Interview on NBC's "Meet the Press"
Monroe. Our guest on this special edition of "Meet the Press" is the former Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter accomplished the unusual feat of beating 11 other Democratic candidates in the 1976 primary elections and, in effect, winning the Presidential nomination weeks before the party convention. He will be officially nominated by the Democratic National Convention, which opens tomorrow here in New York City. He will then indicate his choice of a vice presidential running mate.
We will have the first questions now from Lawrence E. Spivak of NBC News.
Spivak. Governor, you once said, "I want the American people to understand my character, my weaknesses, the kind of person I am," and, Pd like to direct my question toward that end. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal charges that you seem much more preoccupied with getting to the White House than with what you hope to achieve after you get there. Can you give us some idea of what you want to achieve as President?
Governor Carter. Yes, I will try. There are a lot of specific issues that affect the American people: Jobs, inflation, energy policy, agricultural policy, education, health, fair taxes, and many others, and I intend to address them all. The Democratic Party platform does this very clearly, and we had a major input into its exact wording and into the principles expressed therein.
There are three general issues that have been most important, I think, in the election and ones that I have very heavy on my shoulders as a responsibility.
One is whether or not our government itself can be competent, whether it can deliver services that our people expect and need.
Second, whether the government itself, particularly the President or the leaders, would be constantly sensitive to the needs of people who are most deprived, who are most dependent on government to correct a problem in their lives or give them a chance to live a useful and a fruitful life, and a third one is to restore the confidence of our people, the faith of our people in the government itself.
But I intend to start working immediately after the convention with leaders of Congress, with our staffs, with advisers, with my own staff members, to put together proposals that I will pursue during the general election and then when I am elected President, if I am successful this fall in the campaign, to start reorganizing the structure of our government, making it competent, dealing with health issues, welfare issues, tax reform, and other matters of this kind.
So I am working very hard to express as a candidate, and, hopefully, as the next President, the ideals and aspirations of the people and to correct their fears, prejudices, and needs.
Spivak. Governor, a great many important members of the press who have followed you still find you hard to understand; their analysis of you runs from sensitive and compassionate, through enigmatic, to tough, and even ruthless. Why do you think there is such a wide variation of opinion about you?
Governor Carter. Well, assuming that the press is completely unbiased, which is an assumption I have a hard time maintaining constantly, I would say that I am an average person; I am no more complicated or enigmatic or mysterious than other people. I have heavy responsibilities on me during the campaign. Sometimes I am quite cautious in making unguarded statements to 40 or 50, or sometimes more, news media representatives who are looking for every nuance of meaning in every word I say. I have been a little bit hesitant during the campaign to tell jokes or to make light of things because there might be 1 out of 40 news people who will accept it as a very serious statement; but I think, in general, the public has gotten to know me very well, and I think there is more and more of a consensus now among the press, at least in the columns I read, about what kind of person I am; and I think I am sensitive; I am tough. I think I am a good planner, and I am still searching for answers to complicated questions.
I have always avoided trying to give simplistic answers just for political * expediency, and I have had another very unique opportunity, almost unique, in not having to respond to the pressures of special interest groups.
During the campaign itself, I have gone directly to the people because powerful political figures didn't have any confidence I might win, and these kind of characteristics of the campaign itself, I think, have caused some of the doubt about what kind of person I am.
Spivak. May I be a bit more specific? Surveys by the New York Times and CBS News this year have shown time and time again that conservative voters tend to view you as a conservative, moderates see you as moderate and liberals see you as liberal. How do you explain that?
Governor Carter. I think the American people resent being put in boxes and I have always avoided that myself.
Obviously, since the beginning of this calendar year, as the Iowa Caucus approached, I have been heavily covered by the news media, and it is not possible for me to make a different statement in Iowa than the one I make in New Hampshire or Florida.
I think that the differences among our ideological categories of people have been removed; conservatives quite often in the past have been stigmatized by racism. That is no longer the case. I think many conservative people now are fully committed to the principles of human rights, civil rights, and equality of opportunity.
On the other hand, many liberals who have been categorized in the past as eager to waste money or to have a complicated, overbearing bureaucracy now see that services in which they are deeply interested, better health care, comprehensive welfare programs, can best be delivered with tough management.
