"I never have quite made the transition from Plains to Washington successfully," said the president of the United States. "And when I have asked for advice around our Capital City I have always heard back, 'Well, you need to go to more Washington cocktail parties.'
"I have tried to accommodate that recommendation and do the best I could. I can't go to all the embassy parties, I just don't have time. So I decided to send Hamilton Jordan."
The crowd roared with laughter.
"Later on," continued the president, "I was told that the best way to deal with Congress, to get your programs passed, was to go to the cocktail parties and Jody Powell went.
"He tried to sell all four-year programs in one night. It took him a week to get over it."
More laughter and applause.
They were southerners. They were in Atlanta. They were his people. And they understood.
Friday night was the first time Jimmy Carter had been in Atlanta since his inauguration as president. And his homecoming was successful. Two thousand people crowded into the World Congress Center for a $1,000-a-couple fund-raising dinner for the Democratic National Committee. But more than that they had come to see their man-in-Washington. The atmosphere was warm and receptive and Carter felt it. He responded with passion and a strength of delivery in his speech.
Many southerners and particularly Georgians who, with enormous pride, sent off Jimmy Carter as the first southern president since the Civil War and final proof that the South indeed did rise again, are surprised and a little hurt at the kind of criticism their president and his people have been receiving since he took office.
Many of them feel Washington has not given the newcomers a chance to adjust and that they have not been sympathetic enough to a group of people come to do a job, a group used to hard work, long hours and little socializing.
They think that the "Washington Establishment," as it is now referred to in Atlanta, is superficial and arrogant, that people in Washington care only about partying and use that as an excuse to criticize the Carter people for not getting around more.
They think Washington has tended to characterize all "Carter people" and "Georgians" in one lump, not making an effort to recognize the social difference between a Hamilton Jordon and a Griffin Bell, between a Stu Eizenstat and a Jack Watson.
In Georgia, "the Washington Cocktail Party" has become the byword for everything that is wrong with the Washington Establishment."
There is one Atlantan who neither works in the administration nor is particularly involved in politics, but who knows everyone in town. He is artist and social observer Comer Jennings. Jennings occasionally comes to Washington, but mostly he sees things from his vantage point in Atlanta and perceives life with wit and humor.
"I do think," says Jennings, "that it's important for Washingtonians to distinguish between the good ole boys, he unwashed, like Hamilton, and the urbane Georgians like Jack Watson. But the important thing to keep in mind is that Carter did not carry Atlanta. He doesn't have much of a base here.
"In face, I don't know anybody from Atlanta who went to the fund-raiser Friday night. I imagine there were a lot of people from Americus.I hear there were a lot of double knits there. Not a natural fiber in the whole crowd.
"So nobody was surprised here about some of the criticism because he'd been sitting around Atlanta for years and nobody ever saw him at parties. When Ann Chambers was chairman of the Piedmont Ball I sat at her table and Jimmy was a guest of hers too. He sat with his hands folded staring at the ceiling all night. They were bored stiff with the social life around here. Ann was one of the few people who could ever turn him out for a party."
But Jennings also make another point.
"I don't think a lot of people here are used to doing business at funny hours," he says. "It's against the southern tradition to do business at odd hours. If you're spending Sunday afternoon with people or having dinner with them it's not polite to talk business."
And too, he says, "We didn't get the big hand we thought we were going to get in Washington. These people were all great successes around here. They were big deals. It's come as a big surprise that the newspapers haven't just been saying wonderful things about them."
Bert Lance was in great form. He had come over to the World Congress Center to introduce Gov. George Busbee to the afternoon political symposium, set up for those who would attend the dinner that evening. Most of the afternoon, however, Lance stood around the lobby of the Congress Center, talking to reporters, greeting people, accepting good wishes and compliments and generally hanging out.
Bert Lance is now a star. He knows it. And he loves it.
Almost everyone who came over to him told how wonderful he was, how proud they were of him, how he shouldn't let "those people up there" get him down and how they were saying their prayers for him. He would reply with a beam, and heartfelt thanks, a funny line.
"And for your information," he said with a large smile to a reporter, "It's like this all over the country."
Bert Lance has always been gregarious readily about what he sees is the problem between Washington and the Carter people.
