In this age of uncertainty nothing seems more reassuring than to discover anew the wisdom of Washington.
Take, for example, the matter of Edward Kennedy. He's through, washed up, a loser. Obviously he lacks the charisma of his brothers. He's fumbling, inarticulate and a poor politician. From the moment of the Roger Mudd interview, it's been all downhill. Kennedys simply don't perform that way. If further proof were needed, consider these words from another Mudd-Kennedy transcript:
Mudd: Is this something now that's gotten started and you can't do anything to stop it, the public image that you have?
Kennedy: I don't know.
Mudd: How did it get started?
Kennedy: I don't know . . . I don't know . . . I don't know . . . i don't know.
Mudd: The McCarthy thing, and the Hoffa thing, and the '60 campaign.
Kennedy: I suppose I have been in positions in which -- but I don't know exactly. I don't know.
That Mudd interview took place June 20, 1967, but it was Robert Kennedy, so often singularly nonverbal and awkward on television, who was speaking, instead of his younger brother, Ted.
Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, has never been stronger. Sure, he looked a little weak back there in the summer. But everyone knows it's foolhardy to challenge a sitting president, and besides, as all Washington knows, Carter's better at running than governing. He's a heluva campaigner. Remember how well he did in the primaries last time around, particularly the last ones against Jerry Brown?
Well, yes, he did lose them, but he went on to win that first-ballot nomination in New York anyway. It was no contest at all. And by the time he began his actual presidential campaign, he carried with him a 35-point lead in the polls.
It was an extraordinary margin, and he was pitted against a candidate who who had not even been elected vice president, to say nothing of president, who had to run on the record of a discredited Republican administration headed by a chief executive who had been impeached -- and all at a time of rising unemployment and a declining economy. Hardly a bad year for a Democrat.
Okay, Carter only got 49.98 percent of all presidential ballots cast in that election, but he won, didn't he?
Despite the difficulites he faces over Iran, these should be the sweetest of times for Carter. He may not be entirely vindicated, but everywhere he hears nothing but praise.
What's more, he now gets credit from the very center of this jaded capital that for so long dismissed him. Now carter has become "presidential." He's exhibiting "leadership" qualities. His staff, the same one that Washington universally denounced as inept, suddenly seems to have assumed new crispness, stature and authority.
The pundits are giving high marks for his political timing and moves. The political operatives are praising him and his aides for using the powers of patronage more skillfully than perhaps any president before him. The pollsters (some, anyway) are showing him surging ahead of Kennedy.Carter now stands as -- what else" -- the "frontrunner."
These judgements one hears in this "city of conversation," as Henry James aptly called Washington, are not offered in any tentative way. They are verities, final pronouncements, the real word as only Washington can give it.
Now, of course, the president might be excused if he indulges in a bit of private sardonic musing over the fickleness of the capital city and its political savants. After all, these are the same people who wrote him off as the weakest of presidents and the most woeful of political practitioners. There was simply no way he could possibly survive. Thus, the previous word.
And the same ones pronounced Edward Kennedy the country's most charismatic public figure, the best speaker, the most skillful politician, the keeper of the flame, the leader of that "well-oiled Kennedy machine." They'd been watching him and listening to him for 17 years as he worked at the heart of the capital's political establishment. And they're the pros.
All Teddy had to do to claim what so obvisously was rightfully his -- a fact confirmed by all the polls and political soundings over all the years -- was to announce his candidacy. Then, as one of Washington's wise men predicted in private, when Kennedy finally did become a candidate last month, he would "blow Carter out of the water."
So enjoy the acclaim in these last days of autumn, Jimmy. God knows, you've borne more than your share of scorn. And read it and weep, Teddy. But you both know better than wait for this latest word to be shiseled in marble and mounted on the White House gate. The stonecutters are already at work carving out next week's wisdom.