I think many of the people in the South have always looked on the federal government as a legitimate part of our lives, and we have never feared government as long as we felt we were controlling it. We don't like to see the government control us. So I think those sharp differences that used to exist between the liberal and conservative elements of our society have pretty well been removed, so when I say I am going to manage the government in a tough, competent, businesslike way, and also deal with the sensitive needs of our people on human rights, civil rights, good environmental quality, I don't believe there is as much alienation of groups as there was before.
Hoge. Governor Carter, in a recent interview you were quoted as saying that the nation is best served by a strong, independent, aggressive President working with a strong and independent Congress. Now, there is great public doubt at the moment that Congress is or will be strong, and there is also great public fear that during the last several administrations the Presidency became so strong as to become a threat to democracy.
Why shouldn't people fear that an extension of that trend would occur under your leadership since you believe in an aggressive Presidency, and, furthermore, you have won the nomination and might win the election without owing anything to those kinds of organized coalitions and interest groups that might act as a check on your intentions?
Governor Carter. Is it all right with you if I complete the quote?
Governor Carter. I also said that the President and the Congress ought to deal with each other on that basis with mutual respect for a change, in the open, for a change, and with dose consultation, for a change.
I have been a governor; I have had to deal with a legislature in a very controversial and also very innovative administration; and the best way I know to restore the sometimes lost leadership capabilities of the White House and the Congress is to have a searching for mutuality of purpose. When we get ready to reorganize the structure of the federal government, there is no way I could do that without the Congress; and I want to be sure that the responsible congressional leaders work with me at the initial stages along with, by the way, governors, mayors, and other officials of that kind.
When we get ready to put into effect a new welfare system or revise the tax programs, I want to be sure there is careful, long, detailed consultation between the White House and the Congress. But I am convinced that if this is done in the open so the American people know what is going on in the government, they would tend to prevent an abuse of strength and let the American people always have a voice in our deliberations as a government itself.
I think every time we have made a serious mistake in recent years in domestic or foreign affairs it has been because the American people have been excluded from the process. We have been held at arm's length; we have been misled; sometimes we have been lied to, and I want to put an end to that; and in that process I think we need a strong Congress and a strong President
I don't believe there will necessarily follow abuses.
Hoge. Well, Governor, you say that openness is a check against abuse and part of the process of openness is the press?
Governor Carter. That is right
Hoge. At the time of the disclosure of the Pentagon papers you counseled that there ought to be laws enforcing criminal liability against the press for publishing classified information and, indeed, some unclassified information.
My question is, if that was so, under certain circumstances, what would check the government's penchant to overclassify information to protect its own reputation rather than to protect the national security?
Governor Carter. I don't believe that is an accurate statement of my position now or ever in the past
Hoge. Well, it is from the Atlanta Constitution.
Governor Carter. I understand that.
My preference is that the press be open. I personally feel that the Pentagon Papers should have been revealed by the New York Times, and I would do everything I could to protect the right of the press to conceal its sources of information, and let the responsibility of the press be its major check on how it acted as it deals with sensitive material or with matters that might affect our own country.
I would have the strongest possible commitment as President to protect the independence and the autonomy and the right of the press to speak freely, and I favor strong sunshine laws. One of the first acts I intend to take if I am elected President is by executive order to open up as many of the deliberations of the Executive Branch of government as possible, and I would join with the efforts that have been pursued by Senator Stone and Senator Lawton Chiles of Florida and others to pass a comprehensive sunshine law for the whole federal government. So everything I do as President will be designed, within the bounds of rationality, to open up the deliberations of government to the people through the press.
Warren. In this regard, Governor, would you go as far as opening up your meetings with congressional leaders to the press and to the public?
Governor Carter. When I am the host of a meeting where decisions are made I would favor the meetings being open. But when an executive officer is trying to formulate decisions, I don't think that is a proper time for the public to be completely involved in the process. You have to have subordinates able to deal with their superiors, and you have to have congressional leaders able to deal with the President in the formative stages of ideas or decisions without the press being present.
Warren. If you will forgive me, Governor, in the past that deliberative period has lasted quite awhile, and most discussions between Presidents and congressional leaders have been private for that reason. I am wondering if you would really be able to change that without a declaration or a resolution from the Congress?
Governor Carter. Well, as you possibly know, a number of the states in this country, the ones that I know, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, California, recently Massachusetts, and I am sure others, have comprehensive sunshine laws. That is what they are called quite often. And they have been honed down now by experience so that the things that have to be reserved for privacy, ones that I have just described, plus quasi-grand jury investigations of maybe unwarranted charges against people should be private; but whenever there was a doubt in my mind about whether a meeting should be open or closed, I would go with the open meeting.
