"A Conversation With the President," Interview With Dan Rather of the Columbia Broadcasting System
THE PRESIDENT. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I wish to welcome all of you to this interview in the Oval Office of the President, and, Mr. Rather, we will go right to your questions.
DECISION ON CANDIDACY
[1.] MR. RATHER. Thank you, Mr. President, and for myself and on behalf of my colleagues in the White House press corps, Happy New Year to you.
Since this is a new year, may we assume that you are a candidate for reelection?
THE PRESIDENT. That is not an unexpected question.
MR. RATHER. I wouldn't think so.
THE PRESIDENT. I will answer it simply by saying that before the 14th of January I will have to make a decision and announce that decision with regard to candidacy, because that is the time that I will have to decide whether to enter the New Hampshire primary.
I will be making a decision. I will be announcing it by the 14th. As far as candidacy is concerned, while I cannot, and therefore will not, announce it on this program--I think I should save that for all your colleagues--I will say that I have decided already what I will do during the period of the campaign.
Whatever my decision is, I have decided that I will engage in no public partisan activities until after the Republican Convention. The problems of the Presidency, the problems of this office in which we sit, in this year 1972, are so great that it will not be possible to take time off for partisan politics.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MITCHELL AND THE CAMPAIGN
[2.] MR. RATHER. Mr. President, someone will have to run your campaign, and it is widely assumed that Attorney General Mitchell will be leaving. Could you tell us when he will be leaving?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you are getting me right into the question that I just refused to answer, but I understand that. If I make the decision to become a candidate-and there is, of course, good reason to think that I might make the decision in that direction, although there is always the possibility that one might change his mind---but if I make that decision, the man who is best qualified to run the campaign is Attorney General Mitchell.
The only problem I have with that is that he is also, in my opinion, the best qualified to be Attorney General of the United States. I haven't crossed that bridge yet. That is one of the hard decisions I am going to have to make in the event that we come down affirmatively to enter the New Hampshire primary.
CIRCUMSTANCES AFFECTING CANDIDACY
[3.] MR. RATHER. Mr. President, under what circumstances would you not be a candidate for reelection?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it would depend, Mr. Rather, on circumstances that none of us might foresee at this point. I have often said that it is not well to be coy about this business of candidacy. Most assume that a man who has served in the office of President will be a candidate for reelection if the Constitution allows him to do so.
You may recall, however, that President Johnson, when he was faced with this difficult choice, decided not to be a candidate.
MR. RATHER. Frankly, I was thinking of that when I asked you.
THE PRESIDENT. I do not anticipate that events such as led President Johnson to his decision may affect my decision; however, I do know that it is always wise to delay until the last possible moment any very important decision, and, of course, making the decision to be a candidate for President--as I know better than anybody else---is a very important decision.
VICE. PRESIDENT AGNEW
[4.] MR. RATHER. Mr. President, can you give us assurances categorically and unequivocally that if you are a candidate that you want to run again with Vice President Agnew and that he will be your running mate, if you have anything to do with it?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Rather, with regard to the Vice Presidency, the decision will be made at the convention, as will be the case with the candidate for President.
However, to give you an inkling as to my own thinking with regard to that decision-and if I am a candidate, I obviously will have something to say about it-my view is that one should not break up a winning combination. I believe that the Vice President has handled his difficult assignments with dignity, with courage. He has, at times, been a man of controversy, but when a man has done a good job in a position, when he has been part of a winning team, I believe that he should stay on the team. That is my thinking at this time.
BOMBING RESUMPTION AND TROOP WITHDRAWALS
[5.] MR. RATHER. Mr. President, as you enter this election year, there are quite obviously two central themes that you have been emphasizing. You have stated them over again in the phrases, "a generation of peace" and "a prosperity without war."
I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to examine in some detail and some depth the concepts beneath those phrases.
First, on a generation of peace. On everyone's mind is the resumption of the widespread bombing of North Vietnam. Other than what we already know from the authorities in Saigon and what Secretary Laird has said, could you assess the military benefits of that?
THE PRESIDENT. With regard to the military benefits, let me say first why we did it. You were present in the White House Press Room, as you always are, when I was there making the last troop withdrawal announcement 1 which will bring the troops down to 139,000 by the first of February. And, at that time, I said that in the event that the enemy stepped up its infiltration, or engaged in other activities which imperiled, in my opinion our remaining forces as our forces were becoming less, that I would take action to deal with the situation.
1 See 1971 volume, Item 356 [1.].
Most of you reported it. And most of the reporters also wrote it. I meant exactly what I said. The enemy did step up its infiltration. They violated the understanding of 1968, when the bombing halt was agreed to, with regard to firing on our unarmed reconnaissance planes. They shelled Saigon on December 19.
Under those circumstances, I had no other choice but to bomb, in this case, selected military targets and supply buildup areas. Those were the only areas that were hit.
The results have been very, very effective, and I think that their effectiveness will be demonstrated by the statement I am now going to make.
Before the first of February, well before the first of February, I will make another withdrawal announcement. Our withdrawal will continue on schedule, at least at the present rate, possibly at somewhat a larger rate. I will not make the decision with regard to the rate at this point, but the withdrawal can go forward on schedule and as far as our American casualties are concerned, which, as you know, as reported on Thursday of last week on CBS and other networks, were one--the lowest in 6 years.
