|The American Presidency Project|
|• Jimmy Carter|
|Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With Bill Moyers of the Public Broadcasting Service.|
|November 13, 1978|
VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY
MR. MOYERS. Mr. President, a philosopher you have read and quoted, Soren Kierkegaard, once wrote an essay called "For Self-Examination." Confession and examination have a long history in your church, although not usually on television. With your permission, I'd like to ask a few questions for self-examination.
If there is a single dominant criticism by your supporters of the Carter administration, it is that for the first 18 months there was no single theme, no vision of what it is you want to do. Are you going to try to, in the next 2 years, mold a Carter vision of the country?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it was also Kierkegaard who said that every man is an exception. And the multiplicity of responsibilities that a President has, the same issues that our Nation has to face, I think, causes some lack of a central focus quite often.
We're dealing with the question of a strong national defense, some concern about the good intentions of potential adversaries like the Soviet Union on the one hand. At the same time we are struggling valiantly to find common ground on which we can assure peace between us and better friendship and a minimization of the distrust.
We, at the same time—we're with SALT, are trying to bring peace to the Mideast, to Cyprus, to Namibia, to Rhodesia, to Nicaragua, exerting a leadership role in our country that the rest of the world sometimes expects. And then, of course, on domestic issues, they are so broad—trying to have a strong farm economy, increase exports, stabilize prices with an anti-inflation program, meet the necessary demands of many interest groups in our Nation who are quite benevolent. So, to bring some tightly drawn, simplistic cohesion into this broadly diverse responsibility is almost impossible.
I think in some cases previous Presidents have had their thrust identified with a simple slogan only in retrospect. I know that Roosevelt's New Deal was identified well into his term, and when he used the expression in a speech, he had no idea that it would categorize what he'd brought to the country. So, I think that only when an administration is looked at in maybe at least a recently historical perspective can you get a central theme.
We are trying to restore trust in government. We're trying to have enhancement of world peace, focusing on human rights, and at the same time exemplify what I tried to express in the campaign, and since I've been in office, as well, that my party and what I stand for is a proper blending of both compassion and competence.
In the past we've not been able to bridge that gap adequately. I think we've made a step in the right direction, but how to bring one or two phrases or a slick, little slogan to identify an administration in its formative stage or even in its productive stage is almost impossible.
MR. MOYERS. If I could put it another way, T. S. Eliot once said that every large, new figure in literature changes our perception of literature. I think the same is probably true of the Presidency. It represents something of what the country is all about. You're the most recent representative of that tradition, and I'm wondering if, 2 years into your administration, you know what it is you'd like to leave.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think my goals have changed much since I began thinking about running for President, even 4 years before I was elected, and in the last 2 years.
There's no doubt that our Nation had been damaged very severely by the Vietnam war and by the Watergate scandals and by the CIA revelations. And I think our people were also beginning to suspect that many key public officials were dishonest, not exactly forthcoming in telling the truth, and that there was no respect for our own country among the vast majority of nations in the rest of the world. There was some doubt about our own allies and friends that we espoused who were personifications of human rights violations.
And I think in all those respects—how people look upon our government, either from the point of view of an American citizen and also foreign leaders and citizens-that we've made good progress toward reaching the goal of restoring that accurate image of a good nation with integrity and purpose, openness, and also with a President who speaks accurately for the people themselves.
One problem has been that in the openness that I've tried to create, there comes with debate on complicated issues an absence of clarity. The simplest decisions that I have to make, as I told the FFA convention in Kansas City last week, are the ones about which I know least, that the more you know about the subject, all the complexities on both sides, the detailed, intricate arguments, the more difficult it is to make a decision. If you don't know much about a subject, you can make a very quick and easy decision.
But I think that we have made good progress in correcting some of the defects that existed in our Government, and I feel that history will look with favor now.
MR. MOYERS. As you talk. it occurs to me that not since 1960 has a President finished two terms in the White House. Kennedy was elected and assassinated, Johnson was elected and discredited, Nixon was elected and disgraced, Ford was appointed and defeated. Would you like to be the first President to finish two terms since 1960?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't decided that yet. I would like to be worthy of that honor, and if I decided to run for reelection in 1980, I intend to win. But I can see why it's difficult for a President to serve two terms. You are the personification of problems, and when you address a problem, even successfully, you become identified with it. And that's what the responsibility of the Presidency is.
MR. MOVERS. IS that why, Mr. President, this disorder has been growing around the Presidency? For almost 15 )'ears now, there is a sense of almost as if the American people or a substantial representative of the American people have silently withdrawn their support from the Presidency, no longer look to it as the symbol of the Nation as a whole.
