The second most powerful person in the United States is Rosalynn Carter.
There is virtually no dispute about that now among Cabinet officers, White House aides and assorted other observers of the presidential scene. The title is unofficial, and has been slow in taking effect because of the unstructured nature of Carter's leadership. But Rosalynn now joins a select fraternity that since the end of World War II includes only Clark Clifford, John Foster Dulles, Robert Kennedy, Dean Rusk and Henry Kissinger.
She is the first woman in the club. She emerges from the shadows of the past two years as the President's most trusted, wise, durable and important adviser in virtually every phase of his stewardship. "She is the first First Lady I have known who is a true adviser to the President on almost every issue," says a White House veteran who has known them all back to Eleanor Roosevelt. Adds a former White House man: "She has more impact on policy than any other President's wife in this generation. She knows what is going on. She has the best mind for statecraft and politics that we have seen among the First Ladies."
It is reckoned by one White House staffer that Rosalynn counseled with the President more than any other single person during his Middle East shuttle diplomacy, not on details but on pace and tactics. Just last week, when Carter told Bob Strauss that he wanted him as his coordinator of Middle East policy, he silenced Strauss's protest by ex plaining that he had confirmed his judgment with "Rosalynn, Cy, Zbig and Ham." Note the order.
The President's Camp David weekends are devoted to resting, reading, exercise and long, long talks with Ro salynn. She is the first of the presidential wives to keep regular, working office hours, and the "lunch with Rosalynn Carter" that shows up on the President's schedule between Prime Ministers and Senators on Wednesday or Thurs day at 12:30 is a unique institution of the modern presidency. Jimmy drinks buttermilk. Rosalynn has coffee. They nibble at salads and sin wildly when they plunge into a dollop of flan with ice cream. They ponder things like advice about Son Jack's grain-elevator business and the guest lists for approaching state dinners; then Rosalynn inevitably asks for the latest information on SALT or the Middle East. At one lunch, Rosalynn got the surprise of her life when the President revealed that just minutes earlier, agreement had been reached with China for normalization of relations, a secret she kept until the announcement the next day. A Rosalynn lunch with Jimmy helped restore tentative cuts in the budget for the elderly. She plugs for health care and limitations on hospital costs. "The President of the United States cares what I think," she said demurely last week.
She sits in on Cabinet meetings, has dropped round to hear national security discussions. "She is more of a realist than the President," says one aide.