MR. RATHER. That included a truce period for Christmas, did it not?
THE PRESIDENT. It included a truce period, but as you know they have averaged less than 10 for 3 months, whereas they were averaging 300---up to 300 a week when we came into office. But our casualties as a result of these activities, I believe, can be kept at this very low level.
AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT IN VIETNAM
[6.] MR. RATHER. Mr. President, you were quoted in a Time magazine interview this past week--and I want to get the direct quotation if I may--saying, "The issue of Vietnam will not be an issue in the campaign as far as this Administration is concerned, because we will have brought the American involvement to an end."
Now, may one properly assume from that, that by Election Day there will be no Americans, land, sea, or air, no residual force, fighting in support of Laotians, Cambodians, or South Vietnamese?
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Rather, that depends on one circumstance, which is very. much in my mind, and in the minds I know of all of our listeners and viewers. That is the situation with regard to our POW's. First, as far as American involvement is concerned, we are still pursuing the negotiating track. There is a possibility--I know many believe there is no possibility, but I believe there is some--and we are continuing to pursue it with the meeting resuming next week, of ending the war through negotiation. We have offered, as you know, a cease-fire throughout Indochina, including Laos and Cambodia. We have offered a total withdrawal of all outside forces. We would offer an exchange of POW's, and under these circumstances, we believe that this is a time that those offers should seriously be considered.
In the event that no progress is made on the negotiating front, then we will have to continue on what we call the Vietnamization front. Now it is quite obvious, if you look at the numbers, if we are down to 139,000 by the first of February, if I make another announcement of approximately the same level or at an even somewhat higher level for a period in the future, that the number of Americans in Vietnam will be down to a very low level well before the election.
Now, the question arises then, can the President of the United States, sitting in this office, with the responsibility for 400 POW's and 1,500 missing in action throughout Southeast Asia, because they are also potential POW's, can he withdraw all of our forces as long as the enemy holds one American as a prisoner of war? The answer is no.
So I would have to say that with regard to the statement that I made to Time magazine, our goal is to end the American involvement in Vietnam before the end of this year, and before the election, not just because it is an election, but because these are the ways our plans are working out. Our preference is to end it by negotiation. If that does not work we will do it by withdrawal through Vietnamization. But if POW's are still retained by North Vietnam, in order to have any bargaining position at all with the Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, we will have to continue to retain a residual force in Vietnam, and we will have to continue the possibility of air strikes on the North Vietnamese.
MR. RATHER. If you have to continue both of those--and the likelihood at the moment concerning the negotiating posture of both sides in Paris is that that is very likely--if you have to maintain a residual force and keep open at least the threat of additional air strikes, then how can you campaign saying you have ended the American involvement?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the important thing is not how I can campaign with regard to the American involvement, but the important thing is whether the American people are convinced that the President of the United States has done everything that he can to bring this desperately difficult war to an end, and that he is doing everything that he can in view of dealing with international outlaws to protect American men and to get back Americans who are held, as are our Americans who are POW's at the present time.
Now, let's look at the situation when we came into office. I remember the first day I sat in this room. I looked at the number of Americans in Vietnam, 539,000. I looked at the casualty rates, averaging as high as 300 a week. I saw that there was no plan to bring any home. There was no negotiating plan on the table at Paris. And what has happened?
Well, we have brought 400,000 home. As we have already indicated, the rate of withdrawal will continue throughout the next few months. We have reduced the casualties from 300 a month--last week to one--to an average of less than 10 over the past 3 months. Now, that is too many-one American dying in war anyplace in the world is too many as far as I am concerned but that is a considerable achievement.
As far as the POW problem is concerned, that is one that we unfortunately are confronted with. But let me just give this much hope to our POW people. I believe that as the enemy looks at the alternatives that they may decide, as they see the American involvement ending, that it would be well for them not to retain our POW's and run the risk that it would be necessary for the United States to stay in Vietnam.
I know sometimes you and some of your colleagues have pointed out, and with very good reason, that if when we had 540,000 in Vietnam that had no effect in getting the enemy to negotiate on POW's, why would having 25 or 35 thousand as a residual force have any effect? And the answer is: Does the enemy want the United States to withdraw from Vietnam, or doesn't it?
[7.] MR. RATHER. Mr. President, speaking of POW families, a lady from Florida called in this afternoon and asked that I ask you this question. She is Mrs. Gerald Gartley, from Florida, who is the mother of a 27-year-old Navy lieutenant who is a prisoner. Her question, which I take this opportunity to ask on her behalf, is: Have we ever asked the North Vietnamese and the Provisional Revolutionary Government if they will release the POW's and guarantee the safety of our withdrawing troops if we set a date for withdrawal of all U.S. forces from South Vietnam? Have we ever asked them that?
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Rather, that particular matter has been one that has been under discussion at various times in the Paris peace talks, but you yourself recall, because you reported it, or at least your Paris correspondent reported it on CBS, and I think even NBC and ABC had this as well, that when that was floated out this fall, the North Vietnamese totally rejected it.
