Excerpts from a Question-Answer Session with Time Magazine Editors
Q. How does the coming campaign look to you?
Governor Carter. I guess President Ford is the most likely Republican nominee, though he is certainly no sure thing. I would guess that with the possible exception of Michigan, I would be ahead now in all the states. Between now and Labor Day, the margin will narrow, but that's to be expected. I think that I will win in November, but only if I don't become overconfident. If I should get arrogant, or start to depend on powerful political intermediaries, that could cost me the election.
Q. Where do you consider yourself most vulnerable?
Governor Carter. My major vulnerability is that people still don't know who I am or what I stand for on specific issues. Although I was in all [but one] of the primaries, I mostly restricted my efforts to just a few states. I still have never campaigned extensively in California, Massachusetts or New York. We organized only three states in depth—Iowa, Florida and New Hampshire—and did a lesser, but effective job in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The major issue used by my primary opponents, particularly Congressman Morris Udall, was that I was fuzzy on the issues. This constant campaign statement had an impact in some of the states, though not the majority. But we have a fairly good public opinion poll and this has paid rich dividends— not in shaping stands on issues, because those can't be modified—but in the orientation of our resources: where I spend my time, where we spend our money, where I could send my wife or one of my children.
Q. What will be the overriding issue?
Governor Carter. Trust of people in government is the No. 1 issue. It transcends unemployment and inflation.
Q. How much are your religious views going to be a problem?
Governor Carter. They are much less of a problem now than they were 2 or 3 months ago. The poll results show a strong trend toward acceptance of my religious views. There is a general realization that they are personal and that the Baptist Church, perhaps more strongly than any other denomination, believes in complete separation of church and state.
Q. Are you willing to engage in debates with your opponent?
Governor Carter. I have no aversion to them at all. President Ford has announced that he would not participate in any debates, so I don't know if it would be feasible to work them out.
Q. How do you reply to the Republicans9 charges that are already being made that yours would be a big-spending administration?
Governor Carter. I would have a tough management attitude with the government itself. There are very few programs to which I'm committed that would have a major increase in costs. The only major program that could be possibly expensive is a comprehensive health program, but I've been very conservative about this. I would phase it in very cautiously and without much increase in what we are spending overall now. Historically there's been a high correlation between Democratic Administrations and balanced budgets and between Republican Administrations and gross deficits. I would retain that commitment.
Q. Do you think that at the end of your first term, federal spending in real dollars will be lower?
Governor Carter. No, I doubt that. But I think the rate of increase would be carefully controlled, well-considered, and subject to a long-range plan. I don't favor government planning for the private sector, but as President I would start immediately to lay down what I intend to call goals for America. There will be a series of public meetings around the country—much like the ones I held when I became Governor of Georgia—to help plan programs on transportation, energy, health, agriculture, education, welfare, and so forth. Cost figures will be put on those programs for the first 5 years and this would encompass what the government would do under my leadership. Then the private sector—the doctors, the schoolteachers, the railroad managers, and so forth—can make their own plans accordingly. One of the major problems in the private sector now is that there is no way to project what the government is going to do next.
Q. How would you reform the U.S. tax system?
Governor Carter. First, there would be a drastic simplification of the tax code. Second, there would be taxation of income only once. Third, all income would be treated basically the same. My inclination would be to treat capital gains the same as income earned from labor. Finally, I would have a truly progressive tax rate so that persons who have the higher incomes would pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes.
Q. What do you think government should do to increase employment?
Governor Carter. One thing is to have government goals that encourage cooperation from the private sector, such as a comprehensive, long-range energy or transportation policy. I also think that we could take the present expenditures on unemployment, welfare, and job training programs and design them much more comprehensively to create jobs in the public sector. We now have about 1.3 million people who are fully able to work but are drawing welfare on a permanent basis. I would like to give them job training and literacy instruction and get them job offers. If they don't take them, I wouldn't pay them any more welfare benefits.
Q. What are the most important differences between you and Ford on foreign policy?
Governor Carter. Most people feel that Kissinger and Ford or Nixon have evolved foreign policy to the exclusion of the people and to the exclusion of their representatives in Congress. There is also a general feeling that we have yielded too much and put too much of an emphasis on negotiations with the Soviet Union, to the detriment of our relationships with South America, Canada, Japan and the European nations. And, there is an issue with our on-again, off-again export policies on agricultural products.
Q. How soon would you move to full recognition of Communist China?
Governor Carter. That is an ultimate goal, but the time is undefined. I would like assurances that the people of Taiwan—the Republic of China or whatever it might be called—be free of military persuasion or domination from mainland China. That may not be a possibility; if it is not, then I would be reluctant to give up our relationship with the Republic of China.
Q. What would be the main objectives of your energy policy?
Governor Carter. I don't see any prospect of national self-sufficiency in energy any time soon. I think that is a false hope. But I would try to shift the nation away from oil to increased use of coal. In addition, we will continue to use atomic power as a last resort, and we also must pursue solar energy as aggressively as possible.
Q. You call yourself a Populist and say that you would return government to the people. How would you do it?
Governor Carter. For one thing, I would open up the deliberations of government as much as possible, so that the public would know what was going on. Second, I would choose as Cabinet members and advisers in the White House people who have knowledge and experience of deprived citizens. And, I would maintain my own commitment to represent in a personal way those who quite often suffer from an inappropriate action that's taken by government.
Jimmy Carter, Excerpts from a Question-Answer Session with Time Magazine Editors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347633