"I don't think the people from Georgia are any better or any worse than people from any other state." - White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan
"It's not that people don't like Georgians, they don't like Hamilton Jordan." - A Georgian
Right under the weathered "Jimmy Carter for President" sign that still hangs above the old Carter warehouse office here, a Columbus, Ga., newspaper headline glared out from a vending machine:
But if outside newspapers were bringing to the president's hometown a certain foreboding about his most turbulent week in office "'Finest Cabinet' Falling Apart," mocked Ham Jordan's hometown paper in one headline), most of the people in Plains don't seem to mind.
They know Jimmy Carter here, trust him, believe in him, and if the Washington establishment is now coming down on him with both feet - shucks, what could you expect?
Beyond the peanut fields, however, in Atlanta's businesses, law offices and politics, where many people knew Carter well and his detractors think they know him too well, the reaction to the upheavals in his Cabinet is not the same as in Plains.
Rather, it has been more like that in Washington and elsewhere in the nation.
Last week's purge has spawned confusion and disapproval over Jimmy Carter's abrupt Cabinet purification and Hamilton Jordan's elevation to chief of staff. There is also a general disappointment that, for whatever reasons, the presidency of the peanut farmer from Georgia has been less than a resounding success.
As it was viewed elsewhere, many here saw the Cabinet shakeup as designed to enhance Carter's chances for reelection and not necessarily to begin solving the acute problems that face the nation.
There is a sense even in Plains that his close, but to many people inept, advisers, who happen to be Georgians, could well be the cause of any downfall of his administration.
"I'm getting a lot of negative reaction," Democratic State Chairman Marge Thurman says of the mass offer of resignations and subsequent Cabinet cleansing. "It has to do with a feeling of uncertainty as to the rationale, the why. What is all this going to mean.
"I can't tell them because I can't read it either."
"Confused, generally negative," reports Democratic state Rep. Jerry Horton, a vice president with the traditionally influential Georgia Power Co. "I haven't heard any place, 'Yeah, wow, that fixes it.' Something still has to happen."
The staff "may have the kind of breadth to run a campaign," notes an influential Atlantan who supported Carter in 1976 and asked not to be identified. "But they really don't have the kind of breadth to run the nation.
"That is not anti-Southern or anti-Georgian; that is an assessment of whether these people can perform in the jobs they fill."
"Jordan," adds another Democrat, "likes to turn it [criticism] into, 'Goddam, you don't like Southerners.' It's not that people don't like Georgians, they don't like Hamilton Jordan."
There is widespread feeling in Atlanta as well that Attorney General Griffin Bell was shabbily treated with his desired departure coinciding with the Cabinet firings. Bell had been intending to resign for months, but as one Atlantan put it: "A very fine thoroughbred got run out with the skags."
To be sure, much of the current displeasure with Carter's latest moves and his overall performance lies in the circle of opposition that remains behind in Georgia, such as people with grievances from his days as governor.
Without a doubt there are plenty of people whose support for the president is unflagging. In Atlanta, John A. Blackmon, who served for four years as state revenue commissioner under Carter, said of statements that the Cabinet changes were political: "The man I used to know was not insensitive to political considerations but they did not take precedence over his doing what he feels needs to be done."
Describing himself as "so biased for Jimmy Carter," Blackmon added, "I'm somewhat amused at the Washington response to all of it. I'm enjoying every minute of it. I ran down to get a paper this afternoon to see what had been shaken up this morning."
"He's doing pretty good," said Thomas Jennings, 65, a retired school maintenance worker here in Plains. "He's the same Jimmy, he just ain't getting no cooperation up there. Like I said, they're still fighting the Civil War."
Over at Hugh Carter's antique store, where a mouse was playing on a nearby shelf, Jimmy's cousin Hugh allowed, "Most people here think the establishment's got it in for him. They were surprised [at the shakeup] but they didn't lose confidence.
"We all know Jimmy, we have confidence in him and we think he knows what he's doing."
"He really did the right thing," said Ruby Watson as she paused on her way to services at the Plains Baptist Church. "He's straightening himself out . . . He's going to have to be stronger."
But over Georgia and the rest of the South, vast numbers of people are not hanging tough with the president the way they had. Always the first to support him and the last to give up on him, Southerners now give him no more approval than the rest of the nation does, according to public opinion samplings.
"He did much better in his delivery," pollster Claibourne Darden said of the president's speech of July 15. "But it was not enough. He has now got to lead with accomplishments, policy, action, and not charisma."
Darden said that he senses that people at the grass-roots level saw the Cabinet firings as something a politician is entitled to do, "like kissing a baby." Darden adds that the firings still will not be a substitute for performance.
Here in Plains, though, there is almost more concern over the sharp drop in tourist business, off 25 to 50 percent what with the gasoline shortage. The town is almost empty the way other towns this size are. And nobody's seen Billy Carter much lately.
But if the polls are correct, the people here may have to make one more change in that old campaign sign declaring Plains, Ga., the Home of Jimmy Carter Our President. They painted out the word NEXT after Carter was elected, and, unless things change, the people of Plains may be painting the word PAST in that space four years sooner than they expected.