In other words, that is the deal of saying that if we set a deadline, then they will give us back our POW's--
MR. RATHER. Excuse me, that was publicly done, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. That was publicly done, that is correct. You remember the United States Senator had met, he said, with some of the people from North Vietnam.2 He was convinced that in the event that we set a deadline, that that would mean that they would release the prisoners. The North Vietnamese said deadline for prisoners was no deal. That was publicly stated.
2On September 12, 1971, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota announced he had met in Paris on September 10 and 11 with representatives of North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government
Under those circumstances, this, of course, is a very cruel action on their part, to reject out of hand even the possibility of that kind of discussion.
I would say this, looking to the future, that as I have just pointed out, that when we come down to the end, as far as our own involvement in Vietnam is concerned, the question of whether or not they will return our prisoners in exchange for a total American withdrawal is one that they will have a chance to answer.
And I could also point out that we have participated in a great number of discussions other than those public discussions in Paris. Sitting right here in this room--as a matter of fact, you are sitting in my chair, Mr. Gromyko was sitting in this chair--I raised the subject of POW's with him. Dr. Kissinger raised the subject with Chou En-lai on both of his visits to the People's Republic of China.
MR. RATHER. Excuse me, Mr. President. Did we do that before--
THE PRESIDENT. In the event that at the time of the meetings that I will have in China and later on in the Soviet Union, we have not made progress in this area, the subjects will again be raised.
Now, I am not suggesting--because, believe. me, it is a heartrending matter to read the letters from the POW wives and their next of kin in other ways, to read those letters and to realize how their hopes have been dashed year after year. But I can tell you that we have pursued every negotiating channel; that we have made a number of offers in various channels and that when the total record is published, and it will be published in due time, at an appropriate time, our lady from Florida and the others will realize that we have gone the extra mile as far as POW's are concerned. I do not want to disclose any further details became negotiations are underway.
MR. RATHER. I am sorry to interrupt you and I was going to ask whether there would be something on your agenda in Peking and Moscow, and you have answered the question in your answer saying so.
THE PRESIDENT. It will be on the agenda, I emphasize, provided it is still a live question, because we are, naturally, hoping that in both of these cases we can go forward.
Now, let me point out, we should not give the impression that because we raised the subject with the Chinese, we raised it with the Soviet Union, that that is going to mean action, because we have raised it at other levels already.
I would point out one slightly hopeful note: the fact that the Chinese, after holding two Americans prisoner for many years, released them, as you know, about 2 or 3 weeks ago. At least their attitude toward prisoners seems to be much more civilized than that of the North Vietnamese. Whether they can influence the North Vietnamese toward a similar attitude, however, remains to be seen. TIMING OF
THE PRESIDENT'S ACTIONS [8.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, you have raised the subject of China, and I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that I would like to talk with you about that. Everyone is interested. You have also mentioned that you hope to reach your goals in the war this year, 1972; that everything seems to have been pointed in the direction of climaxing in this election year: besides your ultimate goals in the war, victory over inflation, driving down unemployment, agreement for the strategic arms limitations, trips to Peking and Moscow.. Is all of this coincidental, the timing, or is it, as some of even your friends say, some of the timing must be politically motivated?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is a very legitimate question, and I understand why many would feel that it was politically motivated. After all, when you look at the bombing halt of 1968, I know many on our side felt that that was politically motivated, at least the timing of it. I, of course, never made such a charge, and would not, and I don't think you would, because I think President Johnson was interested in doing everything that he could while he was President, and before the election, to start some negotiations in Paris. But I realize that anyone who sits in this office is one that is going to be charged with having a political motivation for everything that he does. But just let me point this out: Let me say that if I could have ended the war the day I came into office, in a way that would not have encouraged that kind of aggression in other parts of the world, that would not have resulted in what I would have thought—and I thought then and think now—would have been a disastrous blow to America's foreign policy leadership in the world, believe me, I would have done it. Anyone who signs, as the President does, letters to the next of kin of men killed in war has, as his constant thought in his mind, the first time he wakes up in the morning and the last time as he goes to sleep at night, when he goes to bed-he has in mind what can he do to bring that war to an end in a way that isn't going to bring on other wars, or in a way that will discourage other wars. So as far as the timing on this is concerned, we haven't, as one Senator even had the temerity to suggest, delayed the ending of the war until the election year. If we could end it tomorrow, we would end it. Now, as far as the Peking visit and the Moscow visit are concerned, we could have had a Moscow summit when we first came into office. It would have been a failure, just as the Glassboro summit was a failure. When summits are not well planned, when they have for their purpose just cosmetics, they raise great hopes, and then there is a great thud when they fall down. In the case of the Soviet summit, both the Soviet leaders and I-and I have been in direct correspondence, as you know, with Mr. Brezhnev on this for some time, as well as discussions with Gromyko and Dobrynin--were convinced that until we had items for the agenda which would lead to possible substantive agreements, we should not have a summit. What broke the back as far as having the Moscow summit was concerned, and what brought this timing, was the Berlin agreement. That historic agreement indicated that the United States and the Soviet Union, agreeing on that critical area, might find a possibility of agreeing on other problems, where our interests might run in conflict-possibly the Mideast, possibly arms limitation, certainly trade and other areas. That is why the Moscow summit is timed at this point. Now, the Chinese summit is one that I, as you may recall, wrote about in 1967. You may not recall it, because in I967 there weren't many who thought I would be sitting here now, and certainly I wasn't sure.
