She is the nurse. He is the patient.
She has come to the waiting room to reassure the concerned relatives.
They are not listening to what she is saying. They are listening to how she is saying it. They are watching her eyes for telltale signs of worry.
She tells them everything that can be done is being done. She tells them the patient is fine. But he needs their encouragement and support.
They want to believe her.
"I bring greetings from Jimmy. I left him at home and Amy is away at camp so he's going to be very lonesome. But he said to tell you hello. I want you to know he's healthy and we're having a wonderful time at the White House. Every day Jimmy makes sure he takes time out from his responsibilities to get a little exercise, to clear his mind, and to get out in the fresh air. He calls me about 4:30 in the afternoon and says: 'Would you like to run?' We've been jogging, or just do something to get away from the pressures for a few minutes. It's become my favorite time of day.He's healthy , he's happy , he's confident , and he's optimistic about the future of our country.
This is Pine Bluff, Ark., a country fair. It is at least 100 degrees - killingly hot.
The ones who can stand it stay and listen hopefully. Others wander off to find some shade. One person collapses. Rosalynn Carter does not perspire. Her green silk dress stays immaculate and unsoaked. She looks cool; she acts cool. She is on a mission.
She is more confident than ever. The old fear of speaking is gone. She owns that speaker's dais now. She is the one in control now, and she is here to tell them that her husband is, too. Only when she speaks of him does her voice begin to rise.
People here seem to like her. They stare at her with curiosity. They yell at her to shake their hand. But they just don't know about her husband.
A couple of farmers sit placidly behind their fruit stands, their straw hats pushed back on their heads. They get a puzzled look when asked about the president.
"Well, he's kind in a blind," says D. Jacks. "He's kinda between the rock and the hard spot. I think if I were him I'd resign."
"I don't think he's doing so hot," says H. Williams, sitting on the back of his truck, next to his wife. "You can't git any gas. Y'all having problems gitting gas up there in Washington?"
His wife likes Rosalynn Carter.She puts in an optimistic word: "Behind every successful man is a good woman."
A few women begin to listen. They add that they like Rosalynn Carter. She seems to be intelligent. Strong. They say she believes she has a lot of influence over the president. Then one woman says with a look of genuine concern: "But around the pool they're saying that everybody's kinda upset."
This journey of Rosalynn Carter's is a four-day whirlwind trip to Chicago, Pine Bluff and Little Rock, Ark.; Fortworth, Dallas, Harlingen, Tex.; Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Fresno, Calif. It is essentially a campaign trip planned some weeks ago - before the events of Camp David, the speech, and the Cabinet shakeup. Until last Friday no press had signed up for the trip. Now, many have signed up, and hordes of press crowd around Rosalynn Carter at every stop, making what are known as "press opportunities" necessary at almost every stop.
They consist of reporters crowding around the first lady to ask a few impromptu questions. It is during the "press opportunity" tht Rosalynn Carter in her whispery voice (she refuses to use a mike) has shown nay real emotion. She gets angry at questions about former HEW secretary Joseph Califano, at questions about polls and criticism of her husband. She gets coy about her role as adviser. She demurs a lot. The more she demurs the more people ask her about her role as adviser. And the public continues to believe that she is a major influence on her husband. Maybe too major.
The nurse-patient-relationship image arises time and again as she continues to defend her husband, to promote him in a way one would not expect a president to need.
Her face hardens, her eyes, narrow, her voice takes on a metallic quality when she is asked about criticism. "Ha, ha," she laughs mirthlessly. "When you get to my position it doesn't bother me at all." Then she adds: "I think he's doing a great job. He's optimistic, confident about the future" - the litany for the trip.
She is asked about Califano's statement that Carter mentioned getting the Cabinet ready for the campaign. Her jaw tightens in controlled rage. "Jimmy did not one time discuss the campaign with Mr. Califano. Never. In fact we did not call one person to Camp David to talk about politics. The problems of our country transcend politics."