"I think," said Lance, "that it's wrong to focus on any one person or any one relationship. I think the Georgia people are very serious-minded people."
"Washington people perceive it as being of vital importance to have social contacts," he said. "Georgia people don't attach that importance to it. I don't think either is wrong.
"But I do know you could go out every night and not do your job. That's a mistake, but it's also a mistake for people in Georgia not having any feeling for the Washington scene."
Elkin Alston Cushman, the daughter of Carter's close friend and ambassador to Australia, lawyer Phillip Alston, is married to Atlanta Businessman Jim Cushman.
She said of the Carter people, "When they're not working they're trying to restore their family lives. They're just that kind. That's why they make good workers. They have great respect for Washington, but one more cocktail party is just a bore."
She thinks that not going to local events in Washington "is not a conscious effort on the part of the Carter people to be rude. In fact, I think Washington is perceiving the southern person as totally the opposite of what they are - the warm hospitable southerner. In fact, they're being perceived as what the hard cold easterners are supposed to be like. I don't think that the Georgians have to go from a security standpoint. I don't think it'll make or break them. But if it's hurting Jimmy by not going out I'd want to correct it. But I think it's too bad because it's very superficial."
Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson smoothly combines big-city sophistication with a down-home demeanor.
Jackson is aware of the problems the Carter people are having in Washington, but as a Carter supporter he is not worried, "I'm not awfully concerned about this problem," he says. "I think it's a flailing about of some people who have nothing better to do. Now, there is always an automatic period of adjustment, expecially for a southern boy whose speech is different.
"On the question of communication - I was in my first year as mayor when Carter was in his last year as governor. Assuming what is said is true about the communication gap, I suspect President Carter and I share a characteristic in common.
"One of my toughest adjustments has been to deal with the amenities of public life in order to gain support for an issue while I cannot understand somebody not supporting it in the first place. Sometimes one feels put upon to have to go out and stroke somebody and get support and deal with matters that have nothing to do with the issue.
"But the final line is that it takes a personal touch and investment of time to break down the preconceived notion of you, so that afterwards you can deal with the person on the merits of the issue.
"I know Carter is impatient with the amenities when there are overwhelming issues at stake."
Charlie Kirbo is one of Jimmy Carter's closet friends and advisers, though he refused any position in the government, preferring to remain in his Atlanta law firm and continue to live in his country house outside of Atlanta.
Charlie Kirbo is a cryptic man. Also shrewd. For instance, though Kirbo comes to Washington often he is rarely seen here outside the White House. Kirbo insists that he doesn't have "any thoughts on this subject. Everybody in Washington has been real nice to me. I just really don't know about this. I live way out in the country. I just don't know. I guess I think that everybody up there ought to be working (instead of going out)."
The fund-raiser Friday night was held in the World Congress Center because it is the only room in Atlanta which can accomodate 2,000 people.
Despite the enormity of the crowd and the hall, a sense of family, a sense of togetherness, of unity, set the tone of the evening. There were five Cabinet members, including Joe Califano, who had come down earlier in the day to squire Rosalynn Carter around several HEW projects.
The Georgians were having a ball, hobnobbing with Cabinet members such as Bob Bergland, Ray Marshall and James Schlesinger, as well as their own home-grown celebrities: Jody Powell, Susan Clough and Himilton Jordon are now celebrities and treated as such.
The organizers of the party had realized this and placed the "celebrities" at each table as prizes for those who had shelled out $1,000. (Though Hamilton Jordon spoke at the symposium in the afternoon he declined to stay for the dinner and left for Albany, Ga., early in the evening.)
Miz Lillian was there and Daddy King. Bert and LaBelle Lance, Maynard Jackson, Phil Walden of Capricorn records. George Wallace sat in his wheelchair at his table and received most of the evening.
"Jimmy Carter will get on top of it all," Wallace said. "He's an intelligent man. He'll make a good president. I'm a governor and I know you've got to deal with the establishment to get along. But I'll tell you. That Washington establishment is about to run me crazy, it's about to run all these people here crazy, it's about to run everybody in the country crazy. I'll be foaming at the mouth soon."
