Excerpts of an Interview with Editors and Reporters of the "Washington Star"
Q. If you're elected, at the end of 4 years how do you think the average voter would have had his life changed—or would he?
Governor Carter. I think so. I believe there would be a restoration of confidence in government. One of the overriding considerations that has been important this year has been the sense of dejection or alienation or embarrassment or shame in the average American's feelings about his own government. With the breakdown in the family structure and the mobility of our society, there has to be something that's there that doesn't change much that we can be proud of. I think the average American after Vietnam and Cambodia and Angola and the CIA didn't have anything to be proud of. It is a loss that is very serious and there is a searching going on for what is lost, and I think so far I've been successful in reviving that trust. I hope I can continue it
Q. And this would result in change?
Governor Carter. I think it would result in a close relationship between our people and our government. I think that would be the same also between the White House and the Congress; and I hope that we could draw together government, business, industry, labor, manufacturing, education, agriculture science, and so forth to a common purpose. That, I think, would change the attitude and the substance of a person's life. The revisions of the income tax structure which I intend to pursue very aggressively throughout my first year in office and a better welfare system and so forth, I think would help people. There would be things concerning welfare, defense attitudes, and interrelationships between labor and management and the organization of the White House staff that would be beneficial, but I don't know exactly how to assess the impact on an individual's life. There would be a feeling among minority groups and women that they would have a strong and legitimate and not a token role to play in the shaping of our national character.
Q. Do you think your ability to make substantial changes in such things as tax reform—where people have not been able to make much progress in the past—is dependent on, assuming that you win, on how you win in the fall?
Governor Carter. Yes. I think the forming of mutual trust and compatibility between me and the Members of Congress is a factor and to the extent that our campaigns can be coordinated and mutually successful, that would help. It would be a brilliant demonstration that we share the same constituents and support. Also I think a demonstration of a strong mandate from the people would be very helpful not only in the Congress but also in recruitment of competent people. So in those cases I do think it's important and also it would make me much more bold, I think, in proposing changes that were necessary.
Q. How large a victory are you expecting?
Governor Carter. I don't know. You've seen the public opinion polls now. I think that there's no possibility of maintaining that sort of lead. There's no doubt in my mind that during the Republican Convention, no matter how disharmonious it might be, when the selection is made of the nominee there's going to be a strong move among the Republicans to pull themselves back together. It's in their own self-interest to do so; it's a legitimate part of the political process to make that attempt after the selection's over. I think that many of the Reagan people, should Ford be the nominee, will express their full support for him, go home and work for him. I think there's going to be an adequate division between the concepts of the Republican nominee and myself that will cause a natural, strong support option for people. I think there will be a healing of their wounds. A lot of people support the underdog—but whether you can make an incumbent President who has a low rating in the polls look like an underdog, I don't know. I'll do everything I can to prevent those deteriorations.
Q. Do you think you'll make him an underdog by hanging Richard Nixon around his neck?
Governor Carter. Well, Richard Nixon is around his neck. I don't think that President Ford's done anything to break that relationship. I think because of his weakness as a leader he's inherited what Nixon gave him in a very dormant fashion. I can't think of a single thing that President Ford has proposed on his own initiative which is a substantive departure from what Richard Nixon and his administration was doing.
Q. Do you think that the tone and character of his stewardship is the same?
Governor Carter. No; I certainly don't.
Q. Do you think that the voters perceive the difference?
Governor Carter. Yes; I think they do. In personal attitudes toward the White House, in openness and, I think in honesty and integrity obviously President Ford's credentials are very good. I would never state anything otherwise. I have never criticized Ford because of the pardon. I don't know what I would have done had I been there. I think I would have proceeded through the trial and the inevitable conviction and then exercised the right to pardon. But Ford made his own decision and I never have found fault with it even at the time he made that decision.
Q. But what does the pardon say about his integrity?
Governor Carter. I just don't have the feeling at all that it was done as a derogation of integrity or honesty. I just think that President Ford honestly felt that it was the best thing for the country to issue that pardon of Nixon and end the Watergate debates and obsession once and for all. I give him credit for that. That's what he said and I think he's telling the truth.
Q. Did you and Senator Mondale work out a position on this?
Governor Carter. No. Senator Mondale knows how I feel about it. I think it's politically disadvantageous to raise the pardon issue.
Q. He raised it at the convention.
Governor Carter. I know that. But I think, in general, he knows how I feel about it. But there are things I wouldn't try to dominate him on. I don't know whether he intends to raise that issue any more. The issue is there. The American people know who pardoned Nixon, they have their doubts about what Ford did.
Q. Is that not an ingredient of the continuity of Ford-Nixon which you have raised as an issue?
Governor Carter. I can't say that it's not an ingredient. But from my assessment of it, purely from a political and selfish viewpoint, I think that die average voter reacts adversely if I raise the pardon, if I try to castigate Ford because he pardoned Nixon. My personal point of view is that I think it's completely fair to criticize Ford for his lack of leadership, for his continuation of policies that Nixon established and never having departed from them. I think that's a legitimate reason to say that the Ford-Nixon Administration is one administration. I think it is.
Q. If it's unfair for you to raise the pardon, is it not equally unfair for Senator Mondale to raise it?
Governor Carter. Well, I don't want to answer that question. I've not discussed it with Senator Mondale. I know he's been questioned about it by the press and he's said he reserves the right to disagree with me on some issues. I did not go over his speeches at all. I was surprised when he raised that issue in the speech. I was impressed with the reaction. I was a little taken aback. I have not ever discussed it with him. We've gotten close and my hope is that he might decide on his own—I'm a little bit reluctant, not because of timidity, to say "Fritz, don't talk about the pardon anymore." I think he's got good enough judgment to make his decision on that. I think he's a good man. I don't really feel that I have to impose my will on that. He knows how I feel.
Q. But in the campaign, in Wisconsin, you said you had made the political judgment that people were sick and embarrassed and ashamed of Watergate. But to say that to raise the question is unfair puts it over in the moral, ethical field. It's interesting to hear that you would be so diffident with your running mate that you would not mention it.
Governor Carter. That may be a temporary difference. I have never raised it with him. To repeat myself, I think it's not politically an advantage to raise it by me or Senator Mondale. My assessment is that to raise it is unfair but Senator Mondale may have a very strong feeling that Ford did it deliberately or that he traded beforehand with Nixon to do it I have never discussed it with him. It might be legitimate to raise it but I haven't. I have no aversion to talk in tough aggressive campaigns. I have no aversion to attacking my opponent if necessary, if I think it's right It might have been politically expedient to make the pardon a major issue. As I said in one interview, the pardon is just like having an illegitimate child in the family: You know it happened, you might even know who did it but to raise it again is a disquieting sort of thing. It's the same way the South felt about the race issue. We knew it happened, we were kind of ashamed of it but we didn't want to have it rubbed in our face and have to explain it over and over. It's the same thing with the Watergate thing. Everybody knows it happened, they know that the Republicans were in office, everybody knows who pardoned Nixon. But to raise it, it's kind of an embarrassing thing for our country.
Q. Are you concerned, politically, that if you raise it that the reservoir of negative feeling will be diminished and it will become a favorable response toward the pardon? Do you see it as an act of political expediency and a choice not to flog that horse?
Governor Carter. Political expediency is part of it, but I also have a personal feeling that Ford didn't do it as a fulfillment of a commitment to Nixon or in violation of his principles. I think he was a new President who had a tremendous inclination to clean up the Watergate mess and I think that he thought that an abrupt pardon of Nixon would get rid of it in a hurry. I think he also had a genuine feeling of obligation to Nixon that may not ever have been expressed. Nixon made him President. I think this is a good, decent thing, too, as a form of recompense. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and in the process my attitude is that it's also advantageous politically.
Q. Do you think you can refer to administration scandals as you did this week without talking about the pardon? Do you think the distinction applies in the voters' eyes?
Governor Carter. I think so. The Republican Administration was afflicted by the worst scandal we've ever had in our country. I think that it's part of a legitimate political presentation to the public as it makes a choice between me and the Democrats and Ford and his party.
Q. What are the issues or postures that you think are most to your advantage going into the general election campaign and those that are the most difficult for you and the most disadvantageous to you?
Governor Carter. The dissatisfaction with the present administration, the absence of leadership that's been exhibited by President Ford, the continuity of his own administration with that of President Nixon, are major advantages for me, leaving all sort of personal things out of it. The uncertainty about my character, my possible performance as a leader of this country, is a major handicap that we have to overcome. People are not sure what I'll do if I'm President. And they are sure about President Ford. He may not be strong and bold and innovative and dynamic and able to work with the Congress, and so forth, but they know what he'll do. He's predictable. And that's the biggest thing we have to overcome.
Q. What about your highly publicized religious beliefs?
Governor Carter. That difficulty no longer exists. I think the evolutionary learning process that went on in this country as people got interested in me translated one step further to "What do Southern Baptists believe?" And as they came to realize that Truman was a Baptist, for instance, that helped. And they got to know that the Baptist church in this country, because of our intense belief in the separation of church and state—perhaps more intensely felt than by any other denomination—has no hierarchical arrangement in the Baptist church, we don't need an accessory role to be played by a pastor or a church organization and so forth. I think those kinds of facts, as they have become known, have removed that problem. I think Ford's lack of leadership, the belief that anybody new coming into Washington will improve the situation, the dissipation or embarrassment that has been brought on our country with CIA and Watergate and so forth, have helped me most
Q. Some wonder why you're spending all of this time in Plains rather than going to Montana and to Oregon or whatever.
Governor Carter. Well, my name recognition factor now is up, I guess, above 95 percent, and there's a much sharper awareness of what I am and where I stand on issues than there was before. And the support for me, which was very soft before the convention, has solidified firm and hard, in an almost unbelievably good way. The uncertainty, though, that exists about what I will do in office can't be alleviated by going to Wyoming, or going to New Hampshire, or going campaigning. That uncertainty about somebody who hasn't been proven as President is going to stay, I think, regardless of the degree of campaigning that I carry on.
Jimmy Carter, Excerpts of an Interview with Editors and Reporters of the "Washington Star" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347634