And she will say, as she says over and over: "What we need in Washington, in the White House, is a very tight good group that can work together to help solve the problems. And that's what we're going to do."
As for her influence on the president at Camp David: "I don't know that I had any.I sat in on the meetings. I listened with him and we, and uh, then he made the decisions." . . . and about the Cabinet changes: "Well, most of those changes were something that had been anticipated and the people that left knew they were going to leave so I just, we, uh, I, uh, Jimmy thought, and I agreed with him, that it was better to do it fast, two days, three days and that's it and then we could go forward."
Rosalynn Carter is working very hard on this trip. On the plane, sitting in the front compartment, visible to the press in back, she works continuously, even going over papers and making notes before the plane is off the ground. She chews gum while she works, hardley ever talking or relaxing with any members of her entourage. Mary Hoyt, her press secretary, says she is working on her speeches and remarks, which are nearly the same at every stop.
Essentially her message is always the same. It is the president's message of Sunday night: that there is a crisis of confidence. Then there is her reasurance that our country is good , our country is strong , our country is wonderful . And then there is the reassurance that Jimmy is healthy (emphasis on healthy), happy, confident and optimistic .
By traveling around visiting clinics and rehabilitation centers which emphasize self-help she reiterates her theme that we must work together and help each other.
"Well, I'll tell you and I'll tell it to you straight. If nobody will help you, you just have to do it yourself." Rosalynn Carter has quoted that remark - a remark made by an old woman in Arkansas - several times.
"It sounds to me like she's making a plea," said one man who heard her speech in Chicago, "like she's pleading with us to help her make it all right."
She spends a lot of time about how important it is for her to get out and talk to people:
"I can travel about and have more contacts with people and I can talk to people more than Jimmy can. . . when his entourage is so large it's hard for him to get to people. I can get closer to people than he can, and then I can go back and talk to him about their hopes and dreams."
Ironically she hardly ever gets to talk to anybody. Her role is purely ceremonial. The conversations she has with people are polite and perfunctory. She gets less chance to talk to people who will tell her what they really think than anybody traveling with her - certainly much less than members of the press, who can fan out into the crowds and get honest reactions to her and her husband.
At the governor's mansion in Little Rock, 1,500 people from an immunization program are standing waiting on the lawn to hear her. They wait and wait and wait. Finally she appears.
"Jimmy just called me on the telephone," she says. "He called to tell me to tell you hello. He said: 'Tell them I love them.' Then he said: 'You sound like you're in a hurry.' And I said: 'I only have 1,500 people waiting.'"
There is just the tiniest hint that he is dependent on her. She is telling him she has to get off the phone because she is busy.
Then she tells them: "He's halthy , he's happy , he's confident and he's optimistic about the future."
Harlingen, Tex., is also very hot, over 100 degrees. It is on the border and is heavily Mexican American. Rosalynn Carter is there to visit a clinic recommended to her by Judy Lipshutz, the daughter of White House counsel Bob Lipshutz and a VISTA volunteer. Ther is a small crowd waiting to greet her outside the clinic, including the Harlingen Sixshooters, a Chamber of Commerce organization. They are sweltering in their red blazers and cowboy hats.
This crowd is not favorable to Jimmy Carter and as the heat rises they become less so.
"This is a last-ditch attempt to save face," says Dancy Buttery, a Sixshooter. "Carter has had three years to make a difference. It's been a waste."
"I didn't vote for her," says Jim Costello, another Sixshooter. "I don't like her being up front. I don't know anybody who voted for her. She's not an elected official."
A Mexican American woman in the crowd looked afraid. "The changes in the Cabinet frighten me," says Pearl Lozano. "I wonder if it's not another Watergate."
Her friend Susan Tussing says of Rosalynn Carter: "I think she has a lot of influence over her husband. I don't think I'd like her to have complete influence. I'd rather have her have more of a public image."
Two nuns in the crowd are worried too. "There could have been more forewarning about the Cabinet changes," says Sister Michelle Kuntscater. "So many so quickly makes you wonder if the leadership is strong enough."
