I am waiting for my friend Sandy to call. He is a lawyer. He is also a Republican. I mention that because all during Watergate he would call and ask why Democratic scandals were not given the same attention as Republican ones. Sandy used to call a lot. From the way things have been going, he should be calling any minute now.
Just the other day, for instance, the news secretary of transportation, Neil E. Goldschmidt, all but said that Chicago would have a harder time getting transportation funds out of Uncle Sam now that Mayor Jane Byrne had chosen to line up with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. He didn't quite come out and say he was going to punish Byrne, but he did say something about how some telephone calls would not be returned -- that sort of thing.
Goldschmidt went even further. Talking at a breakfast with reporters, he said that he had discussed his position with "responsible White House officials" and no one had suggested to him that he night be doing something wrong. In another era, this sort of stuff would be called playing politics with government programs. In this administration it is seen as a political awakening.
Goldschmidt's remarks follow some other indications that the White House is learning how to play tough. Earlier, for instance, it let it be known that census jobs would not go simply on a first-come first-served basis. Political loyalty would be taken into consideration. In other words, you had to be more than merely competent in math to get hired. Being loyal to President Carter would be taken into account.
A bit later came the Florida caucuses in which President Carter ran in a meaningless election and beat, for what it's worth, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The reason for Carter's victory, according to some Kennedy people, is that the president did not hesitate to play what is sometimes called hardball politics. Specifically, the Carter people were said to have reminded black leaders that CETA programs employed many people in the ghetto. As for elected leaders such as mayors, they were told that there is a Department of Housing and Urban Development and that is has grants at its disposal. One tug of war, for instance, took place over a proposed amusement park in Miami.
Some of this sort of talk got into the open because the Carter people were proud that their man was, at last, playing rough. The Carter administration, compared to most, has been squeaky clean. It did outstanding things like judge water projects on their value, not on the politics of congressmen, and it paid the price. It was judged naive and weak. Men, especially congressmen, do not live by good intentions alone. Nothing helps like an occasional dam, post office or HUD grant.
In a way, the sound of heads being knocked together was a welcome one. Politics is not a parlor game and leadership entails the use of power. It was reassuring to see the way the Carter people operated in Florida -- reassuring if they could operate the same way in Congress.
But the administration has done more than simply hint that is has finally realized how to use the perks of office. It has moved past that to something else -- a return to the sort of politics that characterized previous administrations. Goldschmidt and others, for instance, seem to be saying that more than merit is needed now for a federal grant -- that politics will be taken into account.
But it is just this sort of thing that Jimmy Carter promised to change. It was his vow that his administration would not play this way -- that it would be "a government as good as its people." He said it a lot of ways but he said it clear: He would not play by the old rules.
So maybe it is unfair to hold him to his campaign promises and maybe it is unfair to hold him to standards that no politician can meet.But it was also a bit unfair to overlook what has been going on because it is assumed, somehow, that Jimmy Carter is clean and lacks the "official cynicism" he mentioned in his acceptance speech at Madison Square Garden. The plain fact of the matter is that if someone in the Nixon administration had said what Goldschmidt had said, everyone would have yelled bloody murder.
This is not to equate the two administrations or the two men. Jimmy Carter is a long way from Richard Nixon, but what is wrong for one is just as wrong for the other. This is what my friend Sandy was always trying to tell me. Now I have something to tell him.
Don't call me. I'll call you.