Jimmy Carter takes Washington bow, but Democrats hold back applause
Jimmy Carter came out of a nowhere of semi-retirement to make a quite political splash: his trip to the Sadat funeral, along with Messrs. Ford and Nixon; his joint plane interview with Ford in which he rekindled interest in a search for a solution for Mideast peace; and then his well-publicized return to Washington and get-together with President Reagan.
More than anything else, Mr. Carter's support of Mr. Reagan on the sale of AWACS planes to the Saudis has enabled the former President to play a role in shaping events again.
Yet Mr. Carter's near-triumphant rise out of relative anonymity is being marred by the tepid response his visit was given by Democratic leaders here, particularly by such notables as Democratic Party national chairman Charles T. Manatt and House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts.
Mr Manatt, at a breakfast meeting with reporters Oct. 15, said that while he felt "perfectly comfortable" with Carter, the former President was voicing only "his own views on AWACS."
He said his and the party's views were opposed to the sale. And Mr. O'Neill brushed Carter's AWACS views off as "unconvincing."
The most fascinating story emerging in the Carter saga, then, is not so much Carter's success in recent days but what is clearly his rejection by his party.
Manatt would not accept the possibility that Carter's support of the AWACS sale was a show of bipartisanship.
Instead, he explained, it simply was the result of Gerald Ford's presuasiveness. Manatt suggested that the Carter-Reagan joinder on this issue was, basically, still a Republican point of view.
Although a former president would normally be the party leader by virtue of having held the highest office in the land, Manatt indicated Carter had rejected this role by "going into the dark" of a private life.
But Carter is now calling himself the titular party head. And he is making it clear that he will speak out increasingly on the issues.
Once again -- as he was all along as a candidate and as President -- Carter is cast as the outsider. He has never been accepted by Democrats on Capitol Hill and, by and large, by those who have the strongest hold on the party's reins.
"What if Carter should run for president in 1984?" Manatt was asked. If this unlikely event were to come abut, he replied, Carter would be treated like any other candidate.
Democratic politicians in the capital make it no secret that the attempted rise of Jimmy Carter is already somewhat an embarrassment in party circles, particularly among those whose allegiance is to the more liberal wing of the party.
Mr. Carter, according to Manatt, has offered to speak out in behalf of Democratic candidates and at fund raisers. But Manatt plays down the possibility that Carter is really trying to make a comeback.
Political observers are already commenting on the other side of this rejection: that Carter thrives on being the outsider.
Could he once again climb up the ladder to the presidency as a political maverick? This question is now being asked by some veteran presidential watchers.