Jimmy Carter photo

Excerpts of an Interview with the Los Angeles Times

August 24, 1976

Mr. Carter was questioned by Harry Bernstein, labor writer; Charles Champlin, arts editor; Russell Chandler, religion writer; John Lawrence, economic affairs editor; Harry Nelson, medical writer; Don Speich, education writer; and Bill Shirley, sports editor.

Q. As Governor of Georgia and in your campaign, you have called for expansion of career and vocational education. An investigation by this paper shows there has been a massive growth in this country of vocational education over the last 10 years, and there's been a decided shift away from academic subjects to the vocational area. And we have found that perhaps this is one of the causes for the decline in basic achievement skills throughout the nation. How can you justify an expansion of vocational education without knowing whether it may be detracting from the basic skills of students?

Governor Carter. Well, if you'll forgive me for not agreeing with you, Presidents, governors, and Members of Congress can't decide what kind of educational programs a young person is going to choose. The fact is that the young people and their parents in the last number of years—you said 8 or 10—have shifted away from an academic choice to a vocational choice. And this is an inexorable trend which I don't think I could modify. The point is that, recognizing that this is going to take place anyhow, I think it's mandatory that the government leaders prepare to meet the desire on the part of the students to get a more practical education during their formative years.

We've had too long in our country—perhaps California is an exception— a sharp division between academic and career education. In our own state, before I became governor, there was a complete separation between the two. At the age of 16 or 17, a person decided, I'm going to be a licensed practical nurse or secretary, or I'm going to be an automobile mechanic or bricklayer, and that was an irrevocable decision almost, and they went away from the academic instruction of civics and English and mathematics, and so forth, into the more practical aspects of life. I try to meld the two together.

Also, we found that quite often young people didn't have any idea what they wanted to be, so we tried to move the career education introduction down to the fifth-grade level—although those children are much too young to work. We wanted them to start knowing then what sort of lives they could lead and what the responsibility would be for the different careers. We have an inevitable shift already underway toward more practical or vocational education.

I want to make sure it's not completely divorced from learning about one's government and one's life or music, drama, literature.

Q. Is that right, [that] all the government should do is follow the desire of the people in terms of education?

Governor Carter. I didn't exactly say that. That's an oversimplification of what I said. If I, as President, decided we needed to shift away from career education toward more academic instruction, I couldn't influence the decisions that are being made independently of the President's inclination within the families of this country.

Q. But don't you think it's the government's responsibility to set the tone? I mean in the past the tone has been set for vocational education from the national to the state level.

Governor Carter. I have to admit that my own opinion is that the shift has not been ill-advised. I was a graduation speaker at Georgia Tech ... I think there were 83 doctoral student graduates and only 30 of them had jobs the day that they graduated from Georgia Tech. I asked each one as they came across the stage, and I handed them the diploma. There's been too much of a divorcing within our whole structure of job opportunities on one hand— either very advanced jobs or the manual labor jobs—from the production of students from colleges or universities or from vocational schools.

We still have not bridged the gap between the two, and quite often we're turning out students who weren't even needed when they enrolled in the college maybe 4 years ago. And the Labor Department roughly speaking on the erne hand at the federal level and the HEW (Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) education component on the other hand—there's no correlation between the two. And this is a very devastating thing for a young person and his parents—to spend a lot of money, to spend a lot of time going through 4 or 5 or 6 years and then graduating and finding that because of the structure of job opportunities in society there's no opportunity at all for them to be employed.

So I think that there's almost a quantum jump needed in correlating, at the very low stages, academic and career education. And the second thing is, we need a close correlation between job-need analysis and the counseling of students as they enter courses of study in whatever school they attend.

Q. You favor a national health insurance plan, Governor. So does the AMA and so does Senator Edward M. Kennedy. I had a hunch that you'd be more at Senator Kennedy’s end of the spectrum. And yet, in a statement we had last week from Plains, based on the amount of money that you would move from the private sector to the public sector, [ft] doesn't sound like it's enough money to support a Kennedy-type national health plan. Could you explain, in more detail, the kind of a plan you favor?

