The Carter Question I: Love and Profit

I: Love and Profit

New York: I badly needed to rinse my mind of political rhetoric. Of Barbara Jordan: “Now we must look to the future.” Of Jimmy Carter: “It is a dis-grace to the hu-man race.” Of Fritz Mondale: well, just read his speech.

It was raining when the delegates left town on Friday (munching “big apples” distributed by the city as they checked out of their hotels); but the rain slacked off in time for Joseph Papp’s free production of Henry V in Central Park that night. I would drive out bad rhetoric with good. The tall buildings, faintly visible over the park’s trees, were cottony at the top—pleasant contrast to the lights (dimming by their very brilliance) at Madison Square Garden, that oval stretched tympanum of hopes and fears on which Carter tested midriff-reactions all week.

The play got off with its own kind of gavel-bang, a cannot shot; off which the Prologue played for comedy. I settled in on the wet bench, expecting to forget Democratic delegates for two hours or so. But a kingly dictum caught my mind and nagged at it, one of the quiet prose sayings that reveal a virtuous Machiavellian at work behind King Henry’s more bellicose arias. He is telling his officers how to treat the conquered: “When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”

It was a captive party that met in New York. A fairly willing captive, by the end; but captive still—in thrall to a gentler gamester. Udall and Brown delegates chafed at the thought of John Glenn for vice president. They showed this resistance in a studied coolness toward Glenn, even before he began his keynote address—and in the way they went crazy over the slow and exaggerated pronunciations, the long chewed words and Everett Dirksen pauses, of Barbara Jordan. Carter could afford to read this signal drummed off the collective diaphragm—especially since it confirmed what he already suspected of Glenn. He yields where it costs nothing. He is a master of calibrated lenities.

But he is tough where it counts. The last holdout against his campaign was played with and dismissed. Jerry Brown made this easy for Carter by acting the sullen fool—but even the more adroit Edward Kennedy was gamestered aside by Carter. His hot-and-cold mastery of control came out best in a post-nomination meeting with the California delegation. On the one hand, Carter desired a show of unity with the last semiholdouts (he had pulled together the riven New Jersey delegation to get its unanimous vote). But he also meant to show who was in charge. He stole Brown’s troops out from under him, mainly by gentleness.

Brown was dour and minimal in his introduction; but Carter, who had been trading coal-hearth fires of bright smile with John Tunney on the dais, used lenity to win. He opened with a graciousness that shamed Brown’s affronted prima donna act: “I want to thank the people of California…

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