THE PRESIDENT. I think that's true. But there were some special circumstances that relate to those Presidents you mentioned. Kennedy was assassinated. I don't think that was any reflection on the Presidency itself. It was just a tragic occurrence that I hope will never be repeated.
Johnson was, I think, looked upon by the country as primarily the one responsible for the continuation of the Vietnam war, and the war was around his neck like an anvil, pulling him down. I think he did the best he could to terminate the war, and I know he suffered personally because of the loss of American lives in Vietnam.
Nixon, of course, his successor, had the special problem with Watergate, and Ford was identified with the pardon of Nixon and didn't have long enough to get himself established, I think, to stay in office.
So, there have been special circumstances, but I don't believe that it is inherent in the office that you would be forced out of office because of some adverse occurrence.
MR. MOVERS. You don't agree with one of your predecessors that it's a splendid misery?
THE PRESIDENT. NO. I think that was President Nixon who said it was a splendid misery.
MR. MOVERS. Quoting before him some earlier—it was Adams, I think
THE PRESIDENT. Before Watergate, yes.
No, I've not been miserable in the job. I might point out that it's voluntary. Nobody in my memory has been forced to serve as President. And as a matter of fact, in spite of the challenges and problems and, sometimes, disappointments and criticisms, I really enjoy it.
MR. MOVERS. What's the hardest part?
THE PRESIDENT. I think the hardest part is the attempt to correlate sharply conflicting ideas from worthy people. The easy problems don't arrive on this desk. You know, the easy problems are solved in the life of an individual person or within a family or perhaps in a city hall or a county courthouse or, at the worst, in a State capitol. The ones that can't be solved after all those intense efforts arrive here in the White House to be solved, and they're quite difficult ones. And I think the attempt to correlate those conflicting ideas probably bring about the most serious challenge to a President.
MR. MOYERS. You said not long ago, "I feel like my life now is one massive multiple-choice examination, where things are put in front of me and I have to make the difficult choice." Can you give me an example of that?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I haven't found anything easy about this job. But I didn't expect it to be easy when I came here. Well, I mentioned one earlier, the fact that we have to be very protective of our Nation's security and cover every eventuality if we don't make progress toward peace with the Soviet Union.
At the same time, we have to explore every possibility to have a peaceful relationship with the Soviet Union, to alleviate tensions and to find common grounds on which we can actually build friendships in the future. And these two are not only extremely complicated, each side of that possibility, but apparently are in conflict.
MR. MOYERS. What do you think the Soviets are up to, Mr. President? I mean, do you see them as primarily a defensive power, seeking to solidify their own position in the world, or do you see them as an aggressive power, seeking to enlarge their position in the world?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, to be perhaps excessively generous, but not too far off the mark, I think, first of all, they want peace and security for their own people, and they undoubtedly exaggerate any apparent threat to themselves and have to, to be sure that they are able to protect themselves. At the same time, as is the case with us, they would like to expand their influence among other people in the world, believing that their system of government, their philosophy is the best. This means that we have to plan in the future, in the presence of peace between us, to be competitive with them and able to compete both aggressively and successfully.
But I would say that those are their two basic motives, as is the case with us—security for themselves and to have their own influence felt in the rest of the world as much as possible.
MR. MOYERS. There is a school of thought which says that their aim is to achieve superiority over us in both conventional and strategic weapons and that we must therefore not settle to be equal with them, but to have superiority over them. These are the hard choices you're talking about. Where do you come out in that debate?
THE PRESIDENT. They will never be superior to us in national strength nor overall military strength. We are by far the stronger nation economically. Our productivity capacity is superior, and I think always will be.
We've got a vibrant, dynamic social and political system based on freedom, individuality, and a common purpose that's engendered from the desire of our own people, not imposed from above by an autocratic government. I think our absence of desire to control other people around the world gives us a competitive advantage once a new government is established or as they search about for friends. We are better trusted than the Soviet Union. They spend more than twice as much of their gross national product on military matters, but we are still much stronger, and we will always be stronger than they are, at least in our lifetimes.
We are surrounded by friends and allies-Canada in the north, Mexico in the south—two open and accessible oceans on the east and west. The Soviets, when looked at from the perspective of the Kremlin, are faced with almost a billion Chinese, who have a strong animosity and distrust toward the Soviets. Toward the west, in Eastern Europe, their allies and friends can't be depended on nearly so strongly as our own. They have a difficult chance to have access to the oceans in an unrestricted fashion; their climate is not as good as ours; their lands are not as productive.
And so, I think that in any sort of present or future challenge from the Soviet Union, our Nation stacks up very well, and I thank God for it.
