U.S.A.

A withering week for Jimmy

Ian Urquhart March 17 1980
U.S.A.

A withering week for Jimmy

Ian Urquhart March 17 1980

A withering week for Jimmy

President Jimmy Carter would probably like to forget last week. It began with his extraordinary reversal in the United Nations over Israel’s settlements in occupied Arab territory. Then, in quick succession, Carter lost his first primary (in Massachusetts to Senator Ted Kennedy by a margin of more than 2 to 1); saw his nominee for a federal judgeship rejected by the Sen-

ate judiciary committee (the American Bar Association said the nominee was “unqualified”); faced mounting criticism of his handling of the Iranian crisis (from CBS’s 60 Minutes in a program that the White House tried to gag and, for the first time, from relatives of one of the 53 American hostages); heard Pakistan reject his offer of military aid (it said it would base its foreign policy instead on close ties to Moslem nations); watched his plans for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics begin to come apart (the British Olympic Committee made clear it would go to Moscow and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, after meeting Carter, shied away from unequivocal endorsement of the boycott); and stood by helplessly as interest rates climbed and the stock market plunged.

It was the repudiation of the UN vote on the Israeli settlements, however, that seemed likely to have the most farreaching effects. Carter said the vote against Israel resulted from a breakdown in communications between himself, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and UN Ambassador Donald McHenry. But skeptics said Carter simply gave in to pressure from angry Jewish groups. Neither explanation was particularly flattering. The first recalled his old image as an incompetent in foreign affairs. The second made him seem merely cynical. And Kennedy swiftly attacked him on both counts. Abroad, Carter suffered withering criticism. A Kuwaiti newspaper called him “a toy in Israel’s hands ... a coward,” while the Iraqi radio asked: “What can you expect from a bungling president who has sold himself out to the Zionists?” To rub salt in the wound, even the Israelis failed to appreciate his gesture.

The flap came too late to have much impact on the Massachusetts primary, but Carter suffered a jarring defeat anyway, losing 65 per cent to 29 per cent in the popular vote.* Kennedy had always been expected to win his home state, but not by that much. Carter retrieved some ground by winning nearby Vermont and was a heavy favorite in primaries this week in his native Georgia and neighboring Florida and Alabama. But the Massachusetts result indicated that Kennedy’s relentless attacks over mismanagement of the economy are beginning to tell.

White House aides were working feverishly last week on a package to soothe the country’s economic troubles. It will be unveiled this week or next and will likely include a call for a balanced federal budget, but Carter himself has ruled out wage-price controls. There was a hint of good news, at the end of the week, about the hostages (see page 42). But even that silver lining turned out to have cloud attached to it.

Ian Urquhart

*On the Republican side, ex-CIA director George Bush won with just 31 per cent of the vote, with Congressman John Anderson a surprisingly strong second and Ronald Reagan third. Senator Howard Baker, who finished a poor fourth, withdrew from the presidential race the following day.