Frankel. Governor, just a couple more questions to find out who you are. You have probably studied the electorate in your path toward the nomination even more than the New York Times and CBS poll. Which of your political convictions, what things that you believe on the issues, have you found to be absolutely the most difficult politically to sell? That is, where do you find yourself different from the prevailing moods of the voters?
Governor Carter. The one single issue that comes to mind with which I have had the most difficulty has been the amnesty question. I struggled with this a number of months before I finally arrived at a decision that suits me. It is the one that is expressed now in the Democratic Party platform, which I favor. That is to pardon those who have defected from our nation during the Vietnamese war in violation of the draft laws, but to deal with deserters on an individual case basis. Now, this decision is not acceptable to a lot of American people, but it is what I intend to do. And I will begin the consummation of that promise the first week I am in the White House.
Frankel. Will you, by the way, also pardon the government officials who were involved in what you say was misleading or lying to the American public? That is that vast array of public servants who were involved in that policy? Are they available for duty in the Carter administration?
Governor Carter. Well, they are certainly available for duty. Whether I will call on them would be a matter of individual judgment again.
Frankel. Some of them will get pardoned?
Governor Carter. Perhaps.
Frankel. Are there any other issues that you sense the mood of the people on, where you think you are going to have to lead and get out in front, where the mood is not right for something that you feel needs to be done, and where you are likely to take one of these profiles in courage and take a plunge?
Governor Carter. Well, in many instances this would be the case. For instance, on the welfare program, there is no way to suit everyone. About 10 percent of our present welfare recipients are completely able to work full-time. I would like to remove them from the welfare system altogether; place them under the responsibility of the Labor Department, the Education Department, give them job training, match them with a job and offer them a job. If they are offered a job and don't take it, I wouldn't want to pay them any more benefits.
The other 90 percent can't work. I would like to treat them with compassion and concern and let them have an adequate income to meet their needs. That is controversial with some people.
On tax reform, it is going to take a full year at least to go through a comprehensive analysis of what our tax laws shall be. When the final report is made and when I lend my weight as President, if I am elected, behind it, I am sure a lot of people will oppose what the changes might encompass.
Frankel. Including most of the people in your own party in Congress?
Governor Carter. Most?
Frankel. Well, a lot of them who have been writing the tax laws for 20 years.
Governor Carter. I think some of them might I have already discussed this matter, though, with some of the leaders in Congress in both Houses, and they have professed to me they are ready to see this comprehensive approach taken to the tax laws. They have been revised piecemeal now for 40 or 50 years. In most instances when you do a small section of the tax law at a time, the special interest group that gets a favor from that particular aspect of the law can focus its full attention on that section to derive a continued benefit. The general public who might be cheated in the process has very little ability to understand what is going on. And I want to be sure that we have a comprehensive overall complete reformation of the tax laws. I am sure some people are going to get hurt. The ones that get hurt in my opinion, and if I am able to do what I am committed to, will be the ones who have been getting unfair, advantage in the past
We have other matters. For instance, in agriculture—I happen to be a farmer—I would favor full production, I don't favor any sort of price supports that would exceed the cost of production. I favor an aggressive sale of American products overseas, including agricultural products, once our own needs are met. Some people disagree with this.
In the field of transportation, we have seen a derogation of the quality of our railroads, inadequate attention given to mass transit. We have got too much blocking of streets unnecessarily because of inactivity or weakness on the part of local officials. We are spending enormous amounts of money putting in subways when just off-street parking and one-way streets might solve some of the problems. So I hope to be a strong and aggressive President if I am elected, and I would not fear making tough decisions if necessary. And I hope that I could persuade the doubters in the public, if I am right, that my position was advisable.
Monroe. Governor Carter, could you see religion possibly becoming an issue in the campaign coming up, considering that some people have expressed uneasiness about what it would mean to have in the White House a Southern Baptist, a "born again Christian," a man who is not hesitant to talk about his religious views in public?
Governor Carter. Well, that, as you know, has been a focal point of some of the news reporters. I have never initiated any issue about religion, but I generally try to answer the questions frankly. And it was a hard thing for me to decide about, whether to respond truthfully about my own religious beliefs or to try to avoid that issue. I finally decided to respond truthfully, because I think the American people ought to know it.