MR. MOYERS. But do you think the number one mentality which you hear many people espouse is a healthy mentality? Is the whole question of being number one one that can ever result in anything but an increasing escalation of tensions and increasing arms expenditures?
THE PRESIDENT. In nuclear weapons, which is, you know, where our competition with the Soviets is most direct, we've both accepted the concept of rough equivalency; that is, we are just about equal. They have heavier warheads; we have more of them. We have three different systems for delivery of warheads—if we ever need to, and I don't think we ever will have to—that are mutually supportive. We have a much higher developed electronics technology; our surveillance systems are probably as good or better than theirs. Our submarines are quieter than theirs.
We've got an advantage in having a tremendous reservoir of a free enterprise business system that can be innovative and aggressive. We have a much closer correlation between the production of civilian or peaceful goods on the one hand and military on the other.
So, I think that in the case of nuclear weapons, we have an equivalency with them, and they recognize it, and vice versa. Both of us realize that no one can attack the other with impunity. We can absorb, even if we had to, an attack by the Soviets and still destroy their country, and they know it, and vice versa.
So, I think that the horrible threat of surety of mutual destruction will prevent an attack being launched. We don't intend to evolve and neither do the Soviets intend to evolve a capability to destroy the other nation without ourselves being destroyed by nuclear forces.
In the case of land weapons, as I said before, the Soviets have vulnerable borders. They have neighbors whom they can't trust as well as we. And they fact, even in the nuclear field three other nuclear powers who are potential adversaries in case of a crisis—the Chinese, the British, and the French—in addition to ourselves. We don't have any of those as potential adversaries for us.
But I think for any nation to have a macho attitude, that we're going to be so powerful that we can dominate or destroy the other nation, would be counterproductive. And I don't think that even if we wanted to do that, either we or the Soviets could have that capability.
MR. MOYERS. Let me apply the multiple-choice, difficult options equation to a couple of other contemporary and very live issues. One is Iran. What are the options facing you there?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we look on the Shah, as you know, as a friend, a loyal ally, and the good relationship that Iran has had and has now with ourselves and with the other democracies in the world, the Western powers as being very constructive and valuable. Also, having a strong and independent Iran in that area is a very stabilizing factor, and we would hate to see it disrupted by violence and the government fall with an unpredictable result.
The Shah has been primarily criticized within Iran because he has tried to democratize the country and because he's instituted social reforms in a very rapid fashion. Some of his domestic adversaries either disagree with the way he's done it, or thinks he hasn't moved fast enough or too fast, and deplore his breaking of ancient religious and social customs as Iran has become modern.
MR. MOVERS. But he was also criticized, Mr. President, for running a police state—political prisoners—
THE PRESIDENT. That's .exactly Fight. I think the Shah has had that criticism, sometimes perhaps justified—I don't know the details of it. But I think there's no doubt that Iran has made great social progress and has moved toward a freer expression of people. Even in recent months, for instance, the Shah has authorized or directed, I guess, the parliament to have all of its deliberations open and televised, something that we don't even do in our country here.
MR. MOVERS. You think this is all too late?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope not. I don't know what will come eventually. I would hope that a coalition government could be formed rapidly. At the present time there's a quasi-military government. The Shah has reconfirmed his commitment to have open and democratic elections, maybe within 6 months or 8 months. I hope that would be possible.
Our inclination is for the Iranian people to have a clear expression of their own views and to have a government intact in Iran that accurately expresses a majority view in Iran.
MR. MOVERS. But can we do anything to encourage that, or are our hands tied?
THE PRESIDENT. No, we don't try to interfere in the internal affairs of Iran.
MR. MOYERS. We did put the Shah in, but you're saying we can't keep him in.
THE PRESIDENT. I think that's a decision to be made by the people of that country.
MR. MOYERS. Does it hurt you sometimes to have to sit back and do nothing when you know there are large stakes in a part of the world beyond your influence?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we don't have any inclination to be involved in the internal affairs of another country unless our own security should be directly threatened. And that's a philosophy that I have espoused ever since I've been in the national political realm.
I just think we've learned our lessons the hard way, in Vietnam and in other instances, and we've tried to be loyal to our allies and loyal to our friends, to encourage one person-one vote, majority rule, the democratic processes, the protection of human rights. Obviously, we have not always succeeded in encouraging other people to measure up to our own standards, but I think we've been consistent in our effort.
MR. MOYERS. But this is again where some criticism arises in some circles in this country, who say the Soviets have a stake in what happens in Iran and they are free to move clandestinely or any other way that they wish. But if we take the position that you're espousing, we'll sit back and do nothing when we should be in there covertly or clandestinely or overtly, taking a tough stand, saying that we may not like the Shah but we need him in power. You're saying that day is over, that we cannot do that.
