Nation: Assessing a Presidency

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 9)

Finally, Carter yielded. The Senator and his wife Jane were asked to dinner. The results were startling. Ed Muskie proved to be warm and reasonable, even in disagreement. "The most wonderful dinner I've ever had," said Carter later. Jane Muskie was a bit surprised over the President's enchantment, since such affairs have always been a vital part of official life. The Muskies were asked back to dinner, and one day the Senator told his staff, "I don't want to hear any more anti-Carter talk." When Jimmy Carter needed a new Secretary of State, he did not have to think very long. He called up a man he knew, Ed Muskie, who accepted eagerly. But there was only one Ed Muskie.

The President and his people learned the names of the congressional players and they went through all the traditional routines of breakfast, lunch and massed receptions. Power, however, is a very personal thing. It works on subtlety and nuance. It is in the end a matter of caring. And it is a matter of years and years of listening, thinking and adjusting. The Carter White House never could come to believe in Congress or its odd rituals. The leaders of both houses now stand at arm's distance or worse. Speaker of the House Thomas P. O'Neill, who will chair the Democratic Convention, is hesitant about Carter. Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, who was overlooked for a major role in New York, let his displeasure loose in a bitter criticism of the President's handling of the Billy Carter affair.

Describing the nation's problems and the world's ills is one way the Carter crew answers its critics. No less a doubter than former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declares that the President is not responsible for the growth of Soviet military power, which has neutralized our own; the decline of American political authority because of Viet Nam and Watergate; the conditions that led to the revolution in Iran; the growing self-assertion of the industrialized allies; and the energy squeeze. Carter has not fragmented the Congress or created the fierce independence of its individual members. The wealth and power of the lobbies and their ability to thwart legislation was a fact before Carter got to town. American productivity had run into problems years ago, and Big Government had been on the lips of an anguished majority for even longer.

Carter's record of achievement is not a bare cupboard. There is civil service reform, airline, trucking and financial institutions deregulation, the Panama Canal treaties, restored relations with China, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and a commendable energy program on the books. As a symbol of personal integrity and candor, he is undimmed. A majority of Americans probably would still endorse most of the ideas he set forth in his first euphoric weeks, ideas for tax reform, national health care and Government reorganization. For the most part, Carter's farm program was a wonder, expanding exports and raising prices and farm income. He has increased the military budget, put the new MX missile system in planning, leap-frogged a new manned bomber to develop the cruise missile and persuaded NATO to make significant increases in arms and readiness.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9