It was a very good legislative year, abundant with accomplishment and light for his freshman administration, President Carter told the nation yesterday.
"We have had some problems that still exist . . . But I think the sum total of this year, the agenda that we have completed, is a very good one," Carter said.
Reversing the telescope, peering to ward the White House from Capitol Hill, the view seemed something else.
Democratic self-congratulation, predictable at the end of a session of Congress, ricocheted around the marble halls. But beyond the counting of pluses and minuses, questions echoed about presidential style and subsatnce.
The trouble with legislative box-scores is that while they give a sense of the outcome, they rarely show how the game was played.
The President, in a week when tractors rumbled angrily in a growing protest from farmers, cited "good progress" and "a great step forward" with the comprehensive farm bill for which he took credit.
The fact of the legislative matter is that Congress not only passed an agriculture act - which it was bound to do anyway with expiration of the previous law - but it gave Carter far more than he sought.
By setting higher target prices and loan rates for farm products, Congress was providing additional income protection for farmers.
As the boxscores are kept, it is a plus for Jimmy Carter. As the box-scores are kept, it was part of a year that House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. called the most productive since the 1963-1964 period when Lyndon B. Johnson became President.
And yet at the other end of the telescope, from the perspective of the family farm, what you have is a strike by agriculture to make the farmers' point that they want a larger and what they see as a fairer share of the pie.
For Carter the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 is a plus. To the striking farmers, it is a minus.
The same applies to other pieces of the package of major accomplishments.
The Carter administration credits itself with passage of a public works job stimulus program, yet presidential allies in Congress bemoan the irreality of it.
Listen to Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), the Harlem congressman, as he sits in the Speaker's lobby on the closing day of this session:
"Adult unemployment in my district is 17 per ccent. It is 40 per cent - and we think actually 50 per cent - among black teenagers. It is very dangerous, very explosive. The President emphasizes people and encouragement but there is . . . a failure to be plugged into anything. Our leaders have no relation to the people who are swelling the streets."
The administration prides itself on passage of a strip-mine control bill, yet the President himself complained as he signed it into law earlier this year that it was not as stringent as he wanted.
For months, as the mine bill moved through the legislative mill, Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) looked pleadingly to the Carter administrative for support and guidance and improvement of its provisions. The help did not come.
Listen again, this time to Rep. Joe Skubitz (R-Kan.), an Interior Committee member for 16 years and one who sat through uncountable hours of debate over strip-mine control:
"The President's performance is not above average . . . Farmers don't want sympathy. Civil rights people have heard about his concern. There is a lack of leadership. A good example is the Interior Department. I don't remember the department coming down and telling us on the committee their position on programs. We always look for a program outline . . . We are sort of stranded."
And so it goes in this political hall of mirros, and especially at session's end, summing-up time. The careful scorecards adding up the credit and the blame are always neater than the reality.
"Almost all of the major proposals that we put forward to the Congress have either been adopted or are still under active consideation." Carter said yesterday. But have they?
Take Social Security as an example. The President takes this huge tax-increase bill - about which he will surely hear more later on - as his own, and in a sense, it is.
But as cranked out by Congress the bill contains neither of the two distinctive Social Security tax proposals Carter made - to shift more of the cost onto employers than employees, and pay part of it out of income tax money in times of high unemployment, instead of paying it all from the traditional payroll tax.
So, in the hall of mirros, whose bill is it? Carter's? Or the Senate's, where even customary allies rebelled against the higher tax on employers? Whose?
Another example comes to mind - the minimum wage bill. It was passed and presumably will be on the administration's scorecard of accomplishment in Year I of President Carter.
Yet it emerged different from the way it went it - Congress set the wage floors higher than the President sought.
Down the list of accomplishments, the score comes out essentially the same - the President proposes, Congress disposes and all sides take credit or dispense blame, as expediency requires.
Another voice, that of Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.), the loyal opposition who looks into different mirrors and sees other images:
Successful, as compared to what? The Georgia legislature? O'Neill is what saved the President up here, to the extent that he was saved . . . But he has lost the biggies - common situs picketing, campaign financing, some of the energy legislation."
"Overall, the President has not done too well . . . From my viewpoint, I'm not at all unhappy with some of the things that have happened here this year."