THE PRESIDENT. No, we have made it clear through my own public statements and those of Secretary Vance that we support the Shah and support the present government, recognizing that we don't have any control over the decisions ultimately made by the Iranian people and the stability of that region. The absence of the success of terrorism, of violence, the anarchy that might come with the complete disruption of their government is a threat to peace.
We don't have any evidence that the Soviets, for instance, are trying to disrupt the existing government structure in Iran nor that they are a source of violence in Iran. I think they recognize—they have a very long mutual border with Iran, and a stable government there, no matter who its leaders might be, is valuable to them.
This might change. If it becomes obvious that the Shah is very vulnerable and that other forces might come into power, the Soviets might change their obvious posture. But that's the observation that we have now.
MR. MOVERS. What about the Middle East, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. I have put hundreds of hours in both preparation and direct negotiation with the leaders in the Middle East, particularly Egypt and Israel. And Secretary Vance, even to the extent of abandoning some of his other responsibilities in foreign affairs, has tried to bring about a successful conclusion of the peace treaty negotiations. There, again, we don't have any authority over anyone else. We can't use pressure to make the Israelis and Egyptians come to a peaceful settlement of the disputes that have divided them.
The Camp David framework, which was almost miraculous in its conclusion-it seems more miraculous in retrospect than it did at the time—is a sound basis for peace between Egypt and Israel. There's no doubt that both nations would be highly benefited by peace.
MR. MOYERS. But yet the talks seem to be at an impasse as of tonight.
THE PRESIDENT. The present disagreements, compared to the benefits to be derived, are relatively insignificant. The benefits are so overwhelming, in comparison with the differences, that I hope that the Egyptians and Israelis will move toward peace.
MR. MOYERS. What's holding it up tonight?
THE PRESIDENT. At Camp David it was a framework, it was an outline that had a lot of substance to it, but it required negotiation of details and specifics. And there is no way that you could have a peace treaty with all of the ends tied down and all of the detailed agreements reached, the map drawn, the lines delineated, time schedules agreed, without going far beyond what the Camp David outline required.
And so, both sides have demanded from the others additional assurances far above and beyond what Camp David said specifically. This is inherent in the process. And I think in some cases, in many cases, the two governments have reached agreement fairly well.
Now I don't know what's going to happen. We hope that they will continue to work in reaching agreement, to understand one another, to balance the consequences of failure against the benefits to be derived from the success, and be flexible on both sides.
These are ancient arguments, historical distrust not easy to overcome. And the frustrating part about it is that we are involved in the negotiations, but we can't make Israel accept the Egyptians' demands, nor vice versa. We have to try to tone down those demands and use our influence. I don't know what will happen about it. We just pray that agreements will be reached.
MR. MOYERS. Are you asking both sides to make further concessions?
THE PRESIDENT. Oh, yes—every day and night. We ask both sides to please be constructive, to please not freeze your position, to please to continue to negotiate, to please yield on this proposal, to adopt this compromise. These have been and are our efforts on a constant basis.
It would be horrible, I think, if we failed to reach a peaceful agreement between Israel and Egypt—
MR. MOYERS. What would happen?
THE PRESIDENT. and then see our children, our grandchildren, future generations look back and say these little tiny technicalities, phrases, phrasing of ideas, legalisms, which at that time seemed to be paramount in the eyes of the Egyptian and the Israeli agreements, have absolutely no historical significance. And that's basically what the problems are.
MR. MOYERS. Are you saying that the impasse as of today is because of technicalities and not major principles?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, compared to the principles that have already been resolved and the overall scope of things, the disagreements now, relatively, are insignificant.
MR. MOYERS. Egypt wants to tie the present negotiations, I understand, to some future resolution of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel is resisting that. Who's being more stubborn?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't want to start saying who's being more stubborn. I think there's adequate stubbornness to be allotted to both sides.
MR. MOYERS. You mentioned grandchildren, and I heard you say after Camp David that at one critical moment that was resolved because of somebody thinking about grandchildren. Would you tell me about that?
THE PRESIDENT. It might be a mistake to attach too much importance to it, but during the last few hours of negotiations at Camp David, when it looked like everything was going to break down then, Prime Minister Begin sent me over some photographs of me and him and President Sadat and wanted me to autograph them. And the issue at that time was Jerusalem, which was an almost insurmountable obstacle that we later resolved by not including it at all in the framework. And instead of just putting my signature on it, which President Sadat had done, I sent my secretary, Susan Clough, over and got the names from one of his aides of all his grandchildren.
