Closeup/The United States

All The President’s Boys

Carter’s drowning, they’re tossing him anchors

William Lowther August 21 1978
Closeup/The United States

All The President’s Boys

Carter’s drowning, they’re tossing him anchors

William Lowther August 21 1978

All The President’s Boys

Closeup/The United States

Carter’s drowning, they’re tossing him anchors

William Lowther

Peter Geoffrey Bourne—who had just grossly embarrassed his old pal and patron, the president of the United States—was feeling sorry. For himself. Forced out of his $51,000-a-year White House job as adviser on mental health and drug a buse, brought down by his own shenanigans with drugs, Dr. Bourne (a psychiatrist) summed up his sentiments with a classic “why me?” line, “It falls into the category of life being unfair.” And so as he departed in disgrace he struck out at the very people who had helped him most, the other members of Jimmy Carter’s extraordinary, astonishing administration. There is a “high incidence” of marijuana use among members of the White House staff, he tattletaled to a group of reporters, and some of them even snort cocaine.

Now that sort of thing may be fine for

sophisticates, socialites and students, but the mass of Middle America doesn’t approve. Support for Jimmy Carter, already wearing thin, was eroded a chunk more by Bourne’s strange behavior last month. A whole can of worms was opened, the president himself was forced into the ludicrous position of having to warn his staffers in public that they must not use dope, and there are witch hunts still to come.

It is as though all the president’s men (with the exception of Mrs. Carter, there are no women at the oval of power) have some chronic condition which causes them to be constantly indiscrete. During their 18 months in Washington, they have gained international notoriety for it. First there was slow-talking, fast-buck Bert Lance, the budget director who couldn’t count his own money. Lance and Bourne are gone. But others in the mould still dominate access to the man in power.

The most infamous, perhaps, is political adviser Hamilton Jordan, “a foul-mouthed jerk,” in the description of one White House secretary. Then there’s Andrew Young, the UN ambassador guaranteed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time; cousin “Cheap” Hugh Carter, who picks up $980 a week while assigned to cut costs by saving pennies on magazine subscriptions; and Jody Powell, the cunning press

spokesman who protects and promotes them all.

Of course there are others on the staff who are beyond reproach, among them studious Stu Fizenstat, the canny domestic policy expert, and Tim Kraft, the new liaison man with the outside-of-Washington Democratic power structure. But the president’s closest friends, the ones who have influenced him most in the past and are likely to fashion policy for the future, are as injudicious as the Keystone Kops. Their penchant for talking without discretion, for acting without restraint, has reached the proportions of a national problem, like inflation. Their actions are not simply matters of personal trivia; the fact is their dubious traits could influence national and world affairs.

Indeed, it may be the hired help more than anything that is the cause of many of the difficulties which Carter finds himself facing today. Bourne’s antics are only the latest and most disturbing example of this.

Bourne is a handsome, urbane and charming individual. Born in Oxford, England, he came to the United States to study

medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, receiving his medical degree there in 1962. During the next 10 years he became an American citizen, served with the army in Vietnam, opened a mental health clinic in Atlanta and was appointed director of the Georgia Office of Drug Abuse by then-governor Carter. Rosalynn Carter, who throughout her political life has adopted mental health care as a pet project, took an instant liking to the young Dr. Bourne and his odd accent—a blend of clipped British and Georgia drawl.

For his part, the doctor revelled in the excitement and glamor of politics. He was never really liked by the Georgia Good 01’ Boys, but Jody Powell and Ham Jordan

tolerated him as a novelty—a force in his own right only because the boss, and the boss’s wife, enjoyed him. In 1972 Bourne accompanied Carter, along with Jody and Ham (they like being referred to that way) to the Democratic convention in Miami Beach. After failing to persuade Democratic presidential nominee Senator George McGovern to choose Carter as a running mate, the team returned to Atlanta. And with the convention’s horns and hooters still ringing in his ears, Bourne wrote an 11-page memo strongly recommending that Carter run for president in 1976. He was the first to suggest it. Ham and Jody had meant to write that memo, but the doctor beat them by a week. They have never forgiven him. Believing him to be pushy, meddlesome and vain, they have seen to it that Bourne has been a background figure ever since. But the strong

ties to the Carters were never broken. And Jimmy Carter is loyal to a big fault. He looks after his friends. On

being elected, burdened with a promise to keep staff at a near-impossible minimum, he still created a job for Bourne. Nearly $1,000 dollars a week, a tiny office in the basement, three secretary helpers and the title of special assistant to the president for mental health and drug abuse. There

is a Peter Sellers quality about Bourne, a bumbling ability to bring trouble down on his own head. It was evident last July 7 when his lovely young assistant, Bourne