Governor Carter. We now spend about $550 in this country for every man, woman, and child for health care—much more than any other nation in the world, per person or as a percentage of gross national product But the distribution of health care is grossly unfair, inequitable and the emphasis on prevention of diseases is much less than it was 40 or 45 years ago when I was a child. At that time, almost all my health care was to prevent diseases like polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, mumps, measles, typhoid, typhus, and so forth. That is something we need to change.

I have not wedded myself to the Kennedy-Corman bill. I have my own— my ethic would be to minimize government responsibilities as long as I could guarantee an equitable quality of health care for our people throughout the country. If it took extra money, I would try to provide it through increased tax revenues or from some other mechanism. I think that the net increase in cost of health care would be relatively minor. By that I mean less than $10 billion. But now, how much of that money would come from the federal government I have not yet decided.

I spent 7 or 8 hours with Congressman Al Ullman the other night in my home discussing this very question. And I've reserved the right to decide how much of the insurance program should be administered by private insurers and also how much of the administrative responsibility for health delivery would be absorbed by the government. But I think that the overall increase in net cost would be much less than has been generally supposed. And the other aspect of my proposal that would be different from the Kennedy-Corman bill is that I'm going to set—in every major aspect of life, including welfare, health, education—what I hope to see this country doing at the end of my term in the fiscal year of 1981 and work back from there. I want to have a comprehensive health care program fully established in this country in 4 years but how much we do each succeeding year will have to be determined by what we have available.

Q. This implies a phased program that would cover certain groups the first year, like maybe children.

Governor Carter. That's not exactly what I have in mind, but phased'—yes. It might take the first year just to make the present health care systems work. We now have an almost uncountable number of agencies in the federal government responsible for health care—I think 72 in physical health care, 37 in mental health care.

We have two congressional committees responsible for health care, major ones, five responsible for welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid, and two different agencies, and so forth. Just to make the present delivery system work would be a major goal the first year—this is, Medicare and Medicaid. And then I think the other 3 years would be utilized in expanding our present health services to recipients who don't presently have any.

Q. So by the end of 4 years, everybody in the United States would be covered by the same kind of universal plan? Or would we still have these pockets of Medicare and Medicaid?

Governor Carter. I would like to have it universal, but I also would like to have the option, which I am maintaining, of providing a basic package of health care to be provided to everyone. With the indigents, the cost would primarily come from government revenues which it is now. For those who are working, I would like to have the option of having that financed by employer and employee contributions. And those who decide to have extraordinary health needs met—for instance, plastic surgery and so forth—they would pay for it themselves. But I think that the overall net increase per year would be in the range that I've described at our meeting in Plains.

Q. How are you going to control the inflation? Medicare and Medicaid are pretty much responsible for the current spiral. If you're adding more people, how are you going to prevent an additional inflation from occurring from that?

Governor Carter. Well, there are many ways this can be done. We now have an almost uncontrollable inclination to build health care facilities that are not needed. We've got too many beds for instance in some areas of our country and still building them. [There is] very little correlation, in meeting a community's need, between the private and the public installations.

We've got too much emphasis on inpatient care—sometimes almost forced on the patient—by the unwillingness of the insurance companies to pay unless a patient is an inpatient. I think we need to have more emphasis on outpatient care. I think we've gotten too much advanced technology going into medicine when sometimes the return on the investment is very slight. We've got too much emphasis on the treatment of disease once it's become serious and inadequate routine preventive care. We've got too little monitoring of the inclination of doctors and insurance companies to kind of orient the patients into accepting health care beyond their own needs. And these kinds of changes, if initiated, I think, would have a great deal of------

Q. Do you see co-payments and deductions as an incentive to people not to seek medical treatments and to------

Governor Carter. I think that would be a likely prospect for the first few years of the health care program. If we see that we can accommodate no co-payments in the basic health care package at the end of the period, then I would like to see that done.