We have had a Baptist in the White House before. His name was Harry Truman, and I think he was able to exemplify a compatibility between deep religious beliefs and also public service. I have never had any problem as governor maintaining my very deep and fervent and lifetime religious beliefs as a "born again Christian" with my objectivity in dealing with the needs of Georgia's people.
One of the basic tendencies about this church, in fact one of the reasons it was originally formed, was an insistence absolutely on the separation of church and state. So I don't think this would be an issue that would be very cutting or biting or detrimental to our campaign.
Monroe. Chairman Robert Strauss of the Democratic Party, meeting at breakfast with some newsmen this morning, said he felt there might be a potential problem in terms of your candidacy with Catholic voters. I don't know exactly what he had in mind. He may have noted that a Catholic archbishop attacked the Democratic Party platform on abortion just a few days ago. Do you see yourself needing perhaps to address any uneasiness or any possible doubts among Catholic voters?
Governor Carter. Yes, I do, and Protestant voters and non-believers and Jews. You know, there are doubts among all kinds of voters. I don't think you can categorize, though, Catholics as one particular group of people to be addressed in a unique or strange way.
I personally would have expressed the Democratic Platform plank on abortion a little bit differently. Under the Supreme Court ruling, I will do everything I can as President to minimize the need for abortions. I think abortions are wrong, and I think we ought to have a comprehensive effort made by the President and the Congress, with a nationwide law, perhaps, adequately financed, to give sex instruction and access to contraceptives for those who believe in their use, better adoptive procedures, just to hold down the need for abortion.
I think abortions are patently and obviously a result of a failure of contraceptive techniques. So I don't believe there is anything that would divide myself and my campaign from Catholics who themselves, as you know, have a wide diversity of opinions on almost every conceivable issue, including abortion.
Monroe. Do you think Mr. Strauss is worrying about that much when he says there is a potential problem among Catholic voters?
Governor Carter. There is a potential problem among Catholic voters, but I think that we have met the same problem during the primary successfully, and I believe that you couldn't categorize Catholics as being any sort of uniform bloc, any more than you could Protestants or others. So I think we can deal with them on the issues of the nation, and I think they, as they always have, will respond favorably.
Spivak. Governor, I hope I quote you accurately on this. You have said you are conservative on spending but a liberal on human welfare. Is that correct?
Governor Carter. Human rights, civil rights, yes, sir.
Spivak. Now, I am not quite clear as to just what that means. How can you be liberal on human welfare, which requires the expenditure usually of a great deal of money, and conservative on spending? How are you going to reconcile the two?
Governor Carter. I would certainly continue, if I am elected President, with the same attitude toward government management as I did as governor. We maintained a balanced budget, we had strict budgeting rules that I initiated in Georgia. I think for the first time in any government, zero-based budgeting, where we automatically weeded out old and obsolescent programs. We established renewed priorities every year to make sure we spent the money or other resources on things that were of highest need in that particular year. We reorganized the structure of government to make it simple and manageable. We invested state funds on a competitive bid basis, and I think I ran the Georgia government as well as almost any corporate structure in this country is run, in personnel management, transportation, electronic processing, and so forth. At the same time, I think the best investment our nation can make of its resources is in human beings and not in buildings, not in construction. I think that when we spend money on better health care for our people, a better education for our people, that that is a legitimate and a very good investment for the future. But I would each year put into effect the principles of zero-based budgeting, where you reassess priorities on an annual basis. So where we did have a need, it was met.
I would expect before my administration would be over, or before the 4 year period passed, that we would have a balanced budget, assuming normal economic circumstances, and that would be something that I would strive for.
So I think there is a good balance there, and I don't believe that you can meet human needs or root out injustice or give people a quality of life without a well-managed government with the waste eliminated.
Spivak. But Governor, your critics insist that your general rhetoric is anti-Washington, anti-big government, anti-big spending, but your specific social programs that you propose will result in bigger federal government and increased spending. How do you reconcile this? Are you going to spend more on education, more on transportation, more to the cities, more on welfare, more on health, more on housing, more on jobs, more on Social Security? How are you going to keep from getting bigger and spending more?
Governor Carter. It would be ridiculous for me to say the government is going to be smaller at the end of the 4 year period than it was when I went into office. But I want to make sure when we do spend our nation's resources we spend on the things that are needed most, to give our people a good quality of life, to let our nation be adequately protected, to enhance the vision of our country within the nations of the world, and so that our people will feel responsible for and a part of their own government And I have never claimed at the end of a 4 year period we would have a smaller government than we have now. We will have a better one, closer to the people, so that when we do spend money or spend our nation's resources, it would be in an optimum fashion.