MR. RATHER. Frankly, I didn't think you would be.
THE PRESIDENT. And that makes you not a bad prophet, either. But looking at the situation in 1967, I wrote an article for Foreign Affairs. As you know, I traveled very extensively while I was out of office, and much more freely than I can travel now. But in that article, I raised the lid on what many think was the biggest surprise in history when I made the 9o-second announcement that we were going to go to China.8 I said then that the United States, looking to the future, had to find a way to open communications with the leaders of 750 million people who lived in Mainland China, and so the long process began. If we could have had it in 1969 or 1970, if it could have been properly prepared, we would have done so; but I can assure you it wasn't delayed because I was thinking, "Well, if I could just have it before the New Hampshire primary, in the year 1972, what a coup." And the other side of that is, you see, it takes two to work out this neat little conspiracy that someone set up. Does anybody suggest the Soviet Union is interested in my reelection; that the Chinese would set their summit so that I could do well at that time of year?
MR. RATHER. Well, I don't know —
THE PRESIDENT. The answer, of course, is that I would doubt if that were the case. I don't mean that they would be against my reelection; but I am simply suggesting that those of us who make decisions in offices like this, certainly we think politically. We have that responsibility. We are leaders of our party; we are leaders of our country. But the country comes first. I can assure you ending the war in Vietnam, building a lasting peace through opening to China, limiting tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union-those decisions have no political connotations whatever. If we could have done it earlier, we would have done it. And if this is not the right time to do it, we would have postponed it.
MR. RATHER. Well, that raises the question, Mr. President, that has always bothered me about summitry and I know from your writings before you became President, just before you came to this office, about the dangers of summitry. Doesn't it give the Communists in both capitals, Peking and Moscow, a bargaining advantage to bargain with you at the summit in the middle of an American election year? Wouldn't it have been better to say we either have the summits in both cases before our election year starts or postpone them a few months until after the election so as not to give the Communists this bargaining advantage?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, first, peace is 8 too important to postpone, and I will elaborate on that for just a moment if I can, after I cover the second part of the question. The second part of the question deals with the whole problem of summitry and whether or not it is a good idea. You raised that point, and I think I should respond to it. Summits which are held for the sake of having summits are a very bad idea, but when you are dealing with governments which have basically one-man rule-and that is true of the Soviet Union, it is true of the People's Republic of China-then for the major decisions summitry sometimes becomes a necessity. I became convinced that with regard to China and with regard to the Soviet Union that it would serve our interests and their interests in avoiding those confrontations that might lead to war, in building a world of peace, to meet, and the timing was such that it had to be now. To postpone it might have meant that something could have occurred in between so it would not be held at all. And as I have already pointed out, we could not arrange to have it earlier. Now, second, with regard to the bargaining position, let me make one thing it seems to me in that connection [there] is very possibly a misunderstanding. Let me get that misunderstanding out of the way. When I go to meet with the leaders of the People's Republic of China, with Mr. Chou En-lai, Mr. Mao Tse-tung, and later on with Mr. Brezhnev and Mr. Kosygin, I can assure you that there is not going to be any bargaining advantage due to my desire to affect our election campaign. And I say that not to be sanctimonious, not to be pious, but because I know what is riding. What is riding here is the future for generations to come, and the wrong kind of an agreement with the Soviet Union, one, for example, in the arms control field that would give them an advantage and make us the second strongest nation in the world, the wrong kind of an agreement with the Chinese, one that would discourage our friends in non-Communist Asia, that kind of an agreement, and so forth, would be one that simply would not be worth making. Let me say, any President-it would not be just me, any President-would not want to win an election at that cost, and I certainly will not. I am going into these meetings, I can assure you, well prepared, and I will go well prepared and I will go there to defend the interest of the United States, to negotiate as well as I can, to reduce the differences, recognizing that there are basic philosophical differences between us and the two Communist powers. But unless we talk about those differences eventually we may end up fighting about them, and that will be the end of civilization as we know it.
RELATIONS WITH CHINA [IO.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, one other question about China, and I would again like to refer to a direct quotation. As late as March of 1971 you said, and I quote, "Under no circumstances will we proceed with the policy of normalizing relations with Communist China if the cost of that policy is to expel Taiwan from the family of nations." Now we have proceeded with the policy of normalizing relations with China; Taiwan has been expelled from the United Nations. Isn't that a contradiction?
