Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with George Herman, Ed Rabel and Robert Novak on CBS News' "Face the Nation"

March 14, 1976

George Herman. Governor Carter, a CBS and New York Times poll has found that liberal voters seem to think that you are a liberal candidate, conservative voters think you are a conservative candidate, and moderate voters think you are a moderate candidate. The numbers are pretty hard on that. Does that indicate to you that you have perhaps campaigned as a sort of a wishy-washy candidate, being all things to all people, and not taking any particular position yourself?

Governor Carter. No; I take specific positions. I think what it indicates is that people don't like to be put in boxes. What used to be straight liberal attitude in a very ideological way, and what used to be conservative attitudes are very much clouded in the public's mind. For instance, I've had very strong support from blacks; I've had very strong support from tough businessmen who want to see the government run properly; and in between good support from a wide range of supporters, both in New Hampshire, Florida, and also in Maine and Vermont and Iowa, and I don't think that the voters are in doubt about what I say; they just feel that I'm the kind of person they can trust, and if they are liberal, I think I'm compatible with their views. If they are moderate, the same; and if the voter is conservative, I think they still feel that I'm a good President. So I think this is a kind of image that's a good one; it's based on compatibility with voters, not because they've put me in little boxes as a certain sort of ideologically committed person.

Herman. Governor Carter, you say that you think liberals consider you a liberal, and moderates a moderate, and so forth, because of the blurring of the labels and the categories, and you jay you have taken issues, stands on the issues. Yet some of the stands you've taken on the issues seem to some critics to be a little bit blurry. For example, the right-to-work law, the repeal of the right-to-work law; it's certainly not the most important issue in the country, nevertheless you've said that you will sign such a repeal if it should be passed, and you are also on record as opposing such a repeal.

Governor Carter. Well, when I was running for Governor of Georgia, I told the labor leaders and also the public that if the Georgia legislature repealed the right-to-work laws that I would be glad to sign it into law. Now that was when my responsibilities were in Georgia. At that time I did not favor a repeal of 14—B, which is a national law. Now that I approach the Presidency, as a potential President, I've taken the same position, which I think is fairly consistent, although there is some inconsistency there, I admit, but I want everybody to understand that if the Congress passes a repeal of 14—B, that I'll be glad to sign it into law.

Novak. Governor, in line with this question of wishy-washiness and indeterminant positions, you have said constantly on your campaign that you're in favor of national, comprehensive, mandatory health insurance, but you don't tell how it would be financed, how much it would cost, and whether it would be under private or public auspices. Are you prepared to say that today, or do you think the public doesn't need to know your answers to that question?

Governor Carter. Well, I don't know the answer yet. There are two phases of a national, comprehensive, mandatory health insurance program that I'd like to reserve the right to decide later on, when I have more time to study it. I would presume that before the general election is over, if I am nominated, I'd spell it out specifically. But I would like to reserve the right to include the private sector, say, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as a copartner with the federal government in the administration of a national health insurance program. And as far as the exact percentages that would be derived from general funds, employees' and employer contributions, that's another subject that I don't yet know about my exact stand, but I think that's not very important to the voters. What they want to know is, are we going to have a national, comprehensive, mandatory health insurance program. I'm committed to that, and will work hard as President to get it implemented.

Rabel. Governor, the centerpiece of your campaign has been reorganization, as it was in Georgia, and you say you don't want anybody to vote for you this year who doesn't want to see the federal government reorganized.

Governor Carter. Right

Rabel. You talk about 1,9OO agencies being reorganized to 200, and yet you really aren't willing to say which agencies are going to be eliminated, what's going to happen to certain agencies. Why can't you tell us now what's going to happen?

Governor Carter. Well, there is no way for me to envision at this point as a fulltime candidate which particular agencies in the federal government would survive 3 years after I'm in the White House. It took me a full year just to study Georgia's government, when we had 300 agencies to start with; we abolished 278 of them, through consolidation or complete elimination. But we now have about 1,900, perhaps more, in the federal government, and I intend to cut those down to no more than 200. It's a goal that I've set for myself that I think is achievable.

Rabel. Well, can the voters really make a judgment on you if you cannot tell them specifically what you're going to do now?

Governor Carter. Well, whether or not they can, they'll have to, because there is no way I can take off from campaigning, do a complete and definitive study of what the federal government is and what it's going to be 3 or 4 years in the future, even if I was in the White House now, with all the prerogatives------

Novak. Governor------

Governor Carter. [Continuing] I couldn't do it, but let me give you one other point We now have 72 agencies responsible for health. I can't say which of those 72 might survive, but we certainly don't need that many. I would say two would be a gracious plenty. We have 42 responsible for education; which ones of those should survive, I can't say, but I certainly know that we don't need 42 agencies responsible for education.

