. Unlike Lucky, the Reagan dog who was banished to California because he could not contain himself in the White House, Millie's puppies will probably just get newspapers laid out in their whelping box until they are White House-trained.
Nor is any particular newspaper likely to be victimized. Bush in earlier times took a terrible typewriter lashing from columnist George Will (he called Bush a ``lap dog'') and fought a no-holds-barred duel on television with CBS's Dan Rather. But Bush is not vindictive and his relations with journalists remain pretty good. So far. He is not a Churchill, offering rolling phrases at his press conferences. Indeed, he sometimes gets entangled in a m'elange of metaphor, syntax, and misplaced words. But TV viewers seem to know what he means and even find this ordinary touch a little reassuring.
Bush promises to hold more frequent meetings with the press. And those of us who have long cringed at the shouted queries from the more stentorian members of the White House press corps are grateful that the new President hopes to bring more tranquillity and order to the sessions.
On substance, Mr. Bush will likely be a shade more conservative with the Soviets than was Mr. Reagan. His foreign policy advisers are embarked on a study to see how best the US can take advantage of the Gorbachev-initiated thaw in Moscow. But Bush is known to be cautious and unsentimental about the Soviet Union.
By contrast, the Bush administration will likely take a more flexible position on Nicaragua. Mr. Bush's new Secretary of State, James Baker, apparently is convinced that congressional support for the contras is dead. Without that leverage, a new policy must be devised.
The Bush administration will likely take a less aggressively supportive position on the Reagan-launched Strategic Defense Initiative.
Then there is the budget deficit. In the end, however, the handling of that may depend less on the economic advice of Bush's puckishly brilliant budget chief, Richard Darman, and the cool political counsel of Jim Baker, than on the actions of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. For Greenspan, as the Economist puts it, is the closest thing to a world leader for economic policy. When he speaks, everybody listens. When he acts, everybody reacts.