A campaign of 'enlightenment' ahead?
THERE are some signs now that the fall presidential campaign may be one that will contain more light than heat. Jim Johnson, the director of the Mondale campaign, says that his candidate's strategy against Ronald Reagan is already in place: that the Minnesotan will concentrate on what he plans to do if elected president.
Mr. Johnson said the Carter-Mondale effort against Mr. Reagan in 1980 had not been effective. Thus there was an early Mondale determination to ''talk up'' Walter Mondale's good points and forget about charging Reagan with inconsistencies, failures to fulfill promises, and inaccuracies in comments and statements.
From the Hart camp comes word that the Colorado senator, if he is the presidential nominee, will stick to his ''look ahead'' approach. He will avoid the kind of verbal conflict he has been having with Mondale, because he believes that criticism of Reagan can often backfire.
While these Democrats were disclosing their fall strategy, a top Reagan political operative was revealing that the President's current tactic is to say as little as possible about the Democratic contenders.
In fact, it seems that an informal directive has come from Chief of Staff James Baker which, in effect, instructs those leaders who are participating in reelecting Reagan to avoid, as much as possible, any forum where they might have to respond to reporters' questions about the Democratic campaign.
''We've decided to let the Democratic candidates continue to cut themselves up,'' this aide said. ''They're doing such a good job of it, why should we get involved?''
And Reagan's approach in the fall campaign? As of now the White House is planning to put most of the emphasis on his record and what he intends to do if reelected. He will talk about extending the economic recovery and trimming the budget deficit. And, among other new proposals, he will unveil a tax-reform plan.
The Reagan people believe the polls which show that the President will be ahead all the way and win, at least in the electoral vote. Thus, they see the high road as the logical route to take. Why should Reagan involve himself in a bitter encounter with his opponent as long as an impersonal campaign is paying off?
But there is more than this to the Reagan strategy. He and those around him are also reacting to findings from presidential pollsters which show that one of the real danger points for Reagan, in terms of getting reelected, is the growing feeling among many Americans that he is becoming too confrontational.
Reagan's belligerent rhetoric with the Soviets did not hurt him politically at first. But now that something close to a cold war has set in, even Reagan supporters are wondering whether he didn't contribute to the polarization. And his blaming the Democrats for his misadventures abroad, particularly Lebanon, did not play well with many of his friends as well as his critics. Also, people who would normally be with Reagan are less than happy with his placing responsibility for the immense budget deficit entirely on the Democrats.
So Reagan is beginning to pursue a less-confrontational approach, both abroad and at home.
It may come as a surprise to most observers of the foreign scene, but the President, despite this latest Soviet rebuff over the Olympics, has not entirely given up the hope for a meeting with Konstantin Chernenko. Nor has he ceased seeking to bring it about.
The Scowcroft mission to Moscow, which did not get a hearing in the Kremlin, was aimed toward summitry. It is understood that the President is poised to respond quickly to the slightest sign that the Soviets are considering a one-on-one meeting.
Although it was never admitted publicly, it can be said that the President was not unaware of the possibility that his trip to China might have nudged Chernenko toward seeking better relations with the United States. But it seemed to push the Soviet leader in the other direction: The boycott of the Olympics was soon announced.
At home the President has been taking a little softer line. He twice toned down drafts of his TV speech on Central America so as not to antagonize the Democrats in Congress. And he quickly let it be known he wasn't blaming Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker for the higher interest rates - after he had said otherwise.
So this may be a prelude to a fall campaign that will be relatively nonconfrontational and in which the two candidates discuss the issues in detail and, for the most part, avoid inflammatory rhetoric. The public would certainly welcome it.