Metsky, told him she was having trouble sleeping and was suffering emotional problems. She was frightened to see an outside psychiatrist in case the visit showed up on some future security check and labelled her “unstable.” Bourne wrote her a prescription for 15 Quaalude pills. But for some unexplained reason he put a false name—Sarah Brown—on the prescription. Quaalude is a trade name for Methaqualone, a powerful central nervous system depressant. It is a grossly abused pill. It has a reputation among “swingers” as an aphrodisiac; it is supposed to make the sensations of sex more intense and longer lasting. “They have the same effect as martinis, except there’s no hangover,” says one who knows. Also, like martinis, they make you drowsy. Bourne

them, to a nonWIDE WORLD existent Sarah Brown, as sleeping pills. Because “ludes,” as the students call them, are so abused as a “fun” drug, pharmacists are constantly on the watch for phoney prescriptions. Metsky asked a friend to get the pills for her. The druggist was suspicious and called the police. The scandal was on. Was

there a “Dr. Feelgood” in the White House, dispensing chemical happiness to his co-workers? As the investigation started, Bourne decided to take a leave of absence on full pay. He was never asked to resign. The very next day, however, columnist Jack Anderson went on television to say that he had witnesses who had seen Bourne smoking marijuana at parties and others who had seen him sniffing cocaine. The doctor denied it, but other journalists found other witnesses to confirm Anderson’s story. It

was one of those supreme ironies. The president’s chief adviser on drug abuse accused of snorting coke. All day long Bourne huddled with Ham and Jody “assessing” the damage. They didn’t ask him to resign, but they didn’t encourage him to stay either. Late in the afternoon he accepted with some bitterness that he had to go. It was as he left the executive mansion for the last time that he talked with reporters and made—from the president’s point of view—another dreadful error with his remarks about the White House staff and drugs. By

unhappy coincidence, Carter had planned his first prime-time television conference of the year for that night. It was designed by Gerald Rafshoon, the new image chief, to make the president look good. Having just returned from a successful European summit, Carter could portray himself as a winner at a time when he was faltering in the polls. The Bourne affair overshadowed everything. Carter’s best laid plans went for nothing. Instead of a boost, he was booted. With a little help from his friends, the president was left looking bad, again. It’s

a regular occurrence. It is so clear that he just can’t control his staff that his judgment in picking them has to be quesAP

tioned. Only a week before the Bourne incident, Carter was made to look a fool and lose face before the Soviets when Andy Young told a French newspaper that there were “hundreds, maybe thousands” of political prisoners in America. Coming as the statement did, with the president in full throttle condemning Moscow for its treatment of dissidents, the line was as supportive as a stab in the back. Even for good old foot-in-mouth Andy it was extreme. £

It followed other classic examples of the ambassador’s diplomacy. As Carter was castigating Fidel Castro for sending troops to Africa, Young said that Communist Cubans in Angola provided “a certain stability and order.” A little later, with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in Rhodesia deeply engaged with the British on a peace plan, the onetime preacher announced that the British were fearful racists likely to run out on any deals they made.

To be fair, Carter slapped his wrist last month over the “political prisoner” fiasco. But by and large when it comes to oldtime friends like Andy—a black who helped

Carter pull the black vote—the president takes a wise monkey decision, seeing, hearing and speaking no evil. However admirable it may have been in the past, this loyalty factor is no longer a plus, it’s a liability. But it would be a hard habit for Carter to kick; it stems from his political beginnings and it’s tied up with the two men who are, and always have been, closest to him—Jody and Ham. Take Ham first, he’s the more important.

In effect, 33-year-old Hamilton Jordan (he says Jer-den) is the chief of all White House staff. He’s also the president’s No. 1 political adviser. He has access to every meeting, to every document, no matter how secret. He is consulted on every problem, he has input on nearly every decision. He is arguably one of the most powerful men in the United States. As such, unelected but in the public eye as the president’s alter ego, one might think he’d try to appear responsible, at least.

But in fact, Jordan goes out of his way to use foul language and shocking expressions in front of women. Secretaries say they are “grossed out” by him. As a result of their complaints about his overexposure, he agreed last spring that he would start wearing underpants in future while playing tennis on the White House courts.

Jordan coordinates the president’s peace efforts in the Middle East. But he knew nothing of the area when he got the assignment, and after studying the issues he

asked a member of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s national security staff: “Are the Palestinians the niggers of Israel?” He was told, sarcastically, that was one way to look at it but . . . “Now I get it,” Jordan said, exuding new confidence.

Then there was the near-incredible incident at Barbara Walters’ party for the ambassadors of Israel and Egypt. Jordan had been drinking too much, which for a man of his level excuses nothing. He was sitting next to the Israeli ambassador’s wife, Vivian Dinitz. On his right was Ann Arledge, wife of the president of ABC sports. At one point in the dinner, Jordan announced to the table: “This administration has to take a piss.”

Later in the evening Mrs. Arledge was replaced by the Egyptian ambassador’s wife, Amal Ghorbal, thus leaving Carter’s coordinator for Middle Eastern peace sitting between the wives of the Egyptian and Israeli ambassadors. He chose to take advantage of the situation by peering down Mrs. Ghorbal’s bodice and saying: “I’ve just seen the twin pyramids of Egypt.”