THE PRESIDENT. It is a contradiction, but not the way we planned it. As far as our normalization of relations is concerned, I should point out they are not yet normalized. I should also point out that when we do have our meeting in February, beginning on February 2I, in the People's Republic of China, that recognition in the conventional sense will not be one of the results. They do not expect that. We do not expect that. The reason it cannot be one of the results is that as long as we continue to recognize Taiwan, which we do, as long as we continue to have our defense treaty with Taiwan, which we will, the People's Republic will not have diplomatic relations in the conventional sense with that country. So we are not going to have that kind of normalization. However, we will have normalization-because it is fair, and I know this is certainly the intent with which you ask the question-we will have normalization in terms of setting up some method of communication better than we currently have, because nations that do not have diplomatic relations in the conventional sense can have relations and that is one thing that we will be able to do. Now, as far as our having that kind of normalization, at the time that Taiwan was expelled from the community of nations is concerned, we fought hard to avoid Taiwan being expelled. We thought it was a mistake, but being a member of the community of nations, we believed that we had to accept the verdict. Under the circumstances, however, we will go to the People's Republic, we will have this relationship normalized on the basis that I have just described, but we will continue also our relations with Taiwan, and we will continue our defense agreement.
MR. RATHER. Are we beginning to withdraw American forces from Taiwan?
THE PRESIDENT. Not at this point.
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, why is it necessary
THE PRESIDENT. I know, incidentally, Mr. Rather, that that question is raised because there have been reports to the effect, because when Dr. Kissinger was there-I didn't want you to raise the question without pointing up that I knew there was good reason to-that when Dr. Kissinger was there, that he had made some deal with Mr. Chou En-lai that if we had the meeting in China, that we would withdraw some forces before I got there. Let me just set the record straight. He has said, and I have said it, I can say it, too-and I have read every word of the transcript of those long, long sessions he had with Mr. Chou En-lai, as I am sure Chou En-lai has read them there were no conditions on our side and no conditions on their side. This will be tough, hard bargaining between people who have very great differences, but people who have one thing in common, and that is that we had better talk about differences or we may end up fighting about them. Let me just point up one other thing, too, in that respect. We have been talking about Vietnam. I think many of our viewers may not realize that in the two terribly difficult wars, little wars they call them, that the United States has been engaged in, in the last 20o years, both of them are wars in the rimland of Asia. Both of them are wars in which the Chinese were involved: directly in Korea, where, as you know, there were thousands of Chinese volunteers involved in fighting Americans; and indirectly in South Vietnam where the Chinese militarily, insofar as supplies are concerned, are supporting the North Vietnamese. So, as you look at the past history where the United States in 20o years has had to fight in two wars, where the People's Republic of China was involved on the other side, and you look at the possibilities of the future when the People's Republic, which is now a weak nuclear power, compared to us, would be a very substantial nuclear power 15 or 20 years from now, it is imperative that we find a way to settle our differences better than we have had in the past. That is why the communication must come. And anyone who sits in this office at this time cannot just think of the next year, the next 2 years, the problems-and there are many problems that are caused by this move toward China, problems with our friends, and it causes them concern but no one can sit in this office and allow hanging over the world and hanging over the United States for the future this great danger of the most populous nation in the world becoming a major nuclear power and outside the world community, with no contact with the United States of America. That is why I made the decision to go to China, and this trip, of course, will have as its major purpose setting up that long dialogue which may avert what would otherwise be an inevitable clash.
MR. RATHER. Why is it vital or necessary, I think you used the word, to reestablish a diplomatic dialogue with Communist China, and continue to ignore a Communist country in our own backyard, Cuba?
THE PRESIDENT. The situation is quite different. Our policy toward Cuba,
MR. RATHER, is directly related to what Cuba's policy is toward us. Cuba is a Communist country. What Cuba has in terms of its internal policy is Cuba's business, although we would prefer our system and I think many Cubans would as well. But, on the other hand, Cuba is engaged in a constant program of belligerence toward the United States and also toward its neighbors in the inter-American community. Now, I suppose it could be said, what about China? We point to the Korean war, we point to what is going on now in North Vietnam. The difference is that at this particular time, we have some evidence that the Chinese are now ready to talk about their role in Asia and our role in Asia. We think it is well to talk about it. There has been no indication whatever that Castro will recede one inch from his determination of exporting Castro-type revolution all over the hemisphere. As long as he is engaged in that kind of operation, our policy isn't going to change.
MR. RATHER. If he gave you such an indication, would you move to reestablish a dialogue with Cuba as you have with China?
THE PRESIDENT. We have no expectation whatever of that. We follow Mr. Castro's activities, his public speeches and the like, very, very closely. And he thrives, since he has made virtually a basket case of Cuba economically, in stirring up trouble in other countries. He couldn't possibly survive, in my opinion, unless he had this policy of "foreign devils."
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, I am afraid in one respect you and I are alike. That is, we like to talk about foreign policy. But time moves on and I may be looking for work tomorrow if we don't begin talking about some domestic affairs.
THE PRESIDENT. And also, if you don't ask me those questions, they will say I am not interested in it.
JETS FOR ISRAEL [12.]
MR. RATHER. But I can't leave with your permission, I think we have to do it fairly quickly-leave without asking at least one question about the Middle East. There have been widespread reports that you have agreed in principle to sell additional Phantom jets to Israel. Is that true?
THE PRESIDENT. We have made a decision,
MR. RATHER, implementing a policy that I have long announced, that we will not allow the balance, the military balance, in the Mideast to be shifted. Now the Soviet Union has been sending in very significant arms shipments to the U.A.R. In view of those shipments, as that continues to escalate, we have had to consider the requests of Israel for planes in order to see that the balance does not shift. We have made a commitment in principle. As far as implementing that commitment is concerned, however, I-this is not, of course, the time to go into it.
