Only two weeks into his presidency, Jimmy Carter has already proved himself a master of the symbolic act.
Having just given the hook to 20 White House limousines, Carter broke further ground by eating lunch with staffers in the White House mess (the President's order: a cheeseburger and iced tea). At his second Cabinet meeting, he was pleased to find his lieutenants following his lead: the Interior Secretary had closed the department's VIP dining room for senior officials and eliminated five limousines, the Attorney General had dismissed his private FBI bodyguards. The White House also requestedand, not surprisingly, was grantedthe early reprieve of Mary Fitzpatrick from a Georgia prison so that the convicted murderess could continue working as Amy's nursemaid.*
During his fireside chat last week, Carter introduced what may prove to be the most memorable symbol of an Administration that promises to make steady use of symbolismthe beige wool cardigan, a favorite of his. Carter wore the sweater at dinner with Rosalynn, Amy, Sons Chip and Jeff and their wives. In the library after his meal, Carter asked TV Adviser Barry Jagoda and Adman Jerry Rafshoon what they thought of the cardigan. They told him to check it himself on the TV monitor. All agreed it looked fine. Then Carter rehearsed his talk before the TelePrompTer (which was also used during the speech). "Y'all give me any suggestions you might have," he told his advisers. Just the ending needed another run-through.
In his 23-minute talk, Carter candidly but gently served up some bad news for the nation on the "permanent" energy shortage, firmly prodded the American people to help him and defended his economic program as "the best-balanced possible." He promised not only to place a "ceiling on the number of people employed by the Federal Government" but also to reduce the number of federal regulations. Every new regulation, he said, would have to "carry its author's name"a tough order since so many directives are bounced from one bureaucrat to another. There was a touch of the hokey, too, in Carter's pledge to act as host of a call-in talk show that would be broadcast from the Oval Office. After the address, Carter told aides, "I'm pleased.
I thought it went pretty well."
So, it seemed, did most of the country. The speech was pure Cartersimple, direct, yet shrewd. Envious Republicans could find little to fault. "He was folks, and folks is in," said an insider at the Republican National Committee. "I hate to say it, but from a purely analytical point of view, I loved it." Even so, the R.N.C. asked networks for equal time. In California, a party official said, "We've gotten some complaints on the phone about this. People ask whether we're going to challenge the President on the need to conserve energy or his pledge to put a ceiling on the size of the Federal Government."