Hoge. Governor Carter, a couple of questions about specifics in the Democratic Platform, which as the nominee-presumptive you have endorsed, at least in general. One has to do with the Humphrey-Hawkins bill. The objectives of that bill have been incorporated in the platform. It would provide for federal job assistance to reduce the unemployment rate to about 3 percent within 4 years.
In a recent interview in Time magazine, June 28, your chief economic adviser, Lawrence Kline, said: "This bill could become an albatross, but no bill goes through Congress without amendments, and I can envision 10 amendments that would make this a good bill."
Now my question is, is that a long way of saying that you don't consider it realistic to reach a 3 percent unemployment rate within 4 years, and at the same time reach your stated objective of an inflation rate of about 3 percent?
Governor Carter. No, the principal expressions of the Democratic Platform are those I expressed personally in a public news meeting in Philadelphia shortly before the Pennsylvania primary. It does include a 3 percent—you left out one word, "adult" unemployment—which is in the Democratic Platform and also in my statement, and with the expectation that this would not result in high inflationary pressures, that with a normal 4 to 6 percent annual growth in our national product, which is slightly below what we are experiencing now, that we would have a balanced budget by 1979.
I think all those things would be achievable. I think that the Humphrey- Hawkins bill, which has never gotten out of either committee in the House or Senate so far, first, has too much of an emphasis on government jobs. I favor the orientation of government programs into encouraging private employment, not government jobs themselves; and I was concerned at first about how much influence or domination the federal government planners might have on the private sector. I believe in a free enterprise system with a minimum of federal regulation. But I think that the Humphrey-Hawkins bill is coming along in the right direction, and the principles expressed in the Democratic Party platform are those on which I can run and run with enthusiasm.
Warren. Governor, to explore a little further your position on the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, even if you attack the adult unemployment and reach a 3 percent rate, which would be about 4.5 percent of the total unemployment, how are you going to avoid what some of your advisers have warned would be a 15 percent inflation? How are you going to keep the federal government out of being an employer of the last resort?
Governor Carter. I have about 10 economists who work closely with me and who have for a year or so. They represent a wide spectrum of basic economic philosophy from liberal to quite conservative, and there is a unanimous belief among them based on careful analysis, on econometric computer models and likewise, that we can have down to 3 percent adult unemployment at the end of 3 years or 4 years with a minimum amount of inflationary pressures, still keep the inflation rate down to 4 or 5 percent, with proper government management. My own belief is that this is an accurate analysis. I am not an economist. But I think just common sense shows that one of the major inflationary pressures has been brought about by very high unemployment rates.
I have spent a lot of time in recent years studying the history of our country and almost invariably, when the employment rate is high, the inflation rate has been low.
One example that I remember specifically was when Harry Truman went out of office after 7 years. We had an unemployment rate less than 3 percent, an inflation rate less than 1 percent and during his 7 year period we had an average surplus of, I think, $2.4 billion rather than deficits, and at the same time the interest rates were low too.
I think the FHA loan interest rate then was 4 percent. So I don't think there is any incompatibility between low unemployment and low inflation. I think, in general, they go together.
Warren. If you were President today, would you have vetoed the jobs bill that President Ford vetoed?
Governor Carter. No, sir, I wouldn't. I think that was a very serious indication of President Ford's insensitivity to people's needs. We have got such a high unemployment rate, for instance, in the construction industry, I think about 14 percent on the average. I read an article in the newspaper this morning that showed among black young people we have an unemployment rate of about 40 percent. You have about $20 billion that goes into extra welfare payments and unemployment payments that could be corrected to some degree by that. This would have provided, I think, about 600,000 jobs in our country; and when you put, for instance, construction workers back to work, there is a very great magnification effect. I think President Ford made a serious mistake in vetoing that bill.
I might add one other thing. It was supported overwhelmingly, and I think the veto will be overridden by very conservative Members of the Congress. I think 80 or 90 percent of the Members of the Senate voted for the bill, including the Senators of my own state who are quite conservative on economic affairs.
In addition to that, it was well within the budgetary limits that have been established by the Congress in both Houses. It would not have exceeded the budget totals that have already been established by them as reasonable, so I think he made a mistake in vetoing the bill. I would not have vetoed it.
