Carter got unity from convention, but how long will it hold?
New York — The President and his strategists got about as much as they had hoped for out of the Democratic National Convention -- a measure of unity, a semblance of togetherness.
As national party chairman John White told the Monitor: "It was really much more than we had hoped for. You know, it could have so easily gone the other way."
Thus, Jimmy Carter comes out of New York having avoided complete party division -- an accomplishment that will likely give him a lift in the polls and narrow Ronald Reagan's lead.
But the President, while doubtless breathing a sigh of relief that he eluded disaster here, must face the future with a gnawing anxiety over whether the papering-over of differences with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his people will hold.
The impacts of this convention on the coming election seem clear:
* That Mr. Reagan and the Republicans are, despite their own internal differences, far more unified and thus much better prepared for the coming battle.
* That the feuding and fighting here may have provided some interesting TV fare, but this certainly was not the best way to launch a comeback bid for the presidency.
Senator Kennedy and President Carter did bury the hatchet, at least somewhat. In response to the President's general support of the party platform, the senator did, indeed, pledge his "support and work" for Carter's re-election. But in the wings here, some of the senator's associates were making it clear that they do not intend to lift a finger in Carter's behalf this fall.
More important, no one knows how Kennedy supporters among the Democratic rank and file will respond to the convention results. Will they -- or most of them -- finally come around to voting for Carter? Or will large numbers of them either fail to vote -- or vote for another candidate -- and thus perhaps help defeat the President?
Also important: How hard will political activists who worked for Kennedy now work for Carter? Will it be only a token effort?
Kennedy's decision to step aside here after losing the key rules fight did bring about an appearance of emerging unity. This was furthered considerably by the speech in which he congratulated the President and then made a particularly ringing and effective attack on Reagan.
Kennedy was doing as much as he felt he could to heal divisions and focus attention on the Democrats' real adversary -- Reagan. But questions remain on how active Kennedy will be in campaigning for the Carter-Mondale ticket. There are those in the Kennedy camp who say that he will work mainly for Democrats in Congress and that his campaigning for the President will be minimal.
In addition, the platform is likely to continue to put a severe strain on the uneasy spirit of peace that hung over this convention as it wound down.
The President has given his general, though somewhat vague, approval to the key provisions in the platform pushed by Kennedy. But while appearing to agree with the senator on his call for a massive federal jobs program, the President made it known to the delegates that he simply could not accept the $12 billion price tag Kennedy has put on it.
Earlier, the senator had said he would not support Carter unless there was specific presidential agreement to this basic Kennedy economic plank. But in the end, Kennedy agreed to the interpretation that Carter was accepting his proposal in principle -- and that ws enough. In the past, presidential candidates have not been held to strict compliance with their parties' platforms.
But despite Kennedy's acceptance of the Carter approval language on the jobs plank, the question remains: Will liberal voters who gave their support to Kennedy's candidacy come to believe that the President has his heart in it enough to earn their votes? Many Kennedy delegates say "no."
The continuing anti-Carter sentiment among the Kennedy forces was clear from the cries of "We want Ted" and "We want Kennedy" from the convention floor -- and from the frequent booing of the man the convention has chosen to lead the Democrats in the fall.
The President is taking some comfort out of preventing an explosion here that would have left the party with an irreparable rift. But Carter is known to feel that if he is to achieve genuine party unity, he must build on this convention.
He realizes this is just the beginning and that he must be careful or this relative peace will quickly deteriorate and be lost altogether.