"The confusion," says Sister Mary Lucy Garcia, "has brought about unrest."
An old lady pipes up from behind them, "In my opinion," she says, "Rosalynn Carter should be president."
After her tour of the clinic and her remarks, Rosalynn Carter stops for a brief "press opportunity."
Again she is asked about what she knew about the shakeup before hand. "A little bit." Again she is coy. She says that she assessed her own staff a few weeks ago.
"There's not going to be much change in the White House operation. Jimmy has always operated like the spokes of a wheel. They all come to him. A year ago he turned a good deal of that authority over to Hamilton. So Hamilton is the one people can go to with small decisions. Now he will have a little bit more. He will be speaking only from Jimmy. Cabinet members will be directly responsible to Jimmy. They will not be responsible to Hamilton. Cabinet members can still go to Jimmy. I heard people say they will be directly responsible to Hamilton but that's not true. There will be few changes as far as that goes."
As far as her relationship with the president, she says: 'I never said I agree or disagree with Jimmy, because that's private. If I'm going to be effective with Jimmy . . . if I go out there and say 'Well, I toldhim this and I told him that,' he would never confide in me . . . he listens to me. I listen to him. He doesn't always react the way I want him to."
She is asked about the polls. Again anger flashes from her eyes. Her jaw sets. "I don't worry about polls.The problems of our country transcend polls. And polite . . ."
She tells people that she has talked to her husband that morning.
"We talked about what we could do for the people. Jimmy has never, never been the kind of person who thinks the most important is to be reelected. He thinks he should do what is best for the people regardless of whether it is a popular decision."
Later she will say: "Polls show for the first time in our history the majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. That's never happened before."
Those were the results of pollster Pat Caddell, Carter insider who reportedly has been very influential in the decisions of the past few years.
Dallas. A Dallas County Democratic fund-raiser and reception. A small crowd of 300.
It is unusual at a fund-raiser for a politician to have people speak negatively to the press about the candidate they are there to support; and though many speak favorably about Jimmy Carter and about his wife, there is considerable grousing in the crowd.
Herb Cooke, from the Teachers Association, likes the president's support for a department of education, but "as far as the Cabinet shakeup, I will say I was concerned that the image projected was not one of the taking charge but of losing control.
"My friends are concerned," says Cooke, as several around him nod.
Greetings From Jimmy
Rosalynn Carter speaks to them.
"I bring you greetings from Jimmy. I talked to him on the phone this morning. I asked what was going to happen in Washington today. I'm not going to tell you what he said." Giggle. "Jimmy is healthy , and happy and confident and optimistic about the future . . . our problems are deeper than energy and unemployment. We're losing confidence in the country and the future . . . America is good , we are strong , we can regain our confidence. What we need is leadership. We have it. Jimmy Carter is a leader and I'm proud of him." Her voice again rises.
There is a press opportunity afterward.
She admits that "the Cabinet shakeup might have created a little bit of confusion . . . I think it was very clean, very good . . . Sometimes people can do a really good job but in the process they become ineffective. They've done what they can do.
"I sat in on the meetings. I don't say 'Do this' or 'Do that.' I don't ever do that to him. We just discuss things. I'm a wife. I like to know what's happening. I have never been interested in detail of policy and legislation. I like to be informed. He uses me as a sounding board."
Later she will say about her role as adviser: "I think that, uh, maybe it's being exaggerated."
Why, she is asked, does she keep saying he's healthy, happy, confident and optimistic? Her voice rises, quickens: "I've been saying it for 21/2 years. Sometimes people have the feeling we're battered down in Washington. That's not true. It's never been. We've always been optimistic."
On the plane yesterday, she agrees reluctantly to a short interview, everyone gathered around her to ask questions. The focus is still on Carter's heatlth - his mental health. Someone asks her about Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska's comment that "some of us are seriously worried that he might be approaching some sort of mental problem. He ought to take a rest."
Did she feel her husband was unstable?
