Two months into his term, Jimmy Carter is running the presidency very much the way he ran for the presidency - from the outside in.
The man who launched his assault on the White House from the living rooms of Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida has adopted the same unorthodox outside-in approach to governing.
In the two months since he took the oath of office on the Capitol Plaza, Carter and his administration colleagues have announced dozens of substantive policy initiatives, spanning the governmental alphabet from air fares and birth control to youth jobs and Zaire.
But relatively few of those announcements have been translated into completed actions, and almost none of the policies is far enough along for the planners or the voters to be able to judge the results. The difficult decisions, from the B-1 bomber to the cost of welfare reform to curbs on energy waste, are all still to come.
Certainly nothing Carter has tried so far has worked so well as the public relations campaign that has transformed him form a 51 per cent victor last November to a 71 per cent rating of approval as President in the most recent Gallup Poll.
That campaign - which began with the celebrated walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and has continued through last week's overnight visit to a "typical" American family in the "typical" American town of Clinton, Mass. - has been designed, in the words of White House press secretary Jody Powell, to provide Carter "the strong political base he's going to need when he faces some tough choices down the road."
Quiz shows, town meetings, fireside chats, ban-the-limousine broadsides - everything has worked like a charm. Carter has successfully dramatized the qualities of morality, fragality, simplicity, candor and compassion for which the voters have been searching. But in the White House itself, there is a recognition that the President is approaching the limits of that game. "I don't think we can do it for another two months and hope to get him up to 91 per cent approval said one aide.
In his first eight weeks in office, he has averaged about 1 1/2 hours a week of live television coverage, multiplied by the repetition of broadcast and print news outlets. One White House assistant sent the President a memo last week entitled, "How to wear out your welcome in the living room."
Meantime, back in Washington, the few hundred men and women through whom the policy impulses of the new President must be transmitted to Congress and to the vast bulk of the federal bureaucracy are struggling, with uneven success, to master their new jobs.
A survey last week by Washington Post reporters assigned to Congress and the departments drew a picture of a new administration in which:
Overworked men and women are plowing ahead at verying speeds on priority projects, despite the added burdens created by many high-level jobs being unfilled.
Carter's own example of accessibility is encouraging an effort, in at least some departments, to involve more people in the decision-making.
Morale is mixed, as the bureaucrats find themeselves encouraged to confront long-postponed policy questions while facing enormous uncertainty over the effect on their own jobs of yet-undisclosed reorganizations and budget moves.
The very quality that made Carter so appealing to the public - his willingness to discuss his policy views with anyone who asks - is feared by some in his own entourage as a source of future troubles, both at home and abroad.
And a jealous Congress is watching this performance with growing nervousness, wondering whether the rebuffs its members think they have suffered from the new people downtown are just the product of inexperience - or a harbinger of more serious conflicts to come.
Overall, the paradoxical impression is of a poised and personable and supremely self-confident President, ready to cope with any issue any citizen wants to raise, while his administration is scrambling furiously to escape from its own snarls.
One of the principal causes of the administrations problems has been the slowness in putting people in policy jobs. Jim King, chief of the White House personnel operation, can point to a computerized printout showing that prospects for appointment to 135 of the 150 "key" subcabinet jobs have either been cleared or are going through clearance.
But reporters found instance after instance of high officials carrying extraordinary burdens because their subordinates are not yet in place.
In Treasury, where only one official other than Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal has been confirmed by the Senate, Blumenthal has logged over 30 hours of testifying before congressional committees. Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland found himself making the detailed budget justifications before Appropriations subcommittes because no one else was available for the task.
The pattern is not consistent across the government. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams moved fast in filling his top jobs and is well into planning a reorganization of his department. On the other hand, Attorney General Griffin B. Bell is operating without a confirmed and sworn deputy attorney general or solicitor general, and after eight weeks, Secretary Juanita Kreps is still the only Carter appointee confirmed in the Department of Commerce.
"The pace (of appointments) annoys everybody and slows our progress," she says.
The logjam on appointments has had several causes: tough conflict-of-interest standards have required time-consuming records checks by both the prospective appointees and the FBI; the pent-up demand of patronage-hungry Democrats inundated the talent-searchers for a time and aggravated many politicians who could not even act appointments for their friends; Carter's insistence on affirmative action for women and minorities added to the complexity of the challenge.
But King and others say the personnel snarl is being cut. Files of some 20,000 "high-priority" prospects are being computer-coded. Printouts are available now on the status of those with congressional recommendations; others who fit in affirmative-action categories are being computerized now. "We're moving from the level of utter chaos to simple confusion," says one official.
