WHEN PRESIDENT CARTER's political star was at its zenith, in the early months of the primary season, he sequestered himself in the White House, maintaining that the crisis in Iran demanded his full attention. He refused to go out on the campaign trail, to meet the criticism of his challengers; instead, he discreetly campaigned from the White House, using the telephone before the Iowa caucuses and carefully orchestrated diplomatic initiatives before at least three primaries to boost his support among an electorate hungry for the hostages' return.
All along, Carter's critics charged that his refusal to campaign was merely a political tactic, not a necessity of national security. This week, the president gave credence to their harshest complaints. In deciding to give up the protection of the Rose Garden for the glaring publicity of the last few primaries, Carter claims, curiously, that after the fiasco of his failed rescue attempt this week, the crisis is "more manageable."
The crisis is at least as volatile today as it had been for the months during which Carter hid from the American people. It is Carter's own political future that has suddenly become less manageable--as inflation continues unabated and the nation's economy slides towards the worst recession in almost a decade, the slings and arrows of Carter's opponents are beginning to penetrate his rose-colored armor.
The least Carter can do, now that he has dropped the pretense of perpetual crisis, is to meet his opponents in debate, but it seems that might not be manageable enough. The first question voters should ask their newly mobile president when he appears before them is, "Where have you been and what have you been doing?"