So, I personally autographed it to his granddaughters and grandsons and signed my name, and I carried it over to him in one of the most tense moments and I handed it to him. And he started to talk to me about the breakdown of the negotiations and he looked down and saw that I had written all of his grandchildren's names on the individual pictures and signed them, and he started telling inc about his favorite grandchild and the characteristics of different ones. And he and I had quite an emotional discussion about the benefits to my two grandchildren and to his if we could reach peace. And I think it broke the tension that existed there, that could have been an obstacle to any sort of resolution at that time.
MR. MOYERS. What does that say to you about the nature of these problems and their resolution?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you know, when you put the problems in the focus of how they affect people, little children, families, the loss of life, the agreements and the need for agreement becomes paramount. When you put the focus in the bands of international lawyers and get it down to technicalities—is a certain event going to take place in 9 months or 8 1/2 months or 10 months; is this going to happen before that; is this demarcation line going to go around this hill or through the hill, on the other side of the hill; can the observation towers be 150 feet high, 200 feet high, 125 feet high—the human dimension of it becomes obviously paramount. But when the negotiators sit around a table and start talking, the human dimension tends to fade away, and you get bogged down in the legalisms and the language and the exact time schedule, when from a historic perspective they have no significance.
Another problem has been—and this has been one of the most serious problems-at Camp David we didn't have daily press briefings, and this was the agreement when we started here in Washington, that neither side would make a direct statement to the press. As you know, this has not been honored at all, and it's created enormous additional and unnecessary problems for us.
MR. MOYERS. You mean leaks from both governments are
THE PRESIDENT. Not just leaks. I mean, almost every day I see interviews in the national television of at least one of the sides in the dispute.
And also at Camp David I was working directly with the heads of state. Here we work with the negotiators, and the negotiators then refer their decision back to the head of state or the cabinet. The cabinet reverses themselves, reverses the negotiators on a language change or one word, and in effect you get the most radical members of the governments who have a major input into the negotiating process, rather than having the heads of state there 100 yards away so that they can resolve those issues once and for all.
So, I think the followup to Camp David has been much more time-consuming and much more frustrating than it was when the three of us were primarily leading the discussions.
VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY
MR. MOVERS. I read that the Camp David log showed that you spent 27 1/2 hours with Sadat and 29 hours with Begin, and 9 hours alone with Sadat and 6 hours alone with Begin, with no one else in the room, the way FDR used to do with Churchill.
Do you think that you could resolve most of these large issues we face if you could just get people in a room like this and talk to them? It used to be said Lyndon Johnson could have done much better had he been able to persuade people one on one instead of having to use television and public speeches. Do you think that other problems you face could be resolved if you could meet nose to nose, in a sense, with the adversaries?
THE PRESIDENT. I couldn't guarantee success, but I think, obviously, the likelihood of success would be better.
MR. MOYERS. This goes back to something you said earlier, too, where what you try to do is never seen in the singular way in which you're trying to do it, that you become many things to many people. How do you resolve those contradictions?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's inevitable. The most pressing problem on my hands, on my shoulders, is not to present to the people of the world a simplistic and simple character as a President or as a person.
The agenda for an average day for me is incredibly complex, you know, and I shift from one subject to another—from domestic affairs to foreign affairs, from one country to another, from one issue to another. And there's no way for me to say what I did in this one single day in a few words, so that the complexities are inevitable. The only thing I know to do about it is to try to address each item on its own merits and make a decision that I think at that time is the best for my country and my people.
The advantage of having good advisers is very great, and I do have good advisers. I've been criticized because I studied details of issues too much, but that's my nature. And I think on occasion it pays rich dividends, in that I am able to understand the complexities of an issue when a final decision has to be made and not depend entirely on advisers who don't have the knowledge that I, as President, can have uniquely.
But this is a fond hope, I guess, of every politician, to be universally admired, to have all of your themes clearly defined, to have everything packaged beautifully so it can be examined from all sides without doubt, to have one's character be recognized clearly, and to have universal approbation of the people that you try to represent. All those things are hopeless dreams.
MR. MOYERS. Pat Caddell made a speech recently in which he said—Pat Caddell is one of your associates—in which he said that a President can succeed by doing poorly because the people out there don't think he can do well. Do you think that's true?
THE PRESIDENT. [Laughing] I hope I don't have to prove that.
MR. MOVERS. You were criticized, I know, talking about details, for keeping the log yourself of who could use the White House tennis courts. Are you still doing that?
THE PRESIDENT. No—and never have, by the way. MR. MOYERS. Was that a false report? THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it was.