It was about this time that Jordan’s wife left him. A few weeks later he was in the papers again for spitting Amaretto and cream over a girl who told him to stop rubbing her back in a singles bar. Why he feels it necessary to insult and embarrass women is a question for a psychiatrist, but the way his conduct reflects on the president is a matter of national concern.

He may be void of grace, style and dignity, but Jordan does possess an acute Machiavellian instinct for election campaigns. He devised the anti-Washington tactics which got Carter elected. He was bound to get the top White House job on the strength of that alone. But Ham then brought his anti-Washington bias with him. He doesn’t like congressmen and senators and he lets it be known. House Speaker Tip O’Neill returns the favor and refers to him as Hannibal Jerkin. And that is one of the reasons the White House has such a hard job getting legislation passed.

Asked about the president, Jordan told one reporter: “I think maybe he lives vicariously through Jody and myself. He is very disciplined and very rigid in terms of his schedule. If you look at the contrast in terms of our lifestyles it is pretty vivid. Maybe he enjoys seeing Jody and me doing things he can’t do himself. Maybe every once in a while he wishes he were not as disciplined as he is.” That’s a view backed up by psychiatrists who have theorized that the president may actually be indirectly encouraging Jordan to be outrageous by letting him believe their relationship depends in part on his acting out the president’s own repressed fantasies.

Carter and his closest aids always reach back to the stifling confines of rural deep south Georgia—he the upright, iron-willed Baptist lay preacher who admitted in a careless moment to have known “lusting in

my soul,” and they the red-necked, good oP boys letting the devil take the hindmost as they tumble through the corn, carousing, boozing and raising hell.

There may be no good reason why he shouldn’t live out his fantasies through them, but it’s alarming to find them living out theirs through him. And that’s the dark side of what is known as the Georgia Mafia. Some, seeing it as rather more exotic, call it the Magnolia Mafia.

Up front for the gang, visible and verbal, is Joseph Lester Powell, Jr., 34, the press spokesman. He has been described as looking like a cross between a Baptist choirboy and a Mississippi riverboat gambler. He was dismissed from the Air Force Academy in 1964 for cheating on a history exam. Six years later when Carter was running for governor of Georgia, Jody signed on to work for him as a driver. For six months the two men travelled the highways and byways of Georgia forging a personal and political friendship that has never been threatened. It has led the onetime chauffeur into a $56,000-a-year job. It’s a father-son relationship.

“Jody Powell probably knows me better than anyone else except my wife,” the president once said. For his part, Jody protects the White House with biting wit and ferocity. On a wall of his office is a large photograph of a grasshopper trying to keep balance as he straddles two broken reeds. The caption says: “Life is a predicament.” It’s the press secretary’s motto.

Powell has established himself as not only the wittiest presidential press secre-

tary since John F. Kennedy’s Pierre Salinger but also as the best and most powerful since James C. Hagerty spoke for Dwight D. Eisenhower some 21 years ago. His biggest disaster to date came when he tried to plant a false and damaging story about Senator Charles Percy. The dirty trick backfired, triggering a stream of public denunciation. At a subsequent press briefing, Powell said: “I have described my action to the president as being inappropriate, regrettable and dumb. And, as is often his habit, he seemed to accept my analysis of the situation without question.”

In another bizarre episode, when The Washington Post published the story of Ham spitting Amaretto and cream, Powell issued a 32-page memo denying it, although the incident was witnessed by dozens. During the long-running Bert Lance scandal, even when it was clear to all that the robust banker had to go, Powell was supporting him like a brother.

The bitterness of the Lance affair still lingers on. Months later, at the White House correspondents’ dinner, the presidential spokesman said: “He (Carter) was a little upset about a recent Bill Safire column saying that Bob Strauss had been inflation czar for three days and nothing is any cheaper. Bob said that wasn’t true . . . What about the Pulitzer Prize?” Safire had just won a Pulitzer for his New York Times columns on Lance.

Jody is often the sting behind the Carter smile. Yet he knows just when to let the administration smile a little at itself. When the president appointed cousin Hugh to that top-paying post, Powell was asked if Hugh was qualified. He replied: “Well, he’s kin. I guess that should be enough.”

Of course, all presidents have had their cronies and trusted conspirators on the inside. But generally they have not put them on the public payroll. Kennedy had his “Irish Mafia.” Lyndon Johnson had his “boys from Texas.” But there was never anything like this. The Boston-Irish and .the Texans concerned were political figures in their own right, with established credentials. Nevertheless, there are some advantages to having a White House clan as distinct from a staff. The president may not get the best advice, the variety of opinion, the vision of broad background he needs, but there does tend to be less friction within the team.

Richard Nixon’s diabolical duo Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman ran a fear-filled, vindictive operation. Compared to that, today’s White House is a happy place. Presidential speechwriter Gerry Doolittle reflected: “I used to think that the White House would be the sort of place where you could go deaf from the din of knives thudding into backs. But not so. Most of the time it’s pretty low-key. There’s no constant battle, no numbing tensions like there are on The Washington Post where I used to work. In fact, compared to the Post this place is like a sitz bath.”