PUBLIC OPINION AND THE PRESIDENT [13.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, shifting now to domestic affairs, and before we went into this broadcast, I sought questions from many of my colleagues in the White House press corps, and I think I should tell you that the following question was among the most popular of those submitted.
THE PRESIDENT. Popular with them.
MR. RATHER. Popular with them. And I hope it will be with you. Public opinion polls, the Harris poll was the last one, the Gallup polls before, indicated that the American people, in overwhelming majority, give you high marks for decisiveness, for willingness to change. But, in the case of the Harris poll, about 50 percent said that you had failed to inspire confidence and faith and lacked personal warmth and compassion. Why do you suppose that is?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is because people tell the pollsters that, of course. So, that is what the people must believe. But, on the other hand, without trying to psychoanalyze myself, because that is your job, I would simply answer the question by saying that my strong point is not rhetoric, it isn't showmanship, it isn't big promises-those things that create the glamour and the excitement that people call charisma and warmth. My strong point, if I have a strong point, is performance. I always do more than I say. I always produce more than I promise. Oh, I don't mean that from time to time I may not have made promises that I was unable to keep, but generally speaking, whether it is in the foreign field, or in the domestic field, I believe that actions are what count. And also, I think that is what the country needs. At this particular point, I think we have to realize that when I took office in 1968 , not only were 300 Americans a week being killed in Vietnam, and there were 539,000 there, but we had riots in most of our cities;
THE PRESIDENT, as you recall at that time, could not safely travel to most of the cities, and I have been to most of the States and cities since that time, incidentally. That is no reflection on him. It means that times have changed some. The campuses were in great turmoil. At that particular point, I could have moved with a great deal of flamboyance and showmanship and the rest, but I think what got us into the trouble that we reaped in i968, and a lot of it carried over in 1969, was hot rhetoric, big promises, and then failure to come through on them. I feel that when the trouble of a nation has been caused by too much rhetoric, the cure for that trouble is not more rhetoric. What I think, therefore, is needed at this time, in order to gain the confidence of the people and, let me put it more directly, in order to give the people of this country confidence in their government, is for their government to do something, to produce something. That is why I want this Administration, in the brief time that I am here, I want this Administration to be one that will bring an end of American involvement in Vietnam, that will look beyond, however, simply ending one war, building a lasting peace, and that is what China and Russia, those visits, are all about; keeping it cool in the Mideast if we possibly can, moving not only to maintain the balance but possibly negotiation in that area-and then on the domestic front, an historic reform of government, welfare reform, revenue sharing, government reorganization, an attack on the drug problem, all of these things. Now, these are big programs. I think, however, that performing in some of these fields will have a very great effect on the attitude of the American people toward--if I could put it in a general sense--maybe not toward this President as a person, but toward the Presidency. The Presidency is what is on the line here. When the Presidency fails to come through, people lose confidence in government. They lose confidence in Congress. They lose confidence in the courts. As a matter of fact, I saw a poll the other day where the people had a very low opinion of confidence as far as the media was concerned. That is not good. What we have to do, what you have to do, what I have to do, all of us in a position of responsibility in our society, is to restore confidence that this is a good country, that our government can produce, and the way to do that is to set our sights high, but make our promises realistic and then get some performance. I think that at the conclusion of my term, I am going to have quite a bit of performance.
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, as a journalist, I know that one of the greatest problems is trying to explain how you made a mistake, how you got a fact wrong, how you made a wrong analysis on a particular problem. And for anyone in politics-this applies, of course, to previous Presidents as well-one of the problems, as you mentioned, was promises unkept. This gets, I think, to the core of your dissertation on the need for confidence and what we are going through as a people in terms of confidence with the media, with the Presidency, and with a lot of things. Yet the same Harris poll indicated that only about a third of the people thought that you had kept your campaign promises. Now, I think you will agree that anyone in politics should be held accountable. I, as a journalist, think that everyone in politics should be given an opportunity to explain. So would you explain-obviously as briefly as possible, but as fully as you think necessary-in 1968 you said, "I pledge to redress the present economic imbalance without increasing unemployment." That is a direct quotation. Now, unemployment was, I believe, 3.6 when you came in. It is at or near 6 percent for the last several months.
THE PRESIDENT. Let's take that one first, yes, please. Unemployment was 3.6 when I came in, at a cost of 300 casualties a week in Vietnam. Since I have come in, we have brought 400,000 people home from Vietnam. There are 2 million people who have been let out of defense plants and out of the armed services as a result of our winding down the war in Vietnam, and if those people were still in the defense plants and still in Vietnam, unemployment would still be 3.6. That is too high a cost.
MR. RATHER. But wasn't that foreseeable, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. That was foreseeable. But my point is, what I was saying was that we should have a combination-a combination of bringing a war to an end and then moving from there to a kind of prosperity of high employment and low unemployment that we haven't had since President Eisenhower was President in this room in I957. That was the only time it was less than 5 percent. In all the years of the sixties, unemployment averaged 5.8, except in the war years. Now, we can do better than that, and as we move from war to peace in the year 1972, we are going to bring the unemployment rate below that.
