Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with "Encore American & Worldwide News"

April 05, 1976

Q. Why should blacks vote for Jimmy Carter?

Governor Carter. My record speaks for itself. When I was Governor of Georgia every act that I performed was designed for those who need the services of government the most, black or white—the rural, the inarticulate, the noninfluential, the people who are dependent on the government to give man a better life and who quite often don't have a voice in the shaping of government programs.

I tried to correct this by making a large number of appointments, not only to major boards and policy making entities, such as the Board of Regents, which runs our university system, and the Board of Human Resources, which runs our welfare system, but also to boards that concern testing and licensing of practical and registered nurses, barbers, beauticians, funeral directors, and so forth. Before my administration, black citizens had been excluded from that process; decisions had been made by white people for them or by rich people for poor people.

In the shaping of our tax policies we tried to orient everything that I did toward meeting the needs and caring for the problems of those who ordinarily had not been given an equal chance in the past.

In the field of education, after we integrated our schools completely, the major thrust of my whole administration was to individualize instruction, to treat each child as an individual and not to treat him as one entity in a homogeneous group.

We have assimilated our racial integration in the South and I contributed something to it in a very fine way. For example, I have an 8-year-old daughter who goes to a typical south Georgia school in the town where we live; the school is 60 percent black and approximately 40 percent white.

I think the intimacy in which I live my life and the administration of my responsibilities as a public official have indicated my sensitivity toward the needs of people who are dependent on government.

The last thing is I think we have the same kind of opportunity yet unrealized in foreign affairs to treat nations as individuals and to deal with them in a predictable and a compassionate and understanding and respectable way. This will particularly apply to the small nations and the nations whose citizens happen to be brown or black, who in the past were often treated with a lack of respect and sometimes even contempt and certainly insensitivity. As President, I think I can change that dramatically.

Q. What black support do you have?

Governor Carter. I've got strong support among black leaders, people like Andy Young, who was Dr. Martin Luther King's top fieldworker, campaigning for me around the country. Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. and his family have opened their doors because they have had a chance to watch me in close quarters in Georgia as a governor and they also see in me the kind of leadership capability, at least the potential, that could change the thrust of our government.

I think the President is the only person who can change the direction or attitude of our nation. For example, in 1968, we had a Democratic Congress; perhaps more Democratic than it had been in the past; then we changed Presidents from Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, and the whole attitude of our government changed toward an unfortunate people.

Q. What is the most significant change you have noticed that has taken place in the South?

Governor Carter. The best thing that ever happened in the South, as I have often said, was the passage of the civil rights rulings granting black people the right to vote, hold a job, buy a home, attend schools of their choice, and participate in public affairs on an equal basis with white people.

When I authorized the unveiling of a portrait of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the State capital, I made a little speech and I pointed out that Dr. King liberated black people in the South, but perhaps more than that, he liberated whites because we have been constrained for generations by the preoccupations of the race issue. I think a lot of progress has been made in the South, but we still have a long way to go.

Q. Although you have traveled to the Middle East, Europe, and to Latin America, will you, as President, travel to Africa?

Governor Carter. As President, I will certainly balance my travel among the developing nations, especially in Africa. Although I can't promise you now just where I will travel, I will make sure that the African and South American nations will be top priority on the agenda of my Secretary of State and members of my family. I think this is probably the greatest unmet need in our foreign policy now, because as I have been in smaller and developing countries, I have seen quite often the hurt that exists in them about our callousness toward them.

Q. What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?

Governor Carter. In the first place, I am not a lawyer, and that would ordinarily be interpreted as a weakness, but on the other hand, I am a fanner, a businessman, an engineer, and a scientist, and I think I can make up for not being a lawyer by my broad background of experience in other aspects of human life.

I come from outside Washington; I've never served in public office in Washington and that would ordinarily be interpreted as a weakness, politically speaking, because I haven't had access to the news media and I haven't been known by the top opinion shapers and the top political figures of this country.