"It's absolutely untrue," she says vehemently. "And I don't think anybody thinks that. People who have seen him and who saw him on Sunday night know that is not true. This is nothing that has been done in a rush all of a sudden. It's been very methodical and very carefully thought out."
She is asked how she feels about the criticism. "Jimmy was elected to the state senate in 1961," she says "For about a year, I got really upset anytime anybody said anything to him. He used to sit me down and say: 'If you don't think I'm doing the best job I can possibly do, then worry about it. But if you think I'm doing the best job I can do, don't worry about it.'"
Told people had criticized the report card, she responded cheerfully with "So what?"
As for Carter's criticism of Washington: "I think he's telling the truth."
But like all good nurses she has a bromide: All of the Washington establishment, Congress, the press, everybody, should get together and think about the country . . . "Some people are interested in the country, I am interested in the country . . . If we all join together, including the press to say something good about this country . . ."
And there is more.
"What I would like the people of this country to do is every time they turn out a light, every time they ride a bicycle every time they ride a car-pool, think about Jimmy and that I am doing this for my country."
The Carter-Mondale fund-raiser Monday evening in the ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas draws a small crowd of 525 at $500 a head. Everybody keeps saying what a great crowd it is. What it is, is some of the Democratic establishment of Texas. Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby is there; former Oklahoma Rep. Carl Albert is there; Helen Strauss is there; Mrs. John White is there. Bob Krueger, the president's nominee for ambassador to Mexico, is there.
So are Liz Carpenter and Ruth Carter Stapleton, Jimmy Carter's sister. Rosalynn Carter plans to go off after the dinner and spend the night and the next morning with Ruth Stapleton at "Holovita," her religious retreat near Dallas.
Stapleton, who says she hasn't talked to Carter during recent weeks, says nevertheless that she feels "totally involved" in the events in Washington because "the first thing I do every morning is turn on the news."
"I was surprised about the Cabinet thing," she says, "but I wasn't surprised about the nature of his speech Sunday night."
Stapleton says she is "depressed about the response of the people" to his speech and actions, "but those were the people who were following the newspapers and the press. If you just read the papers and the polls and watch TV, you'll stay depressed all the time."
"I'm with Republican more than Democrats," she says, "and they don't feel he'd done a bad job. And they're happy with the spiritual part. But the only thing that really bothers people in Texas is the energy thing."
Stapleton says she's followed her brother's advice to help America and the energy crisis. "I turned down my heat and turned up the air conditioning and I bought a Toyota."
She thinks people are watching Carter for emotional stress and strain, and that the way he deals with it is "he has this way of being able to instantly go to sleep, relax and get physical exercise."
The Moses Analogy
Before Rosalynn Carter's speech to the Dallas fund-raiser there is a lot of jolly talk to rather weak applause during the various introductions.
There is some talk about how Carter is being compared to Moses coming down from the mountain only the comparison is unfair because Moses didn't have the Washington press corps or Congress waiting for him when he came down from the mountain (this gets applause). But, the analogy continues, Moses also didn't have Bob Strauss defending him every morning on national television shows, nor did he have a secret weapon like Rosalynn Carter.
She is dressed in nurse white. She steps up to the platform to a standing ovation. She is calm. She is there once again to reassure.There is a hush over the audience.
They are waiting to hear good news.
To be told the patient will recover.
She tells them that she was asked earlier how she responded to criticism by Republicans and she says: "I blee it." She tells them she should have said: "Don't talk to me about Republicans. We've had Republicans in the White House for eight years.How did we get ourselves in such a mess? Thank goodness we have a leader now who will stand up and do something."
The edge reappears as her voice rises again. She hits the dais with her fist.
"I'm proud," she says, "of Jimmy Carter."
"He's healthy, he's happy, he's confident, and he's optimistic about the future . . . ." CAPTION: Picture 1, Rosalynn Carter, by AP; Picture 2, Rosalynn Carter tries one of the obstacles on Fort Worth YMCA camp confidence course, by AP; Picture 3, Mrs. Carter in Fort Worth, by UPI