Mo Udall's favorite recipe for party unity is simple enough: "Take one tablespoon, close your eyes and repeat, 'President Ronald Reagan.'"
This brim-fire vision is supposed to be an Olde Tyme fright cure for Democratic rebellion. It is prescribed for people who aren't sure that Carter is good for their health but think that Reagan could be lethal.
Among the prime patients targeted for this treatment are women's rights supporters. After all, last month the Republicans in Detroit turned their back on the Equal Rights Amendment and then went on to support the anti-abortion amendment. As Carter supporter Liz Carpenter likes to say, "The only woman in America who got her rights and freedom from Ronald Reagan was Jane Wyman."
By contrast, the Democratic convention was the first major political institution in the country to have an equal number of women. The platform they brought to New York had strong pro-ERA and pro-choice positions.
So, the women here were supposed to celebrate and be grateful. They were supposed to behave, as Carpenter described herself, like a "psalm-singing, foot-washing total immersion Democrat in white because we are 100 percent pure on ERA."
But some of them decided that Udall's medicine looked a lot like Valium, and they weren't in the mood for tranquilizing. While they acknowledge that Carter has a fine record on appointing women to the government and the judiciary, many criticize him for not doing enough for the ERA.
In 1976, Carter promised to be the Lyndon Johnson of women's civil rights. In 1980, the ERA is still three states short of ratification and 22 months from deadline.
So, as Ellie Smeal, the head of NOW, said "Carter is bargaining with a community that was led to believe there would be a major change in attitude toward women's rights, and that change has not happened."
Smeal refused to accept the "lesser of two evils" theory of politics. It's not acceptable to say that something is so bad over there [Reagan] that we have to support something not so bad over here [Carter]. We're just not going to take that anymore."
As proof, she led a coalition of women's groups through 48 frantic hours of politicking to a surprise victory on two platform votes.
Against White House opposition, the convention added "teeth" to the pro-ERA stance, by promising to withhold money or technical assistance from any Democratic candidate who is against the ERA. They also passed a report supporting Medicaid payments for abortion.
In both cases, women put their issues above the candidate. The White House was against "punishing" anti-ERA Democrats on a "single issue." Carter is against Medicaid payments for abortion.
But the president's people backed off eventually because, as Sarah Weddington said, "It was getting ugly and bitter out there."
The coalition women held together and held fast under great pressure. There was the real threat of a walkout. NOW was talking about supporting Anderson or sitting this one out. The White House didn't want the differences between the two parties on women's issues to be blurred by a fight. d
But they also backed off because the women had the votes. The ERA plank won by acclamation. The delegates here obviously cared deeply on these two issues, but that wasn't the whole story.
There was also a palpable desire among women on the floor to use their new clout. This is the first time they filled half the convention seats and they wanted something identifiably theirs. They wanted to translate their new presence into new power.
At the victory conference after the vote, Rep. Liz Holtzman (D-N.Y.) said "We sent a message to American women. Don't give up . . . we can make a difference."
The euphoria may be short-lived. Carter may reject both planks. The women's rights vote is not as locked up for the Democrats as Carter would like to believe.
But for the moment, this spoonful of sugar is helping the medicine go down.