If there were a Guiness Book of Mistakes, the Carter administration would already hold not a few of the records. Still no disaster - nor crisis, even - has developed at home or abroad.
For the President has known how to turn around before going over cliffs or running into walls. He is a survivor, which is a main reason for giving thanks in Washington this year.
The most striking turnaround has come just now in the Middle East. For months, Carter was personally pushing for a comprehensive settlement in a way that complicated life for the two countries most interested in peace: Israel and Egypt.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt transformed the game by streaking for Jerusalem the other day. To his credit, the President then backed up the Sadat approach as though he had been for it all along.
In dealing with Russia, the President first pushed for a comprehensive arms-control proposal featuring deep cuts in existing stocks of weapons. Moscow rejected that cold. By moving from deep cuts to smaller cuts, the administration has got the makings of a new arms-limitation treaty. The new treaty is so much better than no treaty that, despite the retreat under Soviet pressure, the President can claim a victory and probably win Senate confirmation early next year.
Relations with this country's allies got off on a bad foot when the President insisted that Germany and Japan drop plans to speed up nuclear-energy development by building reprocessing plants. That demand has been muffled, if not quashed, making it possible to move forward toward more cooperation in promoting more rapid economic growth in the industrial world.
Similarly discreet de-emphasis has been arranged on human rights, improving North-South relations and cutting arms sales. In the past few days the President has responded to a crackdown on blacks in South Africa by the slap on the wrist of an arms embargo, canceled a projected trip to Africa and Asia and received - in the Shah of Iran - the world leader best known for one-man rule.
If anything, the turnaround on the domestic side has been more spectacular. Carter started off with the campaign tactic of trying to please everybody.
Hence the emphasis on folksy symbolism in the walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day. Hence, too, the selection of what was supposed to be a national, moral crisis - energy - as a first priority. In the same vein came the effort to win business support by knocking a proposed $50 tax rebate out of an economic-stimulus package.
Centrism gave way to partisan programs, however, as soon as the component elements of the Democratic Party began hurting. Farmers won higher price supports, labor a higher minimum wage, minorities affirmative action in the Bakke case, and for the whole liberal gang there was a commitment (of sorts) to the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill and comprehensive welfare reform.
Long before that roster was completed, it became plain that the undifferentiated volume of legislative proposals made it easy for Congress to hold up the President's program. Since the end of the summer, Carter has been working closely with the established congressional leadership in sorting out choices and determining priorities.
Sustaining economic recovery has plainly emerged as goal No. 1 for 1978. Which is just as it should be.
Being for peace and prosperity does not exactly make Carter an exciting or original President. But, of course, that is the point. This year we can thank Jimmy for not living in such interesting times.