MR. RATHER. Now, another September 1968 quotation: "Seventy-four percent of farm parity is intolerable. I pledge that in my administration farmers will have better." Farm parity is at or near 70 now, has not been back up to even 74 percent through most of your Administration.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, let's look at the farm parity in terms of another factor: Farm income, which is what farmers really care about a great deal, as you know, because it was also reported on CBS just 2 weeks ago, came up sharply in the last month. I look for the year 1972 to be a very good year as far as the farmers are concerned in terms of their income, and also in terms of parity. And I should point out that in this instance, here is where we are going to get one of the benefits of our new international economic policy. As you know, Secretary Connally has bargained very hard. He has been criticized for bargaining too hard, for getting some kind of trade agreements in return for what the United States is doing in certain other fields. Now, this will not come easy, but in dealing with the European Community, and in dealing with Japan and other countries, we believe that one of the areas where we can get greater trade opportunities is in the field of agriculture. That, of course, will mean more farm income. It will deal more effectively with the parity problem. We are not satisfied with that number. Right today we are trying to do better, and we will do better.
MR. RATHER. Can we agree that broken promises, like a bad story, are pretty hard to explain, and hurt confidence, whether it is a journalist who doesn't deliver on his story, or whether it is a man in political office who is unable, for whatever reason, to deliver on a pledge?
THE PRESIDENT. Certainly, that is true, and the difference, of course, is that the journalist really doesn't have to retract his story, as you know.
MR. RATHER. But he should, when he is wrong.
THE PRESIDENT. A few do, and many would like to. But it is difficult, because it destroys your credibility. But let me say that in this respect, that I think the important thing for the man sitting in this office is that he must never be satisfied never be satisfied with what he is doing. As far as I see it, at the present time, it could perhaps well be said that if you cooled the country, and we have; if we can now see the end of our involvement in Vietnam, and we do; that we should set these particular goals as being a pretty good accomplishment, particularly when we combine it with a new economic policy which has cut the rate of inflation, and we believe it will continue to during the next year. That has resulted in the first real increase in income due to the fact that with the inflation rate cut down, and our wages, of course, going up, we find for the first time, wage earners who were on a treadmill for 4 years, from I967 to 1970, now, in the year 197I, for the first time in 5 years, began to make some headway. When we see all of these things, I think we could well say that that is a pretty good record. That isn't enough, though. It isn't enough. As I tried to say a moment ago, in the short time that any man is in this office, he has got to look down that road. He has got to look down 25 years from now. I get back to the real reason for the China move. The real reason is that despite the fact it would be easier-it is easier not to raise difficult problems with our friends, and I have been criticized very strongly from people of my own party on the China move, with our friends in the world community, the Japanese and others who have been concerned about it-it would have been easier simply to continue the line that we have been taking with regard to China and not attempt to open this dialogue, recognizing how great the risks were. But looking down that road, any man sitting in this office, as President of the United States, who failed to seize the moment, the chance-the chance that was offered to me, as a result of planning, I must say, on our part, too-failed to seize that moment, he would have to answer to future generations. Now, it may be too soon, if we are talking about in terms of the next election, for people to give credit to
THE PRESIDENT, or to blame him for the success or failure of what happens on this movement to China, but if 25 years from now, as a result of what we have done now, we avert a confrontation with China, it will all be worth it.
THE ECONOMY [17.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, a couple of questions on the economy, if I may. It occurs to me that your, until recently, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Paul McCracken, said a few days ago that government controls on the economy would be "necessary long past this year," I believe was his phrase. Is that true?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Chairman McCracken is reflecting the view that in some areas controls may be necessary. I would put it another way, without disagreeing with Chairman McCracken. We will keep controls on only as long as we need them, and we are going to decontrol just as fast as we can, as the inflation psychology runs its course. Let us take just one example. Take rent controls. We found for example that in certain areas of the country, a major city, there was a very high number of vacancies. Well, that area should be decontrolled right now, because when you have a high number of vacancies, you don't need control. The competition controls the rents. So it is in certain other areas. I do not believe in a controlled economy. I believe that we had to have these controls in order to break an inflationary psychology which had been fueled by war, and which apparently was not going to be broken unless we took the very hard action that we did take. But having taken it, we are now going to see it through. We want to reach our goal, and we believe that we will achieve our goal of keeping inflation at the 2 to 3 percent level for the year 1972, which will be a major achievement. That is half of what it was last year.
MR. RATHER. I gather the answer to the question then is "perhaps." The question was whether controls may be necessary beyond this year.
THE PRESIDENT. Perhaps, but I would emphasize very strongly, because I would not want to mislead you and all others who have to comment on this, and then to say that I have changed my mind, "perhaps," except that if the program of controls is successful, as successful as we would hope that it would be, the amount of controls that we have toward the end may be far less than the statement by Chairman McCracken implied. I see the decontrol coming perhaps at a faster pace, but we will keep them on if they are necessary.
