In a House hearing room, the secretary of state was trying last Friday to make that U.N. voting controversy perfectly clear, but in the process he contributed mightily to the political unmaking of his boss in New York.
"There's no question that Cy Vance did the president in," says New York city's mayor, Edward Koch, a leading Carter supporter.
And some of the president's chief political advisers were reduced to epithets as they volunteered commentary on Vance and his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the controversial anti-Israeli resolution really did reflect U.S. policy.
"If you're looking for some way to assure that the Jews in New York would turn out in big numbers to vote against the president, that is what you would have done," one Carter adviser said. "Vance's comment, coming when it did, was politically devatating to the president."
If The New York Daily News will be remembered always for having buried President Ford in 1976 with its catchy "Ford to City: Drop Dead" headline, than The New York Times may become known as well, in its own way, for its front-page headline of Saturday that was memorable in message if not meter.
"Vance Says Carter Disavowed Vote in U.N. in View of Talks, Not Policy."
The Times story explained that Vance had testified that the wording of that controversial anti-Israel resolution had not violated U.S. policy after all -- depsite Carter's recent statement that the United States now regretted having voted in favor of the resolution because it violated important aspects of U.S. policy.
Suddenly, over the weekend, things began to happen. Pollster Louis Harris surveyed Saturday and Sunday for The New York Daily News and concluded that, while Carter was still ahead by 20 points, "just below the surface, the New York Democratic electorate shows real signs of changing in the next 24 hours. All the movement is now away from Carter."
It was more than just movement. It was a stampede. On Sunday, Vice President Mondale filled in at a dinner of Jewish community leaders in New York City, and his every mention of Carter was greeted with a chorus of boos.
On Tuesday, the state sent the president a message of its own -- New York to Carter: Drop Dead. Jews represented about 38 percent of the moderate primary vote turnout, according to an NBC News/AP survey. They voted for Kennedy over Carter by 4 to 1.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, buried by Carter in Illinois just a week ago, suddenly wound up sitting on top of an 18-point landslide of his own in New York.
It was, in large part, an avalanche of the Carter administration's own making. But there is more to Carter's fate in populous New York than just that. For the fact is that Carter, born again Southern Baptist, was campaigning upon a ledge of support in New York that was always very thin, at best.
Carter has never been very comfortable with New Yorkers, and New Yorkers have never been very comfortable with Carter. And that is the underlying fact of political life that Carter and his advisers have long recognized.
It is early in the 1976 campaign, and Carter, who has campaigned extensively in upstate New York but avoided the big city, suddenly finds himself on a rare stopover in Manhattan.
"I'd have to walk down the street naked to attract any attention here," Carter says.
Instead, Carter campaigns on the streets of New York City fully clothed, hopeful after a substantial 1976 primary win in Illinois. He winds up a dismal fourth in the New York primary. Two months later, he is clearly going to be the party's nomineee and so the New York delegation votes him its unanimous endorsement.
Carter ventures into the Waldorf Astoria to greet the New York delegation that is now, offically, his people. He fumbles his speech, mumbles his lines, and the audience fumbles its applause in response. Carter exits to silence, only to turn around in time to hear a roar of welcome for the also-ran who has just entered the hall, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. Later, Carter is asked whether he felt "at home" with the New Yorkers.
"I didn't," he says. ". . . There are some groups with whom I feel perfectly at home and some I don't. But in general I'm able to accommodate different kinds of groups fairly well. But I'm not always successful."
So it came as no surprise to the Carter strategists that New Yorkers view the president as Tuesday's vote says they do. But it did come as a surprise to them to learn that the people of Connecticut feel the same way.
The Carter officials always figured Connecticut would be a better state for Carter than New York. The fact that Carter lost in Connecticut too (by six points) could be a harbinger of troubled times ahead for Carter, especially two weeks from now, in Pennsylvania, which is the next big state test.
In Connecticut, Jewish voters accounted for onyl 12 percent of those who went to the polls, according to one television network survey. The vote there is being viewed by the Carter officials as a matter of great political concern, an indication that perhaps people are beginning to vote the dissatisfaction that they have long been telling pollsters about concerning the Carter interest and inflation rates.
"The Carter strategists are now studying with great concern the question of whether the vote last Tuesday, could be the first indication of serious political problems ahead.
Said one Carter adviser. "The president has been sent a serious message."