I am a relatively unknown person, but at the same time I think that can be turned into an asset because when I get to Washington, I'll come in as a fresh person not committed to the status quo, eager to change things for the better and not responsible for what is there. I have tough, competent managerial experience, demonstrated as a governor, and have the knowledge, at the local level as chairman of a school board, as a state senator, and as a governor, of the problems that Washington creates in the actual delivery of services to human beings.

The Congress now has evaluated, for instance, a hundred different programs in the welfare field. Every year they launch three or four ships on the sea of our social structures without a rudder and they float around in the dark bumping against one another. Governors and mayors have to administer those programs and try to orient those ships toward a common goal, and I think I can see that from a perspective that demonstrates vividly the handicaps under which we suffer.

That is another problem that I may have had as a handicap, because I came from a small town, only 652 people. Still that gives me a very good insight into the proper interrelationship among people. We have fairly wealthy people, very poor people, and 40 percent white people and 60 percent black people, and I think if you want into Plains, Georgia, where I do live, and talked to all 650 people out there, you will find very little lack of knowledge about one another. We know each other and we understand one another's problems. It gives me a mandatory melting pot within which to derive my own consciousness of people's needs and hopes and dreams and aspirations.

I've had another potential handicap in that I've never been on the national political scene before; I haven't run for President before, and I was relatively unknown. Even as late as last fall, only about 12 to 15 percent of the people actually knew who I was. If they were asked to name all the Presidential candidates, they could not name me. And I've had to overcome that with just detailed, careful, meticulous organizational work, which I think has laid a good groundwork of a permanent political base for me, which will be an asset in the future.

So I think those kinds of aptitudes are good. It's hard for anyone to assess strengths and weaknesses. I think I do have some strength; that I have already described to you. I've traveled extensively in foreign countries in my adult life, and I have experience in the military. I think I would know how to eliminate a lot of problems in the Pentagon and I've got an outstanding family; there are 11 of us who campaign full-time.

I think that in general as I personally weigh my assets and my liabilities, my assets far outweigh the liabilities. I haven't worked with Congress, but I have worked with the state legislature, and I think that coming out of Congress you don't have the perspective or the inclination to make tough, bold executive decisions. One tends to equivocate and look at both sides of every issue and to continue the eternal debate and maybe to contrive a new agency or a new law to take care of a need without going to the basis of the problem. I would take just the opposite viewpoint.

Q. As President, what would you do to renew confidence in our economy?

Governor Carter. Our economic base is strong, we've just lost our ability to work together. And we have no vision of what this country can do.

The Ford-Nixon Administrations established the wrong priorities—tight constraints on the economy with scarce money, high interest rates, and let the unemployment rate go where it will. I would put the top priority on employment and holding down interest rates. I don't believe this would have too much of an adverse effect on inflationary spirals.

I don't think there are any easy answers to the employment problem. I personally don't favor the government's being the prime source of jobs because the only sources of funds to pay government salaries are the people who don't work for the government.

But there are many things the federal government can do, including provision of some jobs, orientation of research and development and new kinds of industries. One example of that would be in solar heating; other countries use solar heating to save energy. We are going to come to that very quickly. And this would provide jobs, not for scientists (because the technology is known), but for people like truckers, plumbers, pipefitters, carpenters, electricians, and plastics workers. With a minimum of expenditures you could get greatly magnified job opportunities.

A second category of job improvement would be in providing our people with a better quality of life. One of the fortunate things about the societal structure is that when you spend money on giving our people better lives, you create a lot of jobs, because that is people delivering services to other people. If you spend a million dollars in either public 01 private funds on better education, day care centers, or housing you get almost a million dollars' worth of jobs. You could spend the same million dollars on one more atomic bomb, but you don't get many jobs. So the orientation of our priorities could be shifted toward alleviating people's problems.

Another thing that we need to do to help employment is to revise the federal bureaucracy. There is no way to educate children, to care for the elderly, to have a good health program, to build a transportation system, or to have a fair welfare system with a horrible, bloated, confused, overlapping, and wasteful bureaucracy that is almost impenetrable for the average person.

