Nation: Assessing a Presidency

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In almost every political arena that Carter has entered, his conviction that fervid good will would carry the day has proved false, and in many instances has worsened the problems. His belief that the Soviets would respond to dramatic overtures to scrap many of their nuclear missiles helped to fuel the continuation of arms competition. Carter's human rights campaign is now viewed as having often embarrassed U.S. allies and hardened the opposition of adversaries. His vague notion, preached mostly by his friend and onetime U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, that the radical nations were our natural allies has been mocked in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Iran. "It is not that he does not mean well," says one thoughtful critic of Carter. "It is that almost everything he has touched he has made worse. He operated from the wrong concept of his job, the wrong theory of international affairs, and he uses administrative procedures that fail."

If there is a modern manual of leadership widely admired in the world today, it is the memoirs of France's Charles de Gaulle. His lessons are simple but rarely heeded in most White House proceedings. De Gaulle wrote of the need to concentrate on the questions of greatest national importance, of the necessity of delegating authority, of remaining at a distance but not in an ivory tower, of talking constantly to his people not about themselves but the greater interests of the nation.

In a peculiar way Jimmy Carter is consumed by himself. His world still resembles the small stretch of Plains, Ga. His goodness becomes an end in itself, defined in the Main Street encounters where the audiences are people with names and problems that are manageable. This does little, however, to define the tastes of the presidency, where decisions must have heroic dimensions, where leaders must balance their immense egos against a deeper understanding that they are but specks of dust in the ultimate sweep of history, where the future must be just as real as the present.

But Carter is a marvelous neighbor, friend and Sunday-school counselor. His White House after 3½ years is heavily flavored with the tiny routines of being nice. Grace at every meal, prayer and Bible reading, personal notes, Willie Nelson on the stereo, the leafy glens of Camp David, three miles of jogging in the cool summer mornings, Sunday school in the balcony of the First Baptist Church.

The cardigan sweater endures. It was the symbol of his first days of power. That rather austere garment, which he wore both for warmth and to show the American people he was one of them, has been upgraded to a fuller and more stylish model with a collar. It is neatly folded on these scorching days on a table along the wall of the Oval Office. That office remains fundamentally intact as he established it when he came to power, but it is now enriched with the acquisitions of his years in office—a vase from Sadat, a glass screen from Deng Xiaoping, a bronze grizzly bear given to him by conservationists.

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