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. . . Good Start, Good Choice

March 01, 1987

The imperative facing President Reagan to reorganize and reinvigorate his White House staff while trying to restore his shaken political standing has at least begun well. In naming Howard H. Baker Jr. as his new chief of staff, Reagan has turned to an experienced political figure whose service in the Senate, culminating in four years as majority leader, won him the respect of his peers. Baker, a Republican from Tennessee, retired from the Senate two years ago. His voting record there was that of a Reagan loyalist, but he is also--as his investigatory role during the Watergate scandal a dozen years ago showed--a man of independent judgments. He should be able to help a President who desperately needs all the help that he can get.

The replacement of Donald T. Regan as chief of staff comes many months late. Indeed, it has long been apparent that he should never have served in the White House in the first place. His move there at the beginning of Reagan's second term came about, typically, through the manipulation of a passive President. Regan wanted to shift from his post as secretary of the Treasury to a place where his formidable appetite for power could be better fed. James A. Baker III, meanwhile, was growing weary after doing a first-rate job as chief of staff. A job swap was arranged and presented as a fait accompli to Reagan, who shrugged and said OK.

What the Tower Commission called the "chaos" resulting from the Iran arms scandal has many causes. Regan's administrative ineptitude is high among them. Howard Baker must now seek to impose orderliness and direction on policy-making during the final 23 months of the Reagan presidency. He, too, will need all the help that he can get--not least from a President who faces the considerable challenge of proving anew that he knows how to lead.

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