LaBelle Lance appeared to be the epitome of the social butterfly, her symbol, and she swept through the huge hall, graciously greeting people all evening as though she were the hostess.
She was dressed in a Scarlett O'Hara costume, with a red velvet top, her long brown hair pulled back like Scarlett's and left cascading down her back. If anybody in that enormous room was "home" it was LaBelle Lance.
"Washington," she said, "was my third home town. And that's not naivete. I'm too old to be naive. But I do think,I know, that people have championed us here in Georgia. They knew us and they claimed their own. But I liked Washington and I made friends there and I went out. I didn't stay away from the social life. I didn't go up there to be that way."
When President Carter had finished speaking he left immediately for St. Simons Island. As soon as he had gone the crowd began to clear out. Not to go home, mind you, but to finish off the night drinking, singing, clogging and, yes, socializing.
Tom Beard, the special projects co-ordinator for the Democratic National Committee, organized this fund-raiser in Atlanta. He is 31, friendly and relaxed, a former fraternity brother of Hamilton Jordon at the University of Georgia.
"When I went to Washington," he says, "I'd already heard about the Georgetown parties. And when I first went to one it was an alien sort of thing. It was just like moving to a new place. You go to Washington parties and everybody's got their friends and they're all talking to each other and you feel out of it."
"But I don't think it intimidates anybody. It just takes a while to adjust to it. Even Jack Kennedy had to adjust. That's why I think the critics are unfair. I don't think the Georgia people snubbed anybody. And the idea that there's some Georgia mafia is unfair. Why does everything have to focus on Hamilton. If he loosens his tie at a formal dinner does that mean we all loosen our ties. Now if you go anyplace in Washington and they find out you're from Georgia they want to know why did Hamilton do so and so it really hurts your feelings."
Beard says that by this Christmas, however, he was feeling a lot more confortable about being in Washington, that he went to a dinner party at the Mondales and that he and his wife had a terrific time with the Fulbrights.
"I wear jeans," he says. "But I have a tuxedo and I know which fork to use."
"I know for a fact," he says, "that people in the White House are now making an effort to go, especially in the last few weeks. People are starting to go. I don't think any of us realized what a big deal it was. But we do want to go where people like us and not go just to be the token Georgian."
But if the Washington establishment remains suspicious of dumb-like-foxes Georgians, Beard concedes, "I do think there is some hostility toward the Washington establishment."
To many of the Georgians in the White House, Joe Califano, former LBJ aide, former Washington Post counsel and now HEW Secretary, personifies the Washington Establishment.
When Califano was planning his trip to the fund-raiser he combined it with an HEW trip to talk to his regional people and spent part of the day with Rosalynn Carter and lunch with Governor Busbee. He sent an advance man down to check things out, brought his secretary and an aide and asked where he was going to be seated.
Some Carter people were outraged that he would put them throught so many paces when the other Cabinet members had not (Califano insisted that his extra requests were because he was on additional, official business.)
They sniped that Califano had flown first class when Hamilton Jordon himself had flown down tourist class. Not true, says Califano. "I never travel first class on short trips.") And they told stories about how Calinano had an overly exaggerated view of his own importance, exactly the way some in the Washington establishment see Jordon's casual behavior as reverse snobbism.
Clearly there is a difference in style between the old glad-hand school of politics Califano comes out of and the new school Jordon leads.
When the DNC needed "stars" for the dinner and pressured Cabinet members and White House staff, Califano made the trip, while Jordon couldn't fit it into his schedule and flew home to Albany instead.
Joe Colifano is aware that he is viewed as a Washington insider by the Georgians. And he says, "There's nothing I can do about their vision. This is my life. This is a city I love and enjoy full of people I love and enjoy, my friends."
Still, the mutual hostility and suspicion persist.
Several workers were sitting in the office where the fund-raiser was being handled in Atlanta Friday afternoon and all hell was breaking loose as cancellations came in because of the snow storm and people calling in with last-minute demands. At one point one of the workers took a call from a man who demanded to know who was at his table, where they were sitting and how many tables he had.
After hassling with him for a few minutes, the worker hung up the phone and commented to his colleagues, "The guy's pulling a real Califano."
And so it goes.