But problems remain. At the White House, the Carter-ordered cutback of 30 per cent in non-housekeeping jobs has proved too confining in some instances. Some units - notably congressional liaison - have requested and been given more slots, and others will probably be expanded in coming weeks. A shortage of clerical help has glowed some vital operations. Many sides are showing signs of fatigue fairly alarming for this early stage in an administration. The problem has been compounded by the usual early confusion of over overlapping assignments - and at least a few examples of in-fighting among presidential assistants.
The President himself - who optimistically began with a 55-hour-a-week office schedule - actually averaged 71 hours a week at his desk during his first six weeks. And that did not count the time he spent with the briefcase of reading matter he lugs back to the mansion each night, or the excursions around Washington and the country.
Partly because of Carter's willingness to take on that kind of workload, reporters found virtually no complaints of inaccessibility from Cabinet officials. Most see the President two or three times a week, and talk to him frequently by phone.
Of all the people in the White House, says Commerce's Kreps, "the President seems more available than anyone else." Attorney General Bell says that "when I'm over at the White House, I usually drop in to see the President," even if there is no formal appointment. "Of course," he adds, "I like to have something pertinent to talk about.
Jack H. Watson Jr., the White House staff liaison man for the Cabinet, also gets high marks from his customers for routing their papers through to the President. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance sends a personal appraisal of each day's diplomatic doings for the President's evening reading; one night when it was late, Carter himself inquired about it.
The Cabinet members, in their own realms, have tried to match the President's example of accessibility. Several have had question-and-answer sessions with their own employees; others have invited junior civil servants to sit in on the formal briefings the secretary receives. Housing and Urban Development's Patricia Roberts Harris has gone a step further by converting her private dining room into a conference room and taking her own lunch in the employee cafeteria.
State Department employees find the atmosphere more relaxed than it was under Henry Kissinger, and at Health, Education and Welfare, liberals who were suing the department for expanded benefits during the past eight years now find themselves installed in the offices they used to picket.
"I work longer hours now and like it better," said a Labor Department career employee.
Brock Adams had a little party one Friday evening for several of his recently confirmed deputies. They were enjoying radio music and a few drinks when a janitor, loaded with cleaning equipment, opened the secretary's door. "Jesus," he exclaimed, "you can tell the Democrats are back!"
But everything is not fun and games. Adams' own department is criticized by reporters and industry groups for being less "open" than it was under his Republican predecessor, William T. Coleman Jr. HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano's swift reorganization left some career employees "in shock."
And the Cabinet's cordiality with the White House does not extend to all policy decisions. Carter committed the administration to "deregulation" of the airline industry, despite Adams' reservations: the secretary pointedly will not be the leadoff witness for the administration when hearings are held on Capitol Hill.
More worrisome to many about the "unbuttoned" style Carter is setting is the sense of improvisation on sensitive policy issues. Particularly is this true in this area of foreign affairs. Carter has more than amply fulfilled his campaign pledge to make the President, once again, the chief architect and spokesman for foreign policy. But he has done so in a way that has astonished and occasionally disconcerted associates.
For a man with little experience in the foreign policy field, he has been extraoridinarily active. In the first two months, he has launched a major "human rights" offensive that has created adverse repercussions among both allies and antagonists. He has laid out his own proposals for nuclear arms controls with the Russians and a broad territorial settlement in the Middle East. He has involved the United States deeply in a variety of African conflicts, re-started stalled talks on Cyprus and the Panama Canal, and moved to restore relations with Cuba and Vietnam.
Most of these actions were forecast by his campaign promises, and most have won a warm response from the public, which welcomes the candor of Carter as a contrast to the circumlocutions of Kissinger and the presidents he served.
But officials question why Carter would launch a National Security Council study of the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces from Korea and then announce at a press conference, before the study is complete, that he has decided to accomplish that goal in four of five years.
They wonder why he told reporters he thought the Indian Ocean should be "completely demilitarized," without checking with the Pentagon on its views.
Carter aides insist that, on many of these issues, the seeming casualness of Carter's statements masks a policy process that is anything but offhand. That was certainly the case in the decision to push hard on "human rights" and to renounce the doctrine of "linkage" to arms control talks.
But as one personal assistant concedes, his casualness invites imitation by others who obviously haven't gone through similar briefings and preparations before they speak."
Particularly is that true among some of the other Georgians who are also getting their feet wet in Washington for the first time. Bert Lance, director of the Office of Management and Budget, incautiously agreed at his confirmation hearing to let Congress see as soon as he did the budget requests from the departments - a concession that occupants of his job have traditionally resisted and that Lance himself recanted as soon as he understood the stakes.
