Sifting through more than 52,000 letters -- representing 2 percent of the entire federal workforce, or one letter from every seven civil servants here -- I get the distinct impression Jimmy Carter is not loved by the people who work for him.
Judging from comments sent in by federal workers, postal employes, retired and active duty military personnel (from 46 states and four foreign countries) I would say Ronald Reagon and/or John Anderson will have to work very, very hard to lose the federal-military vote this November Both candidates have the demonstrated ability to put their foot in their mouths. Unless they goof terribly, or Carter soon shows signs of walking on water, the president is in trouble in his quest for their vote.
Federal-military personnel are bitter over pay "caps," and worried about the impact of civil service "reforms." Workers and retirees are furious that Congress and the White House are pushing legislation to take away one of the two annual cost-of-living raising that retirees are now promised by law.
Federal workers believe the president is using them as whipping boys, claiming they are overpaid and beneficiaries of a pension system that causes inflation. Carter aides say the president's positions have been distorted by the media, and misunderstood by bureaucrats. But people believe what they believe.
Congressional Democrats who endorsed Carter over Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are starting to put distance between themselves and the president, especially those who represent large numbers of federal or military personnel.
Last Wednesday, for example, Rep. Herbert Harris (D. Va.) wrote the president a tough letter, complaining of White house "public relations gimmicks" -- the pay parking order, the hot water cutoff, etc. -- aimed at federal workers. Harris said various "ill-conceived policies" purporting to save money, energy or whatever, are in effect either illegal, dumb or damaging to morale and productivity.
Mildred Moseley, president of the union local that represents Pentagon workers, wrote a front-page editorial for the June issue of her union newspaper. In it, she said organized labor should "think twice before returning Mr. Carter to the White House for another four-term of 'open warfare' on federal jobs, clandestine raids on federal employes' paychecks, and legalized rip-offs against federal retirees.
Speaking of GOP challenger Ronald Reagan, Moseley wrote: ". . . Maybe Mr. Reagan is as bad as Mr. Carter. But can we reward Mr. Carter with reelection for the lousy performance he has given as president?. . . I say let's put Jimmy Carter on the streets, back on the peanut farm where his 'peanut brainstorm' policies belong. Let him join the ranks of the unemployed rather than give him a license to have federal employes join the swelling ranks of the jobless."
From Suitland, this letter: ". . . I am a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, with 28 years of service. Upon retirement I was promised two cost-of-living adjustments per year. Individuals under other retirement plans did not receive this promise but were aware of their plans' ground rules when they accepted retirement. To attempt equalization by reducing benefits of some retirees is a blatant breach of contact.
"Can Carter and his aides actually consider us naive enough to believe that our pensions fuel inflation" They have the cart before the horse.
The COL adjustments are designed to offset our financial losses resulting from inflation. . . . Will I vote against Carter? . . . You can bet your bottom dollar I will."
From Edgewater, Md.: "I retired from the U.S. government 10 years ago after 30 years of service. I found out very quickly that living on 55 percent of my former income was impossible, and had to go back to a totally unrelatd field. Cancer of the throat forced me a year ago to quit work entirely. I have a 19-year-old son I must get started in college -- with nothing in my future to indicate where additioal funds will come from. Any increase I get from COL is more than eaten up by increased taxes and inflation. My government is letting me down. Carter will get no vote from this household (three votes)."