Q. If you had been President last March when President Ford announced the swine flu thing would you have done what he did?

Governor Carter. I doubt it.

Q. Why?

Governor Carter. Well, I'm not convinced yet. I don't have enough information to answer your question completely. I'm not sure that that massive swine flu inoculation program is needed, but I don't have as much information available to me, as I'm sure President Ford has through all his advisers.

Q. First, l'd like to ask about the Catholic vote. Some say that the Catholic vote is substantially dead now and Catholics, like those of other religions, will vote their convictions along a broad range of issues. Others say that you have a lack of support among the nation's 49 million Catholics, which is the largest political and religious bloc. Do you feel that there is such a thing as a Catholic vote, and if so, do you think that you do have a problem with wooing that segment of the vote, and what do you propose to do about it?

Governor Carter. We've run one comprehensive poll nationwide since the Democratic Convention, and the results of that poll showed that I have a 2 percent higher support among Catholics than I do have among Protestants, which is an indication that we don't have a crisis on our hands. I think among just average Catholic voters, there is no such thing as a Catholic vote. I think among some of the leaders within the Catholic Church and perhaps among some of the ethnic groups in the country who were normally Catholic, they have been concerned about me and my lack of singling them out for special attention and meeting with them, which I'm trying to correct now, seeing that it is a problem which I brought upon myself.

This so-called religious vote, in my opinion, has been grossly overestimated.

The original predictions that we had from public opinion polls ... were much more severe than we experienced. But as people got to know me and to learn more about my own religious faith, the concerns have been alleviated, and this has been particularly true in states where I had a chance to campaign—like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and so forth. So I'm going to do all I can during the campaign to meet more specifically with ethnic groups and with Catholic leaders to make sure they know me better. But other than that, I have no particular plans to correct a problem that has been exaggerated.

Q. Regarding abortion as a possible campaign issue. Do you see it as such? We understand that you've had some preliminary contacts with officials of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. What did you tell them about your beliefs and proposed plans regarding abortion and legislation regarding abortion?

Governor Carter. I don't look on abortion as a Catholic issue. I'm opposed to abortion; I think abortion is wrong. Georgia had a very strict abortion law while I was governor. And ours was a test case when the Supreme Court struck down the existing laws .... In 1973, I think, it was January, we passed as strict an abortion law as we could pass under the ruling of the Supreme Court.

I don't think government ought to do anything to encourage abortions, and I think we ought to have a nationwide effort through my own persuasion as President, if I'm elected, through sex education and access to contraceptives, for those who believe in their use, family planning programs, better adoptive procedures, do everything we can to minimize the need for abortions.

I see abortions as evidence of a failure to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And this has been my position all the time. I'm not in favor of a constitutional amendment that would totally prohibit abortion, or that would give states local option. I think that's the wrong approach to it. In fact, I don't think that a constitutional amendment is the best approach to it, but I think the Democratic Party platform wording was unfortunate, and I think improper in insinuating that others who believe very strongly that the court ruling should be changed, ought to have a right to pursue an amendment.

I think any citizen ought to have a right to pursue an amendment to the Constitution. That expresses my opinion. That has been so ever since 1973, and it's the same position I've described to Catholic leadership.

Q. If elected, how active a part will you play in official religion of Washington, D.C., concerning prayer breakfasts, evangelical meetings? What kind of a posture stance will you take in regard to that, say in relation to evangelists Billy Graham, Bill Bright (of Campus Crusade for Christ), and others?

Governor Carter. I would guess less than other Presidents have. My own inclination toward worship is to have it as much as possible a private thing. I would probably continue the annual prayer breakfast which has become historically accepted, but I think President Nixon had special services in the White House in a fairly highly publicized way, and so forth. I would expect to worship at a nearby Baptist Church on Sunday morning with as little fanfare as possible and, hopefully, after the first few Sundays I would just be accepted as a member of the church. This is what I did as governor, and I hope that I could pursue the same habit.