Lance also made a strong argument against an independent Consumer Protection Agency, only to find that Carter was publicly committed to its creation. At the justice Departmetn, Bell has talked in broad terms about crackdowns on narcotics and illegal immigration and a speedup in anti-trust cases, but when details have been sought, aides have said it was "just an idea off the top of the head."
"They're very smart," said one of the "retreads" in the Carter subcabinet, speaking of his new comrades, "but it's almost impossible to exaggerate their ignorance of what's been going on in government the last 20 years."
That judgment, often in less kindly terms, is often expressed about the administration's dealings with Congress - a sore spot in these first two months. Words like "stupid," "naive," and "appalling" have also been applied, especially by those angered over some specific matter, like the cutoff of funds for 19 water projects.
And yet, in calmer moments, even those same senators and representatives are prepared to believe - least hope - that it is inexperience, rather than malevolence, on Carter's part that has marred his dealings with Congress.
"It takes time to learn," says House Democratic Whip John Brademas, "but fundamentally things are going very well." A Democratic senator says, "He's dealing with Congress the way the governor of Georgia deals with the Georgia legislature. Perhaps in a year, he'll understand the difference." Jody Powell acknowledges that handling Congress is "a problem more difficult and complex than we anticipated."
Early on, many of the complaints centered on the congressional relations office run by Frank Moore, who was previously Carter's liasion man with the Georgia legislature. But Moore, by all accounts, has improved his office operation notably in recent weeks, and other channels of communications are being used. Carter himself has held almost a meeting a day with members of Congress, and has not been reluctant to pick up the phone and call Capitol Hill.
Departments and agencies and even other White House officials are being encouraged by Moore to develop their own liasion with Congress. Many senators are using Vice President Mondale to convey their messages to the President.
Some key Capitol Hill Democrats - former Carter Democrats political rivals among them - are plainly disgusted by their treatment from the White House. Few Democrats doubt that, at some time, Carter will take the club of his personal popularity out of the closet and use it to try to cow Congress into accepting his point of view.
Despite all the static, however, Carter has won almost every issue of importance - except the water projects flight - on Capitol Hill. The emergency natural gas bill was passed quickly, and even with the growing skepticism about the $50 rebates, his economic stimulus package is moving along. So is his government reorganization authority bill and the measure creating the Department of Energy.
Last week, Congress backed his African policy by reimposing the ban on Rhodesian chrome - a test vote in the House, incidentally, where Moore's office moved in effectively when Democratic leaders signaled trouble.
Administratively, too, Carter has begun to keep his pledges, with pardons of Vietnam draft evaders, cutbacks in staff perquisities, a start on zero-base budgeting and dozens of other projects.
Yet there is an acute awareness that the aura of public approval in which Carter basks today could easily be dispatched by the decisions and events of the next 60 days. "The pendulum will swing," says one White House aide. "It always does."
Just over the horizon are a series of excruciating choices bound to cause pain to parts of Carter's burgeoing constituency: the level of farm price supports; the price of Alaska oil: mandatory energy conservation measures; deregulation of natural gas; the shutdown of military bases; the degree of pressure to apply to desegregating the suburbs; costs and benefits of a new welfare system; leasing of offshore oil lands; the cleanup of Teamster pension funds - and, of course , those dams.
Beyond that, another 60 days will tell a lot more about the response of the economy to Carter's fiscal medicine and the reaction of the Russians to his "human rights" crusade. The rhetoric will be tested by reality.
But for now, Carter has reason to believe that this outside-in strategy works as well in operating the presidency as it did in seeking the office. At this point last year, he had won five of the first six primaries: today, he has earned the approval of 7 out of every 10 votes.
If one looked closely a year ago, one could see the latent problems and shortcomings that finally made the public verdict on Carter's candidacy so close.
There are, for the discerning, some storm signals on the White House horizon today. But after 60 days, Jimmy Carter is still the man who does not intend to lose, and the shrewdest outsider to infiltrate this town in years.
The following persons contributed to this article: Washington Post staff writers T. R. Reid, Carole Shifrin, Spencer Rich, Richard L. Lyons, William H. Jones, William Nye Curry, Helen Dewar, Don Oberdorfer, John M. Goshko, Hobart Rowen, William Chapman, George C. Wilson, Peter Milius, Charles Krause, James L. Rowe Jr. and J. P. Smith and staff researcher Susan Morrison.