MR. MOVERS. But seriously, is the job too big? Is the United States Government, which is a $500 billion enterprise, now too big to be managed by a single chief executive?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I wouldn't want to—I say that, recognizing that no one person can do it all. But the structure of the American Government is still the best that I (:an imagine. There's a tremendous sharing- of responsibility between the different branches of the Federal Government, an adequate sharing of responsibility between myself and Governors of States and mayors and county officials at the local level of government, between government and private citizens. These balances have been evolved historically, and I think they've grown to their present state because in each instance when a change occurred, tests were made and the best arrangement triumphed.
But it would be a serious mistake to try to run a government like this with, say, a committee. And I'm thankful that my Cabinet can be either hired or fired by me. I consult with my Cabinet or listen to them, but I make a decision. I don't have to have a vote and go by the majority vote in my own Cabinet. And if you had, say, a three-person President, one perhaps involved with foreign affairs, one with domestic affairs, one managing the bureaucracy itself, I think it would be much worse than what we have now.
I like the constitutional arrangement, where you have an executive with constitutionally limited powers and a voice with which to express the aspirations and hopes of our country accurately, I hope, to the people.
MR. MOVERS. Was Camp David the high of your administration so far?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'd say the first 12 1/2 days were probably the lower of my administration; the last half day at Camp David was one of the highest. It's hard to say.
MR. MOYERS. What's been the lowest moment for you? Were you aware, for example, this summer of the growing doubts about your competency to be President?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, there was a rash of news reports, cover stories in the weekly magazines, and editorial comments around the Nation expressing concerns about my ability to run the Government.
I'm not sure they were any more condemnatory nor critical than they were about previous Presidents, all the way back to Abraham Lincoln; even before. Each President has been criticized and castigated as incompetent and dastardly, even.
MR. MOYERS. Your polls had fallen very sharply this summer as well.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, they had—not as low as the polls fell for, say, Harry Truman during his own administration, but lower than I liked. But I never had any particular concern about that, because I could see in the evolutionary stage, for instance, in my dealings with Congress, progress being made toward eventual decisions by Congress that showed that the 95th Congress had a very good record of achievement. And I think in the confrontations I had with the Congress, when we disagreed on two or three items, I prevailed because I think I was right and established principles that will be good for the future.
But I've never had any doubt about my own resolution. I recognize my own limitations and faults. I'm not omniscient. I'm certainly not omnipotent. I have limited powers, limited authority, and I try to overcome those inherent defects in the office itself as best I can.
MR. MOYERS. What people were saying in circles where I was listening was that Jimmy Carter accepted an energy bill that was not what he wanted; Jimmy Carter settled for a tax bill that was at odds with his conviction; Jimmy Carter had set aside an aggressive fight for welfare reform; he lost his hospital containment costs; he didn't push on education. In a sense, people were saying that Jimmy Carter, who said he was going to bring competency and efficiency to government, was being routed on every front and settling, compromising for what he had said before he didn't want. And from that came a perception, I think, of a weak President, of a President who is being defeated in one front after another.
THE PRESIDENT. The final legislative agenda as it was passed, I think, is a great credit to the Congress and shows a good compatibility between them and me and has been a matter of pride for all of us.
The fact that we had very few Members of the Congress defeated in the last election, compared to previous off-year elections, is good. We still have more than 60 percent Democrats in the House, about 60 percent in the Senate, I think about 60 percent in the Governorships, is an endorsement of what the Democratic Party has done.
But I think I need to be fair in saying that there have been times when I've had to compromise, below what I had asked the Congress to do or had demanded of the Congress. We got about 65 percent of the energy bill that we originally proposed to Congress in ultimate savings in imported oil, about 2.5 million barrels a day savings compared to 4.5, for instance.
I would like to have gotten the entire thing. I'm not out of office yet and will come back to try to get some more in the future.
MR. MOYERS. But take the tax bill, Mr. President. During the campaign, you said repeatedly our tax system is a disgrace to the human race. The tax bill you signed was a bill that gave the biggest breaks to the wealthiest taxpayers and the smallest breaks to the smaller taxpayers. Did you sign that bill in conscience?
THE PRESIDENT. That's not exactly fair, because although the bill fell far short of the reforms that I advocated, the bill does bring substantial tax reductions to all taxpayers. And it's a fairly balanced bill, as far as that goes.
It was necessary that a bill be passed, and compared to the version that the House passed or compared to the version that the Senate passed, the compromise that was brought about was superior to either one of those.