Frankel. We have discovered here in New York and in other big cities that what was probably the unwitting net effect of federal policies in creating )obs and :n dealing with poverty and welfare issues has been to concentrate poverty. The jobs have been created, by and large, in America outside the big cities in our recent boom. The poverty and support burdens have been left to the cities. So much so that that in itself has become among policy discussions an issue. That is, do you keep poverty concentrated, or should the net effect of federal policies be to disperse the poor among wealthier communities?
Governor Carter. There is where a well-managed government can help, Mr. Frankel, and also a commitment to restore a proper relationship between the President, a governor, and a mayor. And also to restore the proper relationship between the government, business, industry, agriculture, labor, science, education, and other entities in our society.
There is no way now to predict what is going to happen next. That would help a great deal.
Another thing is we have got too many categorical grant programs. Everything is fragmented so finely that the administrative costs and the confusion and the lack of clear assignment of responsibility almost prevents even a good program from success.
Another point I would like to make is this: Even though the President and the Congress might have their hearts in the right place, they might provide a very good program designed for those who need it most, quite often the final delivery of services or opportunities don't get to the people in the ghetto areas and cities who do need the services most, because quite often those who put in applications, who organize, who speak, are much more socially prominent; they are much better organized, they are much more articulate.
The ones that need services most quite often are deprived of the very services offered them by Congress. Those things have got to be addressed, I think, in the next administration; and if I am President, that would be a major responsibility that I would assume.
Frankel. I think the reverse is also true, that in many places now the jobs exist and the poor can't get at them either because of transportation or zoning laws or ethnic cohesion or whatever the issue is. The question is, would you favor really consciously using federal incentive programs to disperse a larger number of the poor, both to relieve the pressure in the cities and to get people out to where the jobs are now being created?
Governor Carter. I would have to say that wouldn't be my first preference. My first preference would be to orient the job opportunities where the poor people live. I will just take one example to abbreviate the answer; housing programs quite often have been envisioned to build homes where poor people live. A lot of the housing emphasis has gone out into the suburbs, and that means that people who are carpenters, who are bricklayers, who are manual laborers, who live in the downtown areas where housing renovations are most needed, have to go out to the more influential neighborhoods in the suburbs for their jobs. And I think the federal government, working with the local governments particularly, could orient new manufacturing and factory jobs downtown more than they have in the past.
We have had too much of a carelessness in the past about putting new factories out in the beautiful outdoor suburban areas. As a farmer, I hate to see this land taken away from agricultural production in the first place, and I think it would be a good thing for the federal government, working with the local governments, to try to orient the jobs where the people live, rather than to move the people away from where they are now, out to where the jobs have been created inadvertently sometimes or inadvisedly.
Monroe. Governor Carter, there has been some confusion or uncertainty about your attitude over a period of time on Vietnam. Did you, like a lot of Americans and a good -many political leaders, start out with one attitude toward that war and over a period of time change it?
Governor Carter. Yes, I did. I think that the attitude of myself and almost everyone that I know who lives in the South was fairly well expressed, for instance, by Senator Dick Russell and others. And I think there was a great compatibility. He always said, and I agreed—although I was just a farmer, I didn't hold public office—that we should never have been in Vietnam; that it was a mistake to get there; that it was a quagmire; that we ought to try to escape. But that, as long as we were there, we ought to bring a quick termination to the war, to back the federal government that had committed us to be involved, and, of course, all of us were misled to some degree by, I think, the misleading statements that the Vietnamization Program was working, that the South Vietnamese favored our positions, that they supported their own government, that this was an attack by Communist forces from the north, that it was not really a civil war among the same people. We all were adversely affected in our judgment, I think, by these claims on the part of our own government in which we trusted. The first time that I spoke out openly to get out of Vietnam, whether we won or lost, was in March of 1971, just a month or two after I became governor, But I think I was compatible with most of the American people who thought it was a mistake to get there, that we ought to get it over with and finally we said, well, let's get out, whether we have won or lost.
Monroe. What about your support in April of last year for one last final, huge appropriation of something like half a billion dollars for Saigon not long before Saigon fell? That appeared to some to make you out to be a last-ditch hard-liner on Vietnam.
