The pounding President Carter has been taking from many of us in the press centers on the lack of experience in high policy of the president himself and the Georgia followers he brought into the White House. The result has been delay, indecisiveness and an outflow of moral suasion as a substitute for policy.
But the steady fire directed at the peanut farmer as president and the green young Georgians around him overlooks a major element of strength. That is the Carter Cabinet and the illustrious people who serve in that Cabinet.
Two, in my view, are remarkable. We have never before had a secretary of defense a renowned scientist who in the field of physics won every award for his creativity and innovation. To call Harold brown a genius is not far from the mark.
Because in his career he had so much to do with development of the nuclear weapons that are a large part of the American arsenal, he is ideally equipped to pass on a new weaponary. Thus he could side with the president on dropping the B1 bomber because in his calculation a revamped B52 could serve the same purpose at a saving of several billions of dollars.
It is why he can look objectively at the newest piece of fantastic missilery, the MX1, a long tunnel deep underground out of which at fixed intervals launchers would fire missiles at the enemy thousands of miles distant. Probably impractical, Brown says with his quick, almost brusque manner. And a big question is where we would put it.
His pattern as secretary of defense qualifies him as the No. 1 workaholic. From his apartment in nearby Virginia he arrives at the Pentagon at 7 a.m., swims for half an hour in the Pentagon pool and then settles into his big bright office for a work day that goes on usually until 8 or 8:30 in the evening. When he returned recently from a visit to NATO in Brussels, he went in mid-afternoon directly to the Pentagon, where he worked until after 9 o'clock.
Brown readily admits that the fire Carter comes under makes his own position with Congress more difficult. It is a question of credibility, as when he sanctions dropping the B1 and other steps curtailing the defense budget. He made a strong pitch before the House International Relations Committee for lifting the Turkish arms embargo because he is convinced America is deprived of valuable intelligence and that the eastern wing of NATO is seriously weakened.
His partner in that testimony was Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Vance is another outstanding public servant in quite a different style from that of Brown. His hallmark is a steady persitence that admists of no defeat even against such seemingly insoluble problems as southern Africa.
With his keen lawyer's mind, he is an unflappable negotiator. The set-down he got from the Soviets last March when he presented a far-reaching plan for missile reduction did not faze him. He and Brown are close, and it was Brown who made the classic comment on that rebuff:
"I believe that in the age of mutual deterrence - and we are still in the age of mutual deterrence - the superpowers will behave the way hedgehogs make love - that is, carefully."
Others in the Carter Cabinet bring conspicious abilties to government. Secretary of Interior Cecil Andrus is a dedicated conservationist, determined to preserve as much as possible of the American heritage. He is just now combating a powerful lobby that would dismember his plan for large-scale publicland use in Alaska.
Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal comes out of business - the head of Bendix - with a broad grasp of tax and fiscal matters. He was reported to be distinctly unhappy when Carter's brilliant trade negotiator, Robert Strauss, was made director of the anti-inflation campaign, downgrading, it was idly interepreted, his own prerogatives. But if he was resentful he has given no sign of it.
Patricia Harris brought to the secretary of housing and urban development a strong liberal reputation and plans for greatly expanded development of low-cost housing. In an administration with an essentially conservative president, she has had only limited opportunity to show her ability.
Some Cabinet members have run into the buzz saw of Congress all too often; notably HEW Secretary Joseph Califano. His is the most unwiedly and troubling, given the attempt at welfare reform, of all the departments.
How much the president actually delegates to the members of his Cabinet is hard to measure. A tape recording out of that weekend session at Camp David could be all too revealing. In the aggregate, however, it is a decided asset at times lost sight of in the shuffle of petty controversy.