BLACKS IN AMERICA [18.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, you were quoted in a recent interview as saying, and again I quote, "Black people are different from white people." I don't understand what you mean by that. Exactly what did you mean by that? How are black people different from white people?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the main way to answer that question is to talk to black people, as I do, to black people on my staff, to black people that I have gone to school with. An individual who grows up in America as a black has, whenever he talks very frankly with you, the inevitable memory of what has happened to his people through the years. He looks back to the days of slavery. He looks back to the days of prejudice. He knows that some of that prejudice is still there. He realizes therefore that when he is in school, when he is looking for a job, whatever the case might be, that he is different, he is different from the white person, and for that reason he therefore has problems that the white person does not have. And I think unless we recognize that fact, we are not going to do the right kind of job that we should in handling black-white relations.
GOVERNOR GEORGE WALLACE [19.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, do you consider Governor George Wallace and what he stands for a threat to holding this society together?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I noted at the moment that he has decided to enter the Democratic primaries, and I really think that that question should be directed to the Democratic candidate when you have him on the equal time that I am sure is going to be requested after this program.
MR. RATHER. I would like very much to ask the Democratic candidate that, when it is decided who he shall be. But the question was put directly to you.
THE PRESIDENT. It is not the problem here of our party. As far as Mr. Wallace is concerned, he is now seeking the Democratic nomination, and that is one that is going to have to be worked out within their own party.
AMNESTY FOR DRAFT EVADERS [20.]
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, recently you were asked a question about amnesty. You were asked if you foresaw any possibility of granting amnesty to those young men who have fled the country to avoid the draft, and you had a one word answer, which was "No." Since then some Congressmen, among others, have proposed allowing those young men who want to come back, who are willing to do it, to come back without punishment, if they will take alternative service, 2 years, 4 years. Is there no amount of alternative service under which you could foresee granting amnesty?
THE PRESIDENT. No. The question that I was answering in that conference that you referred to, as you recall, followed one where I had talked about the withdrawal of our forces, and the question was prefaced with that, as I recall.
MR. RATHER. Correct. It was.
THE PRESIDENT. In view of the withdrawal of forces, how about amnesty? And I said, "No." The answer is at this time "No." As long as there are Americans who chose to serve their country rather than desert their country-and it is a hard choice-and they are there in Vietnam, there will be no amnesty for those who deserted their country. As long as there are any POW's held by the North Vietnamese, there will be no amnesty for those who have deserted their country. Just let me say, Mr. Rather, on that score, I don't say this because I am hardhearted. I say it because it is the only right thing to do. Two and a half million young Americans had to make the choice they went to serve in Vietnam. Most of them, I am sure, did not want to go. It is not a very pleasant place. I have been there a number of times; nice people, but it is not a pleasant place for an American to serve, and particularly in uniform. I imagine most of those young Americans when they went out there did so with some reluctance, but they chose to serve. Of those that chose to serve, thousands of them died for their choice, and until this war is over, and until we get the POW's back, those who chose to desert their country, a few hundred, they can live with their choice. That is my attitude.
MR. RATHER. But, at some future time, the door might be opened?
THE PRESIDENT. We always, Mr. Rather, under our system, provide amnesty. You remember Abraham Lincoln in the last days of the Civil War, as a matter of fact just before his death, decided to give amnesty to anyone who had deserted if he would come back and rejoin his unit and serve out his period of time. Amnesty, of course, is always in the prerogative of the Chief Executive. I, for one, would be very liberal with regard to amnesty, but not while there are Americans in Vietnam fighting to serve their country and defend their country, and not while POW's are held by the enemy. After that we will consider it, but it would have to be on a basis of their paying the price, of course, that anyone should pay for violating the law.
ROLE OF WOMEN [21.]
MR. RATHER. I understand, Mr. President, we have only about a minute and a half left. I am going to be in trouble at home if I don't ask this question. Some political leaders
THE PRESIDENT. You mean with CBS?
MR. RATHER. No, I mean with Mrs. Rather. Some political leaders and some others have taken to not addressing women by "Miss" or "Mrs." They have gone to the "Ms." Why not do that with White House letters?
THE PRESIDENT. I guess I am a little old-fashioned, but I rather prefer the "Miss" or "Mrs." But if they want to do it the other way, of course, we accept it. I can assure you some of the things that have come in letters are quite amusing.
MR. RATHER. Mr. President, are there any aspects of the Presidency that are better suited to a man than to a woman?
THE PRESIDENT. I would say that, as we consider the role of women in American political life, that a woman could serve in this office. I am not suggesting that that is going to happen soon. I am suggesting, however, that, looking to the future, as the place of women as executives in our society is recognized, as women develop respect for themselves as executives rather than as women, that their place in political life is going to be recognized more and more. Now, I want to help with Mrs. Rather when you go home and simply say, as far as I am concerned, I have the greatest respect for women in both capacities, those who are homemakers, and those who decide to go into politics or into business, but let us have freedom of choice for women.
MR. RATHER. Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: The hour-long interview began at 9:30 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. It was broadcast live on radio and television. The President spoke without referring to notes.
Richard Nixon, "A Conversation With the President," Interview With Dan Rather of the Columbia Broadcasting System Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/254543