Governor Carter. That was designed, and I think the Congress went along, to let us withdraw from Vietnam as we did, working jointly with our South Vietnamese allies who had fought with us, along with us, for 25 years. There were some who advocated our preemptory withdrawal from Vietnam, abandoning the 20,000 or 30,000 people who had worked very closely with us in leadership positions in Vietnam. I don't think we ever could have escaped from Vietnam without having the South Vietnamese turn on us had we abandoned them and taken a position we wanted to get the Americans out, but we don't want to get out of Vietnam those who have been our allies and friends and joint participants in the war. I favored at that time a quick withdrawal of our troops from Vietnam, completely.
Spivak. Governor, most, if not all of the southern states have right- to-work laws and your position on right-to-work laws has been somewhat in controversy. Can you tell us whether you believe in the principle behind right-to-work laws? Namely, that an American worker should not be compelled to join a union in order to hold his job?
Governor Carter. I think in general that principle suits me fine if the states prefer it, but I have always taken the position that if the legislature changed the law, I would favor it. I have a hard time deciding, Mr. Spivak, about this particular principle. I grew up in a right-to-work state; I ran for governor with a commitment to the labor leaders and others that I would be glad to sign a repeal of the right-to-work law in Georgia. I didn't want to see the federal government make that decision for the state.
I have maintained that position all the way through. But I have now taken a position that I think is compatible—that, as President, if the Congress repeals 14(b), that I would be glad to sign the repeal into law.
Spivak. But why, if you approve of the principle and consider it important, why would you sign a law?
Governor Carter. I don't see it as an important consideration. I have mixed emotions about it. If I deeply felt that, one way or the other, I would not hesitate to take a strong position on it I don't have any strong belief on one side or the other, and it is something about which I think there is much more of a litmus test on philosophy than there is a deep desire on the part of the labor people, the labor members to pursue. But it would suit me all right if the law stayed as it is now, but I just never have felt strongly about it one way or the other.
Spivak. Governor, I don't like to pursue this too far, but since so many people, particularly—your southerners------
Governor Carter. Yes, I know.
Spivak. [Continuing.] Think this is a very important issue, why shouldn't you, as leader, take a position and fight for that position, either to get people to go along with you or the other way?
Governor Carter. Well, as I said, I would not object to the law staying the way it is. As you know, we have had some very strong and very aggressive Presidents from other parts of the country. Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and later Johnson from Texas; 14(b) has never been repealed under their leadership.
I don't think they ever took a strong executive position that it ought to be repealed. I think their position has been basically the same as mine. If 14(b) is repealed by the Congress, representing all the states, that they would sign it into law; but I don't intend to take it on as a crusade because I don't believe deeply that it is a bad circumstance, nor do I have strong feelings on the other side. It is just one of those issues on which I think the argument is more important than the outcome, and I don't—if I felt strongly about it, or if I become convinced 14(b) should be repealed, I would fight to get it repealed. I just don't feel that way now.
Hoge. Governor Carter, on the defense budget, in March of 1975 you were calling for cuts in the defense budget of about $15 billion. By last November, your figure was down to $6 to $8 billion, and now I believe you are using a $5 to $6 billion figure, which is what is in the Democratic platform.
If that kind of progression was to continue, by the time you get into office you might be favoring increases in the defense budget rather than cuts. 1 am wondering what evidence you can give now that this figure, a $5 billion cut in the defense budget, is a meaningful one. In other words, where will the cuts come from?
Governor Carter. Well, the position I have had ever since I have been a candidate has been consistent. That is to keep a strong defense, which I think is the first priority of any President, the first responsibility of any President, a defense adequate to guarantee the security of our country from the threat of a successful attack or blackmail, and to carry out a legitimate foreign policy.
At the same time I would eliminate as much as possible the waste that presently exists in the Defense Department. My estimate, after a very careful analysis about a year and a half or more ago, is that this would involve a reduction of $5 to $7 billion, which is about 5 percent. There is not much difference between $6 billion and $5 to $7 billion. I don't know the exact figure.
I think we have too many troops overseas, too many military bases overseas. I think we have too many big-shot military officers. I think it is a topheavy personnel structure. I think we build too many military weapons that we don't need. I think the contractual arrangements with defense suppliers have been too loose. We have got too many instructors per student. We have less than two students per instructor in the military. And there has been too much of a spreading out of the Defense Department in areas that I think could best be handled by civilian agencies of government. So these changes that I have described to you would cut back waste equivalent to about 5 percent of the total defense budget, and at the same time give us a tougher, more muscular, more simple, well-organized fighting force. I think the unique responsibility of the Defense Department ought to be the capability to fight if necessary, and with that capability I believe is the best possibility for peace. So ever since I have been a candidate, my position has been what I have just described to you. I consider it to be consistent.
