THROUGHOUT HIS TERM, Jimmy Carter was publicly and privately derided by this country's allies, chiefly the Germans and the French. Carter found German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt particularly irritating. When they met face to face, an aide says, "butter wouldn't melt in [Schmidt's] mouth." But as soon as he was out of earshot of the Americans, he'd let the insults fly. "Schmidt has never struck a blow from the front in his entire life," snarled one of the Georgians on the Carter staff. "It's almost an obsession with him." The French came in for equally harsh words around the White House. In the midst of their equivocations about the Olympic boycott and sanctions againstIran, a senior official railed, "In my humble opinion, the French are s - - - s. Everything that's happened to them over the course of a thousand years, they've deserved."
When Carter visited Saudi Arabia in January 1978, his wife Rosalynn, according to Saudi custom, was prevented from attending the male-only banquet dinner. Instead, she dined with the queen and her royal party. When the traditional incense was passed, the queen discreetly passed it under her skirt so the sweet aromatic smoke would perfume her body. Mrs. Carter, following the dictum that when in Rome, do as the Romans do, attempted the same thing. Unfortunately, she was wearing a nonporous taffeta slip and the fumes, instead of wafting gently upward, stayed trapped down below. In desperation, she tugged at her waistband, only to find herself engulfed in great clouds of pungent smoke, leading to a decorum-shattering fit of coughing.
Robert Strauss, the president's campaign manager, has never been known for minimizing his own talents as a political wizard. But in one uncharacteristically modest moment a few weeks before taking over the Carter campaign, Strauss confided the secret of his success: "On a scale of one to ten," Strauss reported, "I'm a nine. Of course, I'm not really a nine. I'm a seven. But people think I'm a nine, so I'm a nine."
Of all the objects of Jimmy Carter's ire, none was as predictable as the press. Carter never had much use for it, considering the media superficial, hysterical and virulently against him. Many of his closest aides felt precisely the same way. After the press treatment of the allegations of chief of staff Hamilton Jordan's drug use -- of which he was later clear -- press secretary Jody Powell would erupt, "We don't need any more Joe McCarthys in the Senate. We've got plenty of them in the press." Infuriated by erroneous press reports about the Iranian hostage negotiations which he believed jeopardized the lives of the hostages, one of Carter's closest advisers raged: "When this is all over, we're going to line up all the people who don't know anything who talked to reporters as if they did, and we're going to shoot them in the head. Then we're going to line up all the reporters who wrote as if they knew what was going on when they knew damn well they didn't, and shoot them in the head. And we'll have two heaps of bodies roughly the same size."
The National Organization for Women had just very publicly spurned Jimmy Carter, and the White House high command was sitting around the Treaty Room devising its counterattack. Midway through the discussion, Rosalynn Carter quietly slipped into the room, her presence unnoticed by the agitated Georgians. As Jimmy Carter polled the room for an expression of consensus, Jody Powell blurted out, "They'll f--- you, Mr. President, but they'll never kiss you." Half the table laughed uproariously; the other half blanced as they, like Powell, suddenly became acutely aware of Mrs. Carter's prim presence in the corner. Powell fell all over himself apologizing, but the First Lady waved him off. Never missing a beat, she declared, "I agree with you entirely."
When Hamilton Jordan traveled abroad for secret negotiations on the hostages in Iran, he used an assumed name when flying on commercial aircraft. But although Jordan had been provided a disguise which included a gray wig, mustache and tinted glasses, he never used it. He did, however, have himself photographed in the getup, salting away the photo in a safe but occasionally flashing it to friends. He joked that it made him look like a "a Hispanic queer."
In the summer of 1978, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter toured the Civil War battlegrounds of Gettysburg and Antietam. While standing at the Antietam cornfield where one of the bloodiest days in the entire war occurred, Carter uttered an observation still totally inexplicable to everyone who heard it. "Do you know," he asked nobody in particular, "that in the entire history of the Civil War there isn't a single recorded case of rape by a Confederate soldier?"
David Rubenstein, deputy assistant for domestic policy, was known for his uncommon dedication to life in the White House. After a magazine article detailed his workaholic habits, right down to the vending machine dinners he ate each evening, the young aide received a most unusual proposition. Citing his "superior" genes, a California sperm bank wrote to ask if he would donate a specimen for the good of mankind. A mortified Rubenstein declined to respond.
Though usually restrained and businesslike, Carter has a wry sense of humor that he liked to display when autographing pictures. One of his favorite targets was Brzenzinski. A picture of the two of them jogging has Carter noting, "For once we were in step." And a photograph of Brzenzinski and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin sprawled on lounge chairs in the Rose Garden features a sparrow in the foreground and Carter's notation: "This is a predictable aftermath of the vodka luncheon. At least the bird looks sober and alert."