Had I vetoed that bill after the Congress sent it to me, we would have 'had an enormous increase in taxes on the American people as of the first of the year; not only the loss of roughly $20 billion in tax reductions that we've added, but also we would have lost, say, roughly $13 billion in tax reductions that had been passed the previous year.
So, there was a case that was a difficult decision to make. When I met a few days before the Congress adjourned with the leaders of the House and Senate—Al Ullman in the House, Russell Long in the Senate—and said, "This is what I will and will not accept," they complied with my request substantially. And although it was short of what I would have preferred, my vetoing of that bill would have been a very serious mistake.
MR. MOVERS. This explanation, this rationalization, which is necessary in this town on a lot of compromises, raises the question about where you think the Democratic Party is going. As you know, Democrats have a tradition of using the Government's powers to correct the imbalances and the injustices of the capitalist economy, to innovate, to equalize, to take risks. Republicans are elected generally to manage, to stabilize, to pull in the horns a little bit.
Howard Baker is going around town saying—the minority leader of the Senate-saying that "The Democrats are singing our song, and it's a Republican song." And what a lot of people are saying has been reborn in Washington is a conservative administration with a Democratic President with Republican intuitions. Do you think that's fair? Isn't the Democratic Party coopting the Republican philosophy?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so. The Democrats have always been a party of compassion and concern about the people of our country. We've always been eager to extend a helping hand to somebody who hasn't had an adequate chance in life to stand on one's own feet, to make one's own decisions, to control one's own destiny, to have an education if they didn't have one, to have a house to live in, to have better health care, better food, security in one's old age, better highway systems. These are the kinds of things that the Democratic Party has always espoused and has always pursued.
I saw quite early in my administration as Governor of Georgia that we had an undeserved reputation as Democrats of not being fiscally responsible and not being competent in management. One of the major thrusts of my own Governorship was to reorganize the government, to get control of the bureaucracy, to cut taxes, to budget carefully, and I ran my campaign for President on that platform. And we've had remarkable success since I've been here.
We will have cut the budget deficit more than half compared to what the Republican administration had when they went out of office.
We will have passed civil service reform to get the bureaucracy under control, for a change. We've had $28 to $30 billion in tax reductions. At the same time we've had the largest allocation of increased funds for better education the country's ever seen. We've had help to cities and other local governments that's almost unprecedented. We've sustained a home building rate of over 2 million a year.
So, we've been able to combine, through tough, competent fiscal management, both the delivery of good services to our people and also tight budgeting, cutting down deficits, cutting taxes. And the combination of those two, in my opinion, is not incompatible. You can't educate a child with inefficiency and waste and corruption. You can't feed a hungry person with inefficiency or waste or corruption. And I think that this is a reputation that the Democrats have now assumed, legitimately so, of competent management, that we did not enjoy in the past.
And I can understand why the Republicans are complaining, because they can no longer allege successfully that the Democrats can't be both compassionate, concerned, and competent.
MR. MOYERS. If you were a teenage black youth in the ghetto, if you were one of those millions of people who are surplus in our economy, who have no positive role in our economy or our society, would you have taken much encouragement from the results last week of that election?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's hard to say, when you analyze the results. The Republicans picked up a few extra seats in the House—I think about a dozen-and a few extra seats in the Senate. That obviously should not bring encouragement to anyone that the Republicans have more seats.
MR. MOYERS. I mean the rhetoric that many Democrats use, the rhetoric almost everyone used, in talking about cutting back, retrenching, cutting taxes, all of which would add up to a different kind of approach to government than the traditional Democratic posture.
THE PRESIDENT. I see what you mean. That's hard to say, because for a single person who's out of a job, the most important thing is to get a job. In the last 20 months or so, we've added almost 7 million net new jobs to the American economy. We've cut the unemployment rate about 25 percent.
In the case of agriculture, we've increased farm income, net farm income about 25 percent, and as I say, sustained additional commitments to better education, better housing, and so forth.
Now, however, there's a general feeling among those who are in the very low levels of income and those retired people who have a fixed income, that thee most serious threat to our Nation is inflation. And I think the Congress candidates and those running for Governor as well recognize that controlling inflation had to be given a very high priority.
With that comes a need to have tight budgeting decisions made, a reduction in deficits, and a demonstration to the Government and also to the private parts of our economy that we are going to be fiscally responsible.
I think in the long run the alleviation of inflation in a person's life is almost as important as an increase in wages or an increase in prices that one can get for products sold.
So, there is a new emphasis, I think, on the control of inflation, but it doesn't mean that we've abandoned searching for new jobs, nor the better life for the people who live in our country.
