The President has been phoning reporters defending the range and dept of his counselors and the quality of the information upon which he makes his judgments. He is, he tells Jack Nelson of The Los Angeles Times, so well briefed and so well prepared that when he meets with people "they had better know the subject because I know it."
His Vice President and his key aides, too, have been reinforcimg that point. "I doubt there have been many Presidents in American history who have consulted as widely and accepted critical advice as readily as the President," Fritz Mondale has said. And Hamilton Jordan when asked whether it would be useful to bring more non-Georgians into the inner circle of White House advisers, answers either sharply or humorously in the negative. "No," he says succinctly, without a smile. Or, lighter: The White House is not planning a national advertising campaign asking non-Georgians to apply.
If alll this betrays a certain tenseness and infensiveness, its understandable. Hard and critical questions are being asked about Jimmy Carter and hiw White House these days. In reacting to them, the President and his advisers are also responding to the oldest charge leveled against them - that they are really provincial outsiders who do not measure up to the realities of governance in Washington.
The idea that only Washington knows best is, of course, insufferably arrogant. Yet there has been from the beginning of the Carter administration an inherent wariness and distrust between the two camps in the capital, between the new and the old, the outsiders and the insiders, as it is so tiresomely expressed. It's fair to say each side has contributed to whatever ill-will now exists.
Some of the Carter people airily compared govening from Washington to be little more than govenring from Georgia. Some of the jaded veterans of past Washington bureaucratic and political wars see the Georgians as unsophisticated bumblers. In the present climate, the danger is that these attitudes harden, breeding a kind of Us vs. Them mentality damaging to each side and destructive to the country at large. The outpouring of criticism directed at the way the President and his intimates handled their recent problems needs no underscoring. Nor does the reaction of one of the Georgians require further comment. "You learn," he said. "that this fair city is indeed as fickle and superficial as you though it was."
There is another side to this complicated relationship in Washington, and it does not appear to be understood.
Ever since Henry Adams wrote the first, and maybe still the best, novel about Washington in the 19th century, the city has been increasingly portrayed as being inhabitated by a power-hungry and selfish set of characters. Washington, in these dramas, is a cynical city filled with manipulators, insiders, influence peddlers of varying degrees of sharpness, duplicity and depravity. They all are out to advance themselves, all out to glow in the light of the most favorable publicity.
Washington contains all these elements, and worse, but it also holds something more. It is a place where many talented people are sincerely dedicated to making government better, a place where many people have a long perspective. They have experienced the problems of other presdients, stood by them in terrible crises, served with distinction, and eagerly wish to be of service now. And not for self-interest, not to get their names in the papers, not to advance their career or positions.
Presidential and vice presidential statements notwithstanding, what disturbs some of these people is that they believe Jimmy Carter is not tapping the talens and experience and wisdom available to him privately in Washington, and the nation. That's where the assesment of one such person is worth pondering.
"If they ever administered intelligence quotient tests to presidents, this man would rank very high - at least among the presidents I have known," he says. "I like the way his mind works. Ilke the quality of it. When a subject is being pursued, an effort is being made to elicit information without emotion becoming a factor. He does not view issues in an emotional context.
"I like Mr. Carter ability - at least what I've seen of it - to subject the problems to what I coonsider to be high degree of objectivity. He has a way of dealing with a subject that I find appealing. He is a seeker of information searching for an opinion. There's no pretense about it. He goes to the heart of it. If a different view is offered, it is considered.
"It's my present opinion, after eitht months in office, that he has the potentiality for an unusually sucessful presidency. I think he could turn out to be a very successful President could is the key word. Could I believe he has the ability to learn and I believe he's a quick learner. And he's a good reader. Many presidents are not. This President reads rapidly and well, with understanding and with discrimination. As you know, some of our presidents are more industrious than others. This President is extremely industrious.
"I should have said earlier that I have found Mr. Carter to be an honest man. He's been completely honest with me. I believe him to be a man of integrity. I believe him to be a man of patriotism. I believe him to be a man who genuinely wishes to bring the best and most honest government to the country. Most people outside of Washington believe that our presidents always feel that way, but you and I know that that is not always so. Some of our presidents want to get more out of their presidency than just the opportunity to serve. I have not found that trait to be a part of this President in any way, nor in any of the men around him. In other words, they are not on the make. And again, that is more unusual than than you suppose. What I am saying is here is the potentiality for excellent leadership. He is brighter than our political system usually offers up to the American people."
But - and it is a big "but" - he sees another side. If those assets are clear, so too, are the liabilities.
"I believe probably a major factor must be in the way he and the small group of Georgians around him perceive themselves - that you could come out a background of a small town in Geogia and with skill and industry and singular singleness of purpose run for the presidency and win. And that that success endows you with the necessary assets to run the country. There is no real understanding of the complexities, thenuances, the convolutions, the immense intricacies of handling the government.
"And it seems to me that the success or failure of this administration will depend to a considerable degree upon their willingness to alter that original concept. If they persist in the belief that they can continue to operate as they have the past eight monts, we're in for a rough time, because that will demonstrate to me that they are not the quick learners I had hoped them to be.
We have one human element involved here, and it is important. It is the element of pride. This is a proud man. He got where he did on his own. And the group around him are proud. My fervent hope and wish is that he can sit back and take stock and think about what has happened and what the real lessons are. He needs more than just a group of good old boys. He needs more than the basic assumptions which he carried with him into the White House - that the team that won the election is the team that can run the country.
"If he recognizes and rectifies what I consider to be the glaring mistakes of the past weeks, it will have been an exceedingly useful incident. If, on the hand, he doesn't sense the deep impact of what has happened then it will be quite a disillusioning element to me, because there is enough here to indicate that the attitudes, the assumptions, the efforts of the operation were not equal to the task.
"A President should be reaching out. He should be making new contacts. He should be making an aggressive effort to do so. It is my experience that the longer a President is an office, the narrower are the range of his contacts. Now in reaching out to some people, he will make some mistakes. Some of his discussions will appear in some form in the media, some people might use their acquantanceship for some personal gain. Those are some of the reasons why a President's circle gets smaller with each passing year. But this man must not permit that to happen."