Novak. Governor, I'll give you a question you don't have to take off from campaigning to answer, and that is that in your—no matter how many agencies you eliminated in Georgia, the payroll in your 4 years as governor increased about 24 percent in the state. Now in the federal government, would you reduce the federal payroll, and if so, by how much, forgetting about how many agencies you eliminate?

Governor Carter. I can't say that I would. We reduced administrative costs tremendously in Georgia, and shifted the saved money into better services for our people. This resulted in a drastic reduction in the growth of the state payroll; the last year I was in office, the payroll increased about 2.4 percent, and I can certainly guarantee that administrative costs in the federal government would be reduced drastically, compared to total costs.

Novak. But a lot of people have the idea that you would decrease the number of federal bureaucrats; actually, you would keep about the same number or more on, is that correct?

Governor Carter. I can't say they would be exactly the same or more, but the portion of our federal budget that goes to administrative costs will be cut substantially. We did it in Georgia; there is no doubt in my mind that it can be done in the federal government.

Novak. But you did increase the payroll?

Governor Carter. Total, yes; but this was in mental health centers, better prison reform, more teachers, better alcoholism treatment centers, and so forth, out of desk jobs, administrative jobs, into service jobs, yes, that did occur.

Herman. Let's talk about campaigning for a moment since you bring that up. What are your campaign plans? What is your strategy for the next period?

Governor Carter. Well, I'm immediately looking at the next four states, which are Chicago, Illinois areas, Tuesday, and then North Carolina a week from Tuesday, and then the following week Kansas, and Virginia. That's the next four states, encompassing about 325 delegates. And then the following two states, the fifth and sixth ones, will be New York and Wisconsin on the 6th of April, which have about the same number of delegates, about 340.

Herman. How do you think you'll do in Illinois?

Governor Carter. I think I'll do well. I've got two tough opponents there—well, maybe three tough ones. George Wallace is making an all-out effort in Illinois, so is Sargent Shriver, who formerly lived and worked in Illinois, as you know, plus Fred Harris, who has some very fervent supporters. Then North Carolina will be another showdown vote------

Herman. Let me stop at Illinois for a moment. I hate to get into this numbers game, but perhaps we should have some idea right now what you think you need to do in Illinois?

Governor Carter. Well, I would like to come in first in the preferential primary. That's what I would need to do to be pleased, and we are challenging 84 delegates in Illinois—I would like very much to get at least a fourth of those, and show to the other uncommitted delegates, or those who are committed to the so-called Stevenson slate, which is controlled to a substantial degree by Mayor Daley, or the Walker slate, which is for the governor, that I do have strong support in Illinois. I think it would help me later on when the time comes for those voters to make—delegates to make a final decision, if I can do well in their district, and say, look, I carried the votes of your own people back home, therefore you ought to support me in the convention—it would help a lot. So I'd say at least a fourth of the challenged delegates, plus to win the primary.

Herman. Governor, you really need, sooner or later you are going to need the votes and the delegates of the big, industrial northern states, are you not? Or can you write those off?

Governor Carter. No; I'm not writing off anything.

Herman. No; but you do need them?

Governor Carter. Yes------

Herman. Do you require them? Are they an important part of your strategy?

Governor Carter. Yes; it is, and of course Illinois is the first time that I'm really going all out to win delegates and votes. But I might point out that that's kind of an idle exercise because in the 13 southern states, which for instance are being written off completely by Senator Jackson, there are about the same number of votes as exist in Michigan, plus Pennsylvania, plus Ohio, phis New York.

Herman. 678 delegates.

Governor Carter. I believe so, and that's about the same as the top four states in the East, so I think that's a good------

Herman. How about those four states—New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio, with their 737 delegates?

Governor Carter. Well, we're going to do as well as we can in all four of those states. I've entered all of them, but the point is that my opponents are just writing off a total region of the country.

Herman. Can you win and will you win a substantial portion of those 737 northern industrial state delegates?

Governor Carter. I believe so; yes, sir. We've got good strong support in Ohio, well-organized there, and in Pennsylvania. We'll do well in Michigan. In New York, this is a very difficult state because it's still fairly well controlled by the political bosses of New York. We just recently, this week, got the legislature—and others—attempting to—to put my name on the ballot at all, and now my opponents, particularly Senator Jackson, is challenging on technicalities my right to have delegates in the different districts, but we'll do the best we can under those adverse circumstances.