MR. MOVERS. But it is likely, isn't it, that if you succeed in your inflation fight, some people will be put out of work?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe that's the case. We don't project that to happen. I think there will be an increase in the number of jobs available every year that I'm in office. The rate of increase might slack off and level off some, but I don't think there will be a net loss in the number of jobs in our country,.
MR. MOYERS. A lot of private economists are forecasting a turndown by 1980. How can you avoid that if you really keep the pressure on interest rates and housing construction and the pressures to stop the growth of inflation? Do you have some new trick in the hat?
THE PRESIDENT. NO. There is no trick, and there again it's a difficult decision that you just have to balance. But whether we can continue to build up enormous deficits by spending money we don't have, and benefit the American people, is a serious question. I don't think We can.
I think we've got to have careful budgeting, a more accurate focusing of Government services to meet the needs of those who need it most; combined with a restoration of confidence in our Government's ability to handle both fiscal, monetary, and administrative affairs. And there are times when those are in conflict. But we now have 10 years of inflation that's averaged about 6 1/2 percent, and I think that almost every economist, even those who think we might have a recession next year, agrees that we have got to cut down on the inflation rate.
VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY
MR. MOYERS. Some of your people this morning were telling me that they sense a new attitude on your part, a new spirit of confidence. And they attribute it to the fact that in your mind you've made some very tough decisions on the inflation front and are going to stick with them. Is that true? Are their perceptions accurate?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't feel that I'm more confident or more aggressive or more sure of myself than I was before. We've made some difficult decisions ,ever since I've been in office. It seems to me, almost daily, difficult decisions have had to be made. But, obviously, the longer I'm in office, the more I'm aware of the needs. I understand the Government structure better. I know more of the leaders both within Washington and outside Washington who help to shape our Nation's policies and shape its future.
We've now finished the 95th Congress work. I think they passed about 6 or 700 bills which help to clarify my own programs. We're trying to take advantage of what the Congress has decided, and I think I'm certainly more aware of and more sure of the opportunities and limitations of the Presidency itself.
MR. MOYERS. What have you learned about this town?
THE PRESIDENT. I like Washington
THE PRESIDENT. To say the least. I didn't know the congressional leaders. I didn't know the news media representatives, except those who followed me in the campaign. Neither did they know me. I had a lot to learn about the bureaucratic structure of the Government. I was not privy of course to secrets involving national defense or international relations, and I really spent 18 months or so not only as a President but also as a student trying to learn what I didn't know before.
There have been no serious disappointments on my part. I told some news people the other night at a supper at the Mansion that there were two things that had been unpleasant surprises. One was the inertia of Congress, the length of time it takes to get a complicated piece of legislation through the Congress, and the other was the irresponsibility of the press.
MR. MOYERS. Irresponsibility of the press?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
MR. MOYERS. What do you mean?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, quite often news reports have been inaccurate when I think a simple checking of the facts with a telephone call or a personal inquiry could have prevented a serious distortion of the news. And also there's a sense of doubt or even cynicism about the Government and about programs or proposals, brought about I'm sure by the Vietnam experience, of the fact that the public was misled during Watergate and perhaps even the CIA, as I mentioned earlier.
But I think that a lot of that was caused by my relative inaccessibility and by the lack of knowledge on my part of the press and vice versa. And in the last few months we've taken steps to make sure that we understand each other better, so that I have an ability and my Cabinet Members have an ability to present the facts clearer to the American people through the press, and vice versa.
MR. MOYERS. IS this the work of your media czar, Mr. Rafshoon? What did he tell you about how to get the message out?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it was a common belief that all of us had that we needed to have a clearer access to the public through the press in an undistorted way, a truthful way, not to try to cover up any mistakes we made, and also to have it understood among those who report the news that they can have access to me or to Jody Powell or to Hamilton Jordan or members of the Cabinet or others if there is a question that arises approaching a deadline, that they can make a telephone call and say, "Is this or is this not accurate?"
We all recognize the devastating consequences of ever making a misleading statement or telling a falsehood, because our credibility would be damaged. And we've bent over backwards (not) 1 to do that. But I think that we've made some progress in this respect.
1 Printed in the transcript.
And I understand the Congress a lot better now. I know the speed with which legislation can be expected to move through the Congress. I understand the complexities of the committee system, the interrelationships between the House and the Senate.
And also I think we're doing a much better job in letting the press have access to the facts.
MR. MOYERS. The hour is past. Should we stop?
THE PRESIDENT. I think perhaps we'd better, if the hour's over.
MR. MOYERS. Well, on behalf of Public Broadcasting, I thank you for your time.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Bill.
|Citation: Jimmy Carter: "Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With Bill Moyers of the Public Broadcasting Service. ", November 13, 1978. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=30161.|
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