Hoge. Governor, on another foreign policy or national security issue: In the event of renewed Middle East hostilities and a resulting Arab oil embargo, you have called for a tough counter-boycott this time, in essence restricting all Western goods and services to the Arab world?
Governor Carter. That's right.
Hoge. Such a posture was considered in 1973 but it was considered futile because there were so many other markets, East and West, to which Arab nations could turn.
I am wondering what makes you think such a tough line would be effective this time around, if there is another time?
Governor Carter. Well, now, I think that is getting the cart before the horse. I think if we as a nation take the position ahead of time and the President expresses a position, which I have as a candidate, that if there is another embargo, if there is another attempt at blackmail, which was successful in 1973, that we would instantly consider it a declaration of economic war, and we would respond accordingly, with an embargo against the Arab countries who declared an embargo against us; and that we under those circumstances would not ship them any food, weapons, spare parts for weapons, oil drilling rigs, oil pipes, or anything. I think that is the best way to prevent an attempt at blackmail or another oil embargo. I don't think the advisable thing would be to wait until an embargo occurred and then to respond. I would do it if I said I was going to. But I think this is a good way to prevent an embargo, and I would carry this out.
Warren. Another foreign policy statement you have made is that you would encourage better consultation with our allies overseas?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Warren. Now, in the situation we have just been discussing, a potential oil embargo, would not our allies react the same way they did in 1973 and go their own way with the Arabs, and therefore would not our counterembargo fail for that reason?
Governor Carter. It may or may not. I have never tried to speak for all our allies on the response to an Arab embargo that I have just described. We can get along without oil from Arab nations in an emergency if we have to. Some of our allies cannot. Japan could not. They import about 98 percent of their total energy needs, and I would not try to make the allies be compatible with us by force or heavy persuasion. But I think it would be very good for them to know what our position would be if an embargo was declared against our country. This is a serious thing that I would like to avoid. We are now importing between 40 and 50 percent of our total oil needs. But that doesn't mean that all that import comes from Arab countries; and I think it would be good for us, and for the Arabs as well, to know it would be a very serious thing for them economically to declare another embargo against our country.
Monroe. We have about 2 minutes.
Frankel. Providing you control it, Governor, if you were President, would you use the CIA for subversion abroad to bring down a Communist government we didn't like?
Governor Carter. No, I wouldn't. I think the proper role of the CIA is the role that was spelled out in the original legislation that set up the CIA as a source of information and intelligence. And I would try to have the CIA perform its functions effectively and efficiently and legally for a change, and I would be responsible to the American people for that performance. I would have no objection to congressional oversight. I personally would favor a joint congressional committee rather than independent committees of the two branches of Congress. But I don't see any reason for the CIA through covert means to try to overthrow governments.
Monroe. Governor Carter, something you said at the Governors Conference, in press conference a few days ago, suggested to me that you might be considering a trip abroad in the next few weeks. Is that a possibility?
Governor Carter. No, I don't intend to go abroad until after the election in November.
Spivak. Governor you said the other day that your list of possible Vice Presidential choices has been narrowed to about seven. Have you been able to narrow it any further since then?
Governor Carter. Mr. Spivak, I still have three other people that I am going to meet and interview. We have done the most careful, possible preparation for a final decision, consulting with distinguished leaders all over the country who are not considered for Vice President, analyzing the voting records and past attitudes of these candidates, and then personal interviews by staff members representing me, and then personal interviews by me. And I have maintained an open mind deliberately until after all the interviews are over. The last interviews will be conducted tomorrow.
Spivak. Will your choice still be from those mentioned, or have you added to your list, or do you feel free to add to your list?
Monroe. In about 5 seconds.
Governor Carter. The last two people with whom I will meet will be tomorrow, and they will be Senators Church and Stevenson. I will be meeting with Congressman Rodino today, and as far as I know, the Vice President will come from one of those seven people.
Monroe. Our time is up. Thank you, Governor Carter, for being with us today on "Meet the Press."
NOTE: The moderator was Bill Monroe, the panel of questioners, Lawrence E. Spivak, of NBC; James Hoge, editor, Chicago Sun-Times; Gerald L. Warren, editor, San Diego Union; and Max Frankel, associate editor, New York Times.
Jimmy Carter, Interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347742