Novak. Governor, when you were asked on the campaign trail about foreign policy, I noticed that you always make a criticism and get a great deal of applause for it, that one of the things wrong with our foreign policy u that whenever you walk into an embassy and see, quote, a fat, bloated, ignorant, rich, major contributor to Nixon, who can't even speak the language of the country in which he serves, you think that's part of what's wrong with our foreign policy. Governor, can you name one such fat, ignorant, bloated ambassador who can't speak the language?

Governor Carter. No; I wouldn't want to name any.

Novak. Well, can you name one, though? You make the accusation nil over. There are only four ambassadors, Governor, who gave contributions to Mr. Nixon. Are any of them that fit that category?

Governor Carter. Well, I wouldn't want to name names, but the point that I'm nuking is, and I don't do it every time I make a foreign policy speech------

Novak. Pretty nearly.

Governor Carter. Every now and then I do, but not often. When I've been in foreign countries, and go into the embassies, it's obvious from talking to the people in the countries, and talking to the ambassadors, that they are not qualified to be diplomats for this country. They are all appointed as a political payoff. The point I make is that whether they are actually fat or thin, that they are appointed because there are political interrelationships and not because of quality. Now, the last time I was in Europe, for instance, out of 33 ambassadors who served in the whole European theatre, only three of them were professional diplomats. The others were appointed for political reasons.

Novak. Governor, your credibility has been challenged by your critics and by some people in the press, and there are only 4 people who are now serving as ambassadors who gave money to Nixon. Three of them know the language of the country that they work in, and one of them is taking language training. Isn't that bordering on demagoguery when you make a flat statement about these kind of, quote, fat, bloated ignorant ambassadors?

Governor Carter. Well, I don't believe so. I think it illustrates a point very clearly, and when you say presently serving, I presume that you're not including those who have served in the last 3 or 4 years.

Novak. Well, you're talking about the present foreign policy------

Governor Carter. I was talking about the countries where I visited in the last 4 years, while I was governor and since then. I don't know exactly who the ambassadors are now, I haven't visited foreign countries in recent months, except Japan.

Novak. Are you going to continue to use that formulation and get applause from it?

Governor Carter. I may or may not.

Rabel. Governor, there is something else you do on the campaign trail. In front of some audiences you tick off the names of great Americans like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. And I've noticed, though, in front of some all white audiences you omit the name of Martin Luther King. Now, do you do that intentionally, or have you just forgotten his name?

Governor Carter. No. As a matter of fact, when you and some of the other newsmen asked me that on the plane the other day, it had not been a deliberate thing. What I ordinarily do, if the audience does have black people in it, I always do include Martin Luther King's name, even if there is only two or three black people in the whole audience. But since that was pointed out to me, I have very carefully included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s name and I am going to continue to do it.

Rabel. Did you do it intentionally before?

Governor Carter. No; it wasn't. Except that I always intentionally put Martin Luther King's name in if there were black people in the audience, because he was a great American.

Rabel. Why did you leave it out when they were all white?

Governor Carter. Well, it was not a deliberate thing, and it won't be done anymore, but it was just a reaction to the audience, and the leaders in which they would be interested.

Herman. Governor, I gather that Senator Jackson irritated you a little bit during the course of the Massachusetts primary, and you said, I believe, that while you were in Florida, that Senator Jackson exploited an issue that has racist connotations, and you said, I don't want to win that kind of a race. Now, checking back through the files, I find that famous AP dispatch of February 1972 that quotes you as saying that you would support in your own state, a statewide boycott of schools only if the General Assembly fails to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment prohibiting busing, And that then you might support a boycott of schools as a last resort. Isn't that a kind of a campaign—or not a campaign, but a statement with racist connotations?

Governor Carter. I think not. At that time, of course, I was not a candidate. I was governor.

Herman. I understand.

Governor Carter. And I was faced with a massive effort supported by many political figures in Georgia to mount an all-out boycott against our public school system because of the threat of busing in Augusta. As an alternative to the boycott, and in order to hold down racial tension in the state, I said that a better way to handle it was to let the legislature pass a simple nonbinding resolution calling on the Congress to address the issue through a constitutional amendment, rather than having all of our kids leave the schools all over Georgia. The impact of my statement would defuse racial tension, and I don't think it was designed to prey on the divisive and emotional and racist attitudes that did exist in a few of our people.

Herman. If you were elected President, how do you think you would be able to exert some leadership on the question of schools and integration? Do you have some ideas, some formulas, for achieving certain forms of integration without busing?

Governor Carter. Well, I think so. One way is that I could use my own family and my own background as an example. I think that the passage of the Civil Rights Acts was the best thing that ever happened to the South in my lifetime. The integration of our schools has not been a step backward for us; it has been a step forward. I think we've made a lot of progress in the South, and I think most southerners are proud of it. I'm not in favor of mandatory busing. We tried it in the South, and it didn't work. The only kids that ever got bused were the poor children. I've never seen a rich child bused. So we worked out in Atlanta a busing system that is my favorite, and I would emphasize this, but I've also made it clear that as President, I would be sworn to uphold the law, and if the federal courts ruled contrary to my own personal desire, that I would support the federal court. Also, I do not favor a constitutional amendment to prohibit busing, I think it would be a very divisive thing.

