Reagan era begins, New Deal era ebbs
Ronald Reagan's long odyssey from Tampico, Ill., to the White House -- via Hollywood and Sacramento -- now is complete. His sweeping victory forcefully culminates the nation's politically rightward (and geographically westward) movement.
There are two general objectives that the new President-elect wants to meet quickly and decisively, say the men now molding the Reagan administration. He wants to get a firm grip on the federal establishment, pulling tight a controlling cinch and redirecting it toward a narrower path. He also seeks to assure Americans, as well as allies and adversaries overseas, that he will proceed reasonably and cautiously in foreign affairs.
When Mr. Reagan first took office as governor of California in 1966, he was a political novice. But he will begin his tenure as the nation's chief executive with considerable preparation. Long before the Nov. 4 election, a team of several hundred top campaign advisers, former Republican officials, academic experts, and professional bureaucrats was drawn together.
For weeks, this "Reagan planning task force" (which numbers about 335 and includes some Democrats) has been working in groups of about 15 to prepare studies and recommendations.
"We basically have five major areas that we're working on," says Edwin Meese, Reagan staff chief for many years and the man likely to hold a similar post in Washington. These are organization and management of the White House staff and Cabinet, personnel hiring, budget development, executive actions that can be taken immediately, and proposed legislation.
Within these areas, groups soon will be reporting to Reagan on such specific topics as small business regulation, welfare reform, social security, inflation, and federal budget income. Also being studied are the findings of such private organizations as the Heritage Foundation, the National Academy of Public Administration, and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Mr. Meese, who has been overseeing all of this, predicts "some very fundamental organizational differences" will result, including a strengthened Cabinet whose members firmly manage their respective bureaucracies. This has been a largely unfulfilled promise of some past administrations. But given the Reagan record in California of delegating broadly to "group vice-presidents," in a business sense, observers give him a better chance for success in this area.
Reagan's landslide election also has confirmed a conservative tide that could help propel the new Republican ship of state past Democratic shoals -- if any exist after the significant Republican gains on Capitol Hill.
He takes over the White House at a time when congressional reforms have diversified power, undercut the seniority system, and made it more difficult for any president to have his way with legislators. But Reagan was able in Sacramento to either work out compromises with Democrats or go over their heads to gain public support for such things as welfare reform. He had a near-flawless record in making his vetoes stick.
"The hope is that the signal is rather clear to the Congress and that they will want to cooperate much more," said Caspar Weinberger, a member of the Nixon Cabinet and top Reagan adviser.
Among likely early tests: federal tax policy, revision of the Clean Air Act, preservation of Alaskan wilderness, shifting responsibility for welfare programs to state governments, and efforts to change the minimum wage.
As for executive action not requiring congressional approval, Reagan men say they will "hit the ground running."
"We've all been this adamant," says H. Monroe Browne, president of the Institute for Contemporary Studies and a member of the Reagan executive advisory committee. "We should thus have ourselves in a position to be rather forceful as the administration takes over."
Reagan already has promised an immediate federal hiring freeze and cooperative effort with state governors to eliminate laws and regulations that discriminate against women. Other things to look for just after the Jan. 20th inauguration: lifting of some government regulations that business officials find particularly onerous, a highly publicized blue-ribbon panel to ferret out waste in the federal establishment (this group already is being recruited), and budgetary proposals.
"I think he'll probably try to make some reductions in the  budget that Mr. Carter will send to the Congress in January," said Mr. Weinberger (who heads Reagan's spending limitation study group and may be named to a high executive post). "I think he will also try to urge some reductions in the 1981 budget [ now in effect], which the Congress hasn't yet enacted."
While Reagan wants to move swiftly and forcefully in domestic areas, he will proceed more slowly in foreign affairs, say his top advisers. He was kept abreast of developments in Iran even before the election, and expects the lame-duck months to remain essentially "a learning or briefing period," says one key aide. Later, he probably will want to take such steps as modifying US aid to left-leaning governments (like Nicaragua), developing a new manned bomber, and deploying the neutron bomb to Western European countries -- things that accord with his view that Soviet expansionism should be the chief diplomatic concern.
For now, he will be listening to a bipartisan foreign policy advisory board that includes former President Gerald Ford, former secretaries of state William Rogers and Henry Kissinger, Democratic US senators Henry M. Jackson and Richard Stone, and attorney Edward Bennett Williams.
If the recent comments of Mr. Ford, Dr. Kissinger, and Vice-President-elect George Bush are an accurate clue (and the Iranian situation drags on into 1981), arms already paid for by Iran might not be traded for the hostages.
Reagan has made much of what he terms America's failure to work closely with allied governments. But he probably will not take an early tour of such countries as previous presidents typically have done.
"I think you're going to find that the governor's concept of a president is one who stays home, manages the government, and makes policy decision, but doesn't trot around the world except when absolutely necessary," said Meese. "He will rely on a strong secretary of state, and even the secretary of state probably won't travel as much because I think he will make good appointments to ambassadorships and use the ambassadors more as other countries do."
Observers expect these other early stamps on the Reagan presidency:
* Increasing military budgets.
* Appointment of strict-constructionist federal judges.
* A shift from categorical aid to block grants for state and local governments.
* The naming of many business executives to government posts.