USA

A very political journey

Catherine Fox May 19 1980
USA

A very political journey

Catherine Fox May 19 1980

A very political journey

Despite loud disclaimers from the White House, President Jimmy Carter's foray to Philadelphia last

week, his first trip outside the White House in six months, had all the trappings of political stumping. He blasted the Soviets, swore to help the poor and spent plenty of time pumping hands. And in so doing Carter broke his promise to stay at home until the American hostages were returned from Iran. His only explanation: “I never dreamed they’d be held this long.”

It was clear, however, that the politi-

cal costs of continuing the rose-garden strategy were growing too great to bear. While Carter is still ahead of his Democratic challenger, Sen. Edward Kennedy, in the popularity polls, he is dropping behind Republican front-runner Ronald Reagan. To turn that tide around, the Carter campaign desperately needed a new strategy. And last week it was unveiled in Philadelphia. Its main themes: get out of the White House and emphasize the achievements of the past three and a half years. Forget about Kennedy since he’s too far behind, and leave the dirty work of at-

tacking Reagan and independent candidate John Anderson to wife Rosalynn, campaign manager Robert Strauss and Vice-President Walter Mondale.

On the surface, Philadelphia was an odd choice for the president’s outing. Mayor William Green is an ardent Kennedy supporter, and the president had already lost the Pennsylvania primary several weeks ago. As well, with high unemployment in minority communities and the closing of a local arsenal, the city’s people are not Carter’s warmest fans. But Philadelphia is just across the Delaware River from New Jersey, where an important primary is coming up June 3, and much of New Jersey watches Philadelphia television stations. Fully aware of this, the Kennedy people were angry enough to threaten a lawsuit over the president’s trip, particularly because Carter billed it as an “official” visit and travelled on taxpayers’ money.

The first stop showed that Carter was a little rusty. He gave what was billed as “a major foreign policy speech” to the World Affairs Council in the newly named Fairmont Hotel—once known as the Belleview Stratford or “Legionnaires’ disease” hotel. But the crowd of 1,200 remained unmoved as Carter reiterated his promised defence of the Persian Gulf, his commitment to the ratification of SALT II and the continuing attempt to free the hostages “using peaceful means if possible.” Indeed, the applause was so infrequent as to be embarrassing when it did occur. Nevertheless, the president managed to pat his own back several times during the speech. “Our world is one of conflicting hopes, ideologies and powers,” he said. “It is a world which requires confident, stable and powerful American leadership, and that’s what it is getting and it will continue to get.”

Demonstrators at Temple University in a north Philadelphia ghetto neighborhood were not so sure. They carried signs saying: HANDS OFF IRAN, APOLOGIZE NOW, and JIMMY, DO SOMETHING RIGHT . . . RESIGN NOW. But inside McGonigle Hall the mood of the 1,500strong crowd which turned out for the town meeting was more amenable, and Carter the candidate swung into form. He had no difficulty handling the questions thrown at him during the hourlong session: few were tough or put him on the spot.

Before Carter left, he could not resist getting down off the red carpeted platform for some sorely missed pressing of the flesh. As the Temple University marching band played a Sousa march and the crowd swarmed around Carter, it was very difficult to remember the official word from the White House: this was not a political trip.

Catherine Fox