Herman. This is the second time this kind of issue has come up in this program—in this broadcast, and it disturbs me a little bit because I keep hearing you saying that you would follow, rather than that you would lead, if such and such a law were passed you would sign it. In your theory, doesn't the President have some ability and some obligation to lead and to try to get things done himself, rather than simply signing things that come to him?

Governor Carter. I certainly do. And to provide equality of opportunity for black people and other minority groups in the schools would be a very important responsibility of mine as President. I think I met that responsibility very clearly in Georgia. As a matter of fact, if there is one uniform base of support that I've demonstrated in all the primaries so far, it is support of black people who have seen what I have done in Georgia as governor, and I would maintain the same posture toward black people as President. But I still would have to say, that I can't mislead the people by saying that I would undo Supreme Court rulings, or if a court ruled contrary to my own beliefs that I would try to fight against a court. I would support the court rulings, even if it did disagree with what I basically believe is best.

Novak. Governor, you tend to have it both ways on both busing and abortion by saying you are opposed to forced busing, and you are opposed to abortion, but you would not attempt to amend the Constitution on either issue. Is that because you think you would fail to amend the Constitution, or do you have some philosophical complaint against any further amendments to the Constitution?

Governor Carter. Well, I don't have any philosophical commitments that would be overriding, but we, for 15 or 20 years, in the South, have dealt with the race issue. It was very divisive for us, a very difficult question for us to face. We faced it well. And there was a lot of bloodshed, a lot of heartache. But, I would not favor trying to prohibit busing in the states of the country by passing a constitutional amendment. It would just reopen old wounds and old sores, and have every legislature bogged down in debating back and forth whether or not to try and prevent busing with a constitutional amendment I think that is the wrong way to go about it. We have successfully overcome that problem, and I think that Boston, and other places now, are 10 to 15 years behind the South. I think that eventually they will come basically to the Atlanta plan, which says voluntary busing is OK, but the blacks have to be adequately represented in running the school system. That's my preference, and I don't favor a constitutional amendment on that subject.

Novak. I just brought up the abortion issue and you say on the campaign slump that some people think that abortion is murder. Do you?

Governor Carter. That's a hard question for me to answer. I have a deep feeling that abortion is wrong. At what stage in the development of the fetus it becomes murder, I can't say. But I wish that there were never any abortions. It really bothers me about it. The Supreme Court has ruled that the first 13 weeks the mother and doctor have a right to have an abortion. I wish that there were no abortions but I can't say at what point the abortion becomes murder.

Rabel. Governor, many liberals who supported you through the Florida primary, supported you because they felt you could defeat George Wallace, and you did defeat him there, are now having second thoughts about continuing their support. Do you need them now to win the Democratic nomination—the liberals?

Governor Carter. Well, as a matter of fact, I don't agree with your premise. I have seen a shift of many of—several of the liberals who were holding back toward me since the Massachusetts primary. I think my liberal strength has been increasing since Massachusetts, and I believe that after Florida it will continue. Yes, I do need them, very badly, and would like to have them. Some of the leading liberal political activists, particularly in Washington, have never known me, and I've never had a chance to know them, and they've been very reluctant to support me, but they are fine people and I would very much like to have their support, yes.

Herman. Governor, this brings up perhaps the most unpleasant question I have to ask you, and that is one of sort of sectarian—a sectional rivalry. There has been a lot of talk that some people in the South believe that liberals in the North are rejecting you because you are a southerner, and I detect a good deal of anger in the South at the idea that northerners cannot support you because you are a southerner. Do you feel that way? Do you feel that northerners have some anti-southern bigotry or prejudice about you?

Governor Carter. Just a few. I haven't suffered because I'm a southerner, politically speaking.

Herman. You have not?

Governor Carter. I don't believe so. I did very well in Maine, very well in Vermont, very well in New Hampshire. In fact, out of the first four New England primaries, I carried three of them first place. There is still some difficulty in my convincing some northern liberals that a southerner can be a good, honest, decent, nonbiased President.

Herman. Are you implying that this prejudice that you encounter is among northern liberals?

Governor Carter. That's right. What there is of it. But I want to hasten to say that I don't consider it to be a major factor. I think this is a tiny majority, I mean a tiny minority, and it doesn't concern me because of the results of the election so far, but I wish it didn't exist at all, and I believe that the fear of me because I am