When I was elected governor, we had 300 agencies, departments, bureaus, commissions, and so forth. We abolished 278 of them; we set up a simple structure of government. We have only 22 departments now, and anybody in Georgia, even if illiterate, with one telephone call can register a complaint, ask a question, make a suggestion, or get a need met.

Two other things I will say: One is that we ought to have an aggressive sale of U.S. products overseas. Other countries do this, but we don't. We ought to sell not only ammunition and weapons, which we do very well, but also other things, such as shoes, shirts, and agricultural products. Also, we ought to remove the government incentives, tax incentives and otherwise, that have encouraged U.S. corporations to make products in foreign countries, when people in this nation are out of work.

There are some categories where I would provide direct federal aid, particularly among young people. We have a 20 percent to 25 percent unemployment rate among 18 to 21 year olds. Among black and Spanish-speaking young people the unemployment rate is 40 percent to 45 percent. This should be corrected immediately. And federal jobs ought to be provided directly to the young people in these categories, similar to what we did during the Depression with a CCC or a WPA.

Another thing I would like to try is this. If a town, city, or corporation has to lay off 10 percent of its workers, I would like to see it retain 100 percent of its workers for a shorter workweek with the federal government and the industry sharing the extra cost involved. That is much cheaper and much better than providing unemployment compensation or welfare for the 10 percent of the workers out of work.

Q. What are the problems that you see in the nation's welfare system?

Governor Carter. We've got a serious problem in welfare. It's not fair to taxpayers and it's not fair to the welfare recipients. We have about 12 million people in this country who chronically draw welfare. We have about 2 million welfare workers. They are among my favorite public employees. They want to help alleviate suffering, unemployment, blindness, and so forth. But they don't spend their time doing that. Against their own wishes, they spend their time in offices, bogged down with red tape, shuffling papers, trying to administer these 100 different welfare programs that the federal government is forcing on us.

We need a simple, fair welfare system that has several elements. About 1.3 million of those welfare recipients can work full-time; nothing is wrong with them physically or mentally. They should have the opportunity for job training, literacy instruction if they can't read or write, and the services of private and public job placement agencies to match them with the jobs that best suit their capabilities. If they are offered a job and don't take it, I wouldn't pay them any more benefits.

The other 90 percent can't work full-time. For them, there should be one basic nationwide payment to meet the necessities of life, varying in amount only to accommodate the cost of living from one community to another.

We also should have a work-incentive aspect built in, even for those who could work only part time. For example, if a mother has two little children, the husband is dead, she can leave the children with the grandmother, let's say, for 15 hours a week and she can get a part-time job, she ought to be encouraged to do so, not made to, but encouraged. And she should not have her welfare payments confiscated. Now, a welfare mother who gets a job has to pay over 80 percent of her income in taxes and she loses her welfare benefits.

We should also remove the aspects of the welfare law that forces or encourages fathers to leave their homes, or to pretend to leave their homes. In fact, everything that the government does should be designed to hold a family together and not to separate them. And we ought not to have a hundred different programs, but one or two programs at the most.

Q. In opposing abortion, are you not taking away the accessibility of it for the poor?

Governor Carter. Georgia had a strict abortion law, which I would favor for the whole country. It was stricken down by the Supreme Court in a test case. In Georgia, we now permit abortions for the first 13 weeks, with the decision made between the mother and the doctor. In the second 13 weeks, abortions can only be performed if the mother's life is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. When the child is assumed to carry or sustain its life independent of the mother, no abortions are permitted.

I want a nationwide federal program established by law to provide educational services, family planning services, access to contraceptives for those who believe in their use, including minors, and better adoption procedures. I think abortions are a result or evidence of a failure to prevent unwanted pregnancies or to encourage a mother who has an unwanted child to carry the child to delivery.

Under the present Supreme Court ruling, I'll do everything I can as President to minimize the need for abortions in this country.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with "Encore American & Worldwide News" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347606