THERE WILL BE questions about whether Midge Costanza jumped or was pushed. But the political defenestration of someone who had already been relegated to a sub-ground-level office can only be of academic interest. Miss Costanza was given the old heave-ho months ago, at least in the ways that count in this unkind city. Increasingly she was separated from the central business of the White House, from the flow of information, from the confidence of top staff - and from easy access to those who enjoyed those elements of White House power. And everyone knew it. So the question now is this: What does the short and tumultuous career of Midge Costanza in Jimmy Carter's White House say about the Carter White House?
Miss Costanza is an engaging, enthusiastic, sharp and funny woman who is 100 percent committed to certain liberationist ideals. These concern not only the liberation of certain groups that have been wronged by the society but also the liberation of the White House itself from a variety of disciplines, protocols and political inhibitions that have long been thought basic to the conduct of the office. For her, th e better part of valor was generally indiscretion, and early on she became known as an audacious, open, out-loud person. In one astonishing innovation, Miss Costanza convened a gathering of women who worked in the Carter administration to protest publicly the president's opposition to government-financed abortion. Not exactly your ordinary, garden-variety, don't-quote-me type of White House aide.
We will be frank to say that, fuddy-duddies that we are, those various innovations and pop-offs and departures never struck us as being particularly helpful to getting administration business done. But, right or wrong, Midge Costanza could hardly said to have broken faith with either her own ideals or with the reigning spirit of the White House that originally employed her. She was far from being the only unhibited, free-form swimmer in the pool. And the mandate she supposed she had, along with her conventional method of fulfilling it, was not simply some invention of her own. Thus, the meaning of her departure at this point is not that the president has finally caught and kicked out some incorrigible administrative afventurer on his staff, but rather that he appears to have revised his understanding of what that staff should be doing for him - and how.
We are talking here about more than Mr. Carter's conception of what the Costanza job should be, a conception that has also evidently changed from a job concerned with White House diplomatic relations with various citizens' groups to one geared to getting such to support presidential programs. We are talking about a presidential effort to impose a useful and efficient discipline and sense of purpose on the people who work for him. For that reason it will be necessary to watch what else happens in order to tell whether Miss Costanza's departure was in fact the resuslt of a serious attempt to rearrange and redirect the working of his staff... or whether, as the critics charge, it was merely a vindictive showcase act. On this much we will insist: Miss Costanza's departure does not represent some symbolic sacrificial slaying of those very victims in the society she was trying to represent and assist. The interests of racial minorities and women and others whose causes she espoused could hardly be said to rest or ride on the position of a single person in the Carter White House. Those interests are being fulfilled (or shortchanged, as the case may be) in appointments, policies and legislation across the board. It is important to see this thing in its proper size.