If there's one thing about Baptists that sets us aside from any other denomination, it's our total and complete commitment to the separation of church and state.

Q. President Ford was a pretty good football player. President Eisenhower also played football but probably was a better general. President Nixon was a sub in college, and they all said they learned a lot from the game. Can a man be a good President without having a football background?

Governor Carter. I hope so. I played on the under-140 pound team at the Naval Academy, in intramural football, but I guess my best talent was in crosscountry. I was a high jumper and pole vaulter when I first went to Georgia Tech, but I had a severe stone bruise on my heel and had to stop that so I began to run on the cross-country team. Lately, I've taken up softball.

Q. Seriously, we hear a great deal about how team sports—especially football—teach lessons that are helpful in life, that sports prepare a man to be a good "team player." Have you learned anything helpful from your sports experiences, or do you believe that sports competition has any real value in life?

Governor Carter. I do. I believe it does have a real value in life. I was on the varsity basketball team in high school and, when I was in submarines, I was the pitcher on our baseball team. I learned there, obviously, that you have to be mutually dependent to achieve an identifiable goal, and you have to learn how to accept either defeat or victory with some degree of equanimity and look to the next contest with hope and anticipation.

I think you have to yield sometimes your own selfish aspirations for the common good and be able to deal with one another in an open, sometimes competitive way, but not a personally antagonistic way. I think those are some of the lessons that you learn from team sports, and I hope that I remember them.

Q. How do you view the government role in the Olympic Games? Should our best athletes be subsidized or should the government spend money to provide facilities and coaching for all citizens who would like to get off their backsides and participate? Or do you see anything wrong with the United States doing the best it can with what it has and finishing second to Socialist countries which might spend millions of dollars to win gold medals?

Governor Carter. That's a question I haven't been asked before. But it's one about which I have thought a great deal. I think that my own inclination, as President, would be to encourage a much earlier nationwide competitive identification of superlative athletes toward the next Olympics.

I would like to minimize the role that the government plays in that process officially, but, as a spokesman for our country, as President, I would like to help athletes complying completely with the Olympic rules, both in spirit and according to the written rules, have a maximum opportunity to participate in sports, to encourage colleges, those in the Armed Forces, those who work in private life, to have a chance to compete and to train.

I think that if we can maintain the interest in individual Olympic sports throughout the 4 year period, we'll have a much better chance in the future to let those athletes exhibit their own innate superiority. I don't see anything wrong with this, and as President, I intend to pursue that goal within the framework that I've described to you.

Q. What teams do you root for?

Governor Carter. As far as football goes, I went to Georgia Tech and the U.S. Naval Academy, and I root for them when they're not playing each other. When they play each other, I generally root for the underdog. I’ve tried to root for Atlanta professional teams but with abysmal success.

Q. Do you plan to call any coaches or athletes after victories?

Governor Carter. Oh, I might on occasion.

Q. I understand you did form a task force on arts ... and I've been curious to know what the status of the task force is, and, perhaps in more general terms, your feelings about the arts in your life and about government control in support of the arts?

Governor Carter. Before the campaign progresses very far, I intend to make one speech or kind of a comprehensive statement on the arts, as they will be encouraged when I become President. We've got in Georgia, a commission on the arts that is headed by a young pianist, who also happens to be a Rhodes scholar, and we've had a major emphasis on bringing the arts out into the country, into the small towns and cities where, in the past, access to the visual or performing arts has not been adequate. I was asked last night by a group if I would pursue the concept of a much greater support for the arts within the federal government. I would.

I think this is the kind of thing that has been neglected perhaps since John Kennedy was President. I would like to reinstitute that thrust. Senator Walter F. Mondale's wife, Joan, has written a book about government and the arts, and I think she's already had some conversations with me and my wife about her role in that. My wife has been very enthusiastic about it, also. But this is something that I think has been neglected in our country.

When I've traveled in other nations, I've seen a much heavier emphasis on the performing arts out among people who ordinarily would not have access to them, who are not socially elite or very wealthy, and this I think would be a good thrust for our government to pursue which in the past has been ignored almost completely.

Q. Well, I think the National Endowment has about $85 million this year. That sounds less than you would like to see the government have in the future?

Governor Carter. Yes, sir.

Q. Would you change the basis of it all, I mean decentralize?

Governor Carter. Yes, I would like to see it decentralized. I found that when I was governor, that sometimes a $10,000 allocation to, say, a ballet group or other group in Augusta, Georgia, could be magnified four or five times over with local participation. And I still believe that we have fully tens of thousands of those people around the country who would be willing to make a contribution on a matching basis, either of their own time or a financial contribution to improve the quality of arts in their own communities.

So I think the federal government could provide the emphasis and the organizational structure for greatly magnifying performing and other arts better than you could by direct grants to a specific artist where the government paid 100 percent of a certain level.

Q. There9s a lot of talk these days about the amount of sex and violence both in movies and on television. I was wondering how much of a moviegoer you are, and how much television you watch other than the news, and whether you share that concern about some of the contents and what, if anything, that you think ought to be done?

Governor Carter. I hate to admit that I'm not much of a moviegoer, or television watcher. I am concerned about it It's surprising how many times this question comes up in audiences around the country, what can be done to hold down an overemphasis on sex and violence, particularly during die family watching hours. And I responded to this the other day at a citizens' forum in Washington.

I know there's a very narrow dividing line between censorship on the one hand and a minimization of violence and sex on television movies. I think the best thing that I could do is perhaps to express my concern to those who comprise or form those presentations and hope for voluntary—maybe stricter—self-policing in that respect I would not hesitate, as President, to express my concern about it, and I think that the President's voice would have a beneficial impact, perhaps. But I would be cautious about how to do that because I'm really strongly opposed to any sort of censorship.

I think that if parents and purchasers of goods, who comprise the viewing audience, say, on television, if they knew that the President was also concerned, that they might very well let their own displeasure be felt in a more vivid and effective way.

Q. Do you favor federal labor legislation covering farmworkers and, if the answer is yes, do you thing it should be achieved by bringing the farm workers under the present National Labor Relations Act, or should it be patterned after California's farm labor law? Do you know about proposition 14 on the ballot in California in November—the farm labor initiative sponsored by Cesar Chavez?

Governor Carter. My own inclination would be hold off on that national farm labor legislation until I see how the California plan works ... on proposition 14, it follows the pattern of established legislation, and I think basically I would have no objection to it.

Q. Some supporters of Humphrey-Hawkins say additional monies are needed to make the government the employer of last resort and that some of the funds for those programs should come from the military budget. Do you support the concept of government being the employer of last resort and do you think that a military budget cut could be used to provide funds for such employment?

Governor Carter. Well the answer to your last question would be no, I think that would be a simplistic approach, and I think that would be creating a false hope among people that a substantial amount of money could be cut from the military.

The Humphrey-Hawkins bill has been drastically amended in the last 2 or 3 months. So far as I know, every one of those amendments has brought it closer and closer into conformance with my own philosophy. I favor first of all that jobs be provided in the private sector, and not the government sector whenever possible, and I also favor a minimal intrusion of the government into the planning process of the private sector.

I also think that we had in the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, as it was originally formed, an unwarranted constraint on unemployment. The original planning was to provide 3 percent overall unemployment at the end of 18 months, which would have had a profound or inflationary effect on our economy. I think inflation would have gone almost automatically into the double-digit figures again. What has been done now is to set a goal at the end of 4 years to have 3 percent adult unemployment ... I think it is a reasonable goal to establish.

Q. Would you accept the basic notion of the government as the employer of last resort?

Governor Carter. Yes; but I would define "last resort" very strictly ... We've got 38 percent unemployment among minority young people. There I think a government program similar to the CCC that I knew during the depression years would be a good investment.

Q. One of the problems we face is battling unemployment and inflation at the same time. One of the things you favor is efforts to insure adequate supplies to meet the growth. How would you go about doing this?

Governor Carter. Well, I don't believe that our economy is now being constrained by inadequate supplies of steel, copper, even oil. I think that we have cut down so-called strategic reserves perhaps too much and there might be a good opportunity here to build up those reserve supplies.

What I intend to do before this year is over is establish what we hope to have as economic and social circumstances at the end of 1980 ... Let that be a government decision that's publicized by me and, hopefully, the Members of Congress will join with me in those commitments. And that will let the private sector make its plans accordingly.

Q. Would you use tax incentives as a means of encouraging private industry to do some of the things you'd like it to do?

Governor Carter. Possibly. My own general inclination would be to greatly simplify the present tax structure rather than to add on additional incentives.

I intend to pursue, as an immediate responsibility—and we are beginning it already—a complete analysis of the income tax structure that would start from scratch, not amend incrementally what we have now. I would minimize an addition of additional incentives and try to eliminate some of those programs that we now have.

Q. Many experts in the country say that the federal government is going to be in a budget crunch at least for several more years and not have much new money for new programs. With that in mind and your promise of a balanced budget on ahead, how would you expect to finance such things as your additional aid to cities and other social problems?

Governor Carter. Nobody can say for sure what's going to be happening 4 years from now but, based on a 4 percent annual growth in our gross national product based on a 4J4 percent unemployment rate within the 4 years ... I believe the budget can be balanced. That would give us at the end of that period about a $60 billion extra amount of money that can be spent for improvement of services and still have the budget balanced.

There's another tremendous amount of savings that can be derived in my opinion from better expenditure of existing allotments of money ... There's a great deal that can be done to shift away from dependency on the government

Q. On the subject of wage and price controls you said that you're in favor of some kind of standby authority.

Governor Carter. Only as a last resort.

Q. Would you seek such authority early in your administration?

Governor Carter. No.

Q. Where do you stand on divestiture of the oil industry?

Governor Carter. I wouldn't put divestiture as my first goal. There are two areas of oil company investment that concern me. One is horizontal investment in the coal industry and in uranium and geothermal areas and the other one is at the wholesale and retail level. I don't think there is adequate competition in those areas now. Unless I can provide adequate competition through other mechanisms, I would stay with divestiture. But I would try other means first. I think if we have vertical divestiture where we separate investment and extraction and refining and pipeline distribution and wholesale and retail sales, it would possibly cost us a lot more in the long run.

Q. When all is said and done, do you think that in this election year that the overriding issue before the candidates, that's you and Mr. Ford, isn't foreign and domestic issues so much as how you are perceived by voters in terms of character, personal morality, and integrity? Isn't that what they re going to vote for, rather than all these other things?

Governor Carter. I think you left out two very important characteristics. One is competence. Competence to lead. And the other one is sensitivity to the people's needs. Obviously, character and integrity are important, but leadership capabilities and a closeness to the people and the comprehension of what our people need are two additional component parts of the three I think are most important. I think the major overriding question is, how can we restore the trust of the American people in their own government? And those three characteristics, I think, are all equally important.

Q. But you do agree with the basic premise that certain characteristics of the candidates are going to override the issues in deciding the election?

Governor Carter. Yes; I do. The only thing that I was disagreeing with is that honesty and integrity is the only thing. You can have an honest person of superb integrity, but if he's incompetent, or if he doesn't understand our people, that could be a very serious defect.

Jimmy Carter, Excerpts of an Interview with the Los Angeles Times Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347652