Jimmy Carter joined 2,000 women at a National Women's Political Caucus rally last night at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and talked to them about matters some of his predecessors rarely bothered to:
Specifically, the President discussed his strategic arms proposals which yesterday the Russians rejected as unacceptable. It brought Carter his first dramatic diplomatic test in his two months in office.
But last night he did not appear to be discouranged by the apparent failure of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's mission to the Soviet Union. In fact, he talked optimistically about what his aims in weapons control are and how he hopes his stand on human rights will prevail.
"We are trying to do all these things - we need your help," he said, emphasizing the necessity of identifying abuses and correcting them as well as "setting new standards of human rights."
With his wife, Rosalynn, standing beside him on the platform in the gallery's main hall, Carter said, "Your forceful voices in constantly espousing human rights will help a great deal. We want to establish a pool of moral commitment and make the United States a rallying point for human rights around the world, a position we have not enjoyed in recent years, we want to be a beacon light." One way, he said, would be to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, a suggestion that brought loud cheers from his audience.
He recalled that the first time he met Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoliy Dobrynin, "He brought up the subject to human rights. I said my position would not change not without fault."
Carter said he knew that, but what did Dobrynin mean? Carter said the ambassador replied, "The United States still hasn't passed the Equal Rights Amendment."
"I told him," Carter said, "that I would try to do what I can for Equal Rights if do what you can for human rights in the Soviet Union."
Besides human rights and ERA, Carter named other issues he said needed support from the women's coalition: his forthcoming proposals on energy, welfare reform and tax reform.
"I don't claim to know all the answers but I need you to help me with your support, advice, criticism. And I pledge to you continued, unswerving and never-diminishing commitment to these goals," he concluded, acknowledging that a majority of Americans are women.
He left the platform to tumultuous applause and a few hugs and kisses from a phalanx of successful women waiting on the sidelines. Because no one could see what was happening beyond the front row, Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) took over the microphine to announce that "I'm going to be Thelma Coselli," adopting a ringside manner not unlike TV sportscaster Howard Cosell's.
"Carter just kissed Koryne Horbal," she screamed, setting a kind of running play-by-play as the President greeted Horbal, head of the Democratic National Committee's Women's Caucus. "Now Mrs. Carter is kissing Koryne." Mikulski didn't let up, announcing next that Carter was kissing Sharon Percy Rockefeller - "Maybe we ought to kiss one another, but wait, the President is now listening to Bella Abzug."
Indeed he was, as he was also listening to Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.), femenist spokeswoman and writer Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Holmes Norton, nominated to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Assistant Secretary of State Patsy Mink.
"We were all ready to shout for you," Steinem told Rosalynn Carter, who said it was nice not having to speak since her husband was so forceful on the issues himself.
Arm in arm, the Carters had walked over from the White House, waving to a small knot of bystanders gathering in their wake. And they were ready to return to the White House when Corcoran director Roy Slade waylaid them. He proposed an impromptu, guided tour of the upstairs exihibits, which the Carters accepted.
For half an hour, the Carters toured the American collection and a more abstract contemporary one. Both Carters paused beside Hiram Powers' sculpture, "The Greek Slave," which depicted a life-size nude with hands shackled by chains.
"It's hard to keep your hands off that chain," Carter observed, studying the realistic-looking marble reproduction of a chain.
A few minutes later, Carter spotted the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and, with Mrs. Carter, walked closer for a better look.
As the Carters returned home the way they came - on foot - his forthright approach on issues, was cheered by Mary Anne Krupsak, the lieutenant governor of New York. "If any proof is needed about the power of women, look at this room filled to capacity, a room where the President of the United States came and talked serious issues."
Around the room, the Carter's record on the appointment of women in his administration was greeted cautiously, following the general theme of "It's good what he's done so far but he has a long way to go." "His record is certainly an improvement on the past. He has the sensitivity but on commitment and follow through I'm still holding," said Frances (Sissy) Farenthold, the Texas politican who is now a president of Wells College in New York.
Arabella Martinez, who was appointed by Carter to an assistant secretary post at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, said, "Who's ever satisfied. But I think he's done an admirable job."
Last night's fund-raiser was held to honor the increasing number of women in government, and the two women in the Carter Cabinet, Commerce Secretary Juanita Kerps and HEW Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, were very visible.
Kreps had one of the last words in the evening. "I would like to dispel a myth going around town. It's not true that since I became Secretary of Commerce we have not hired any men," she said, as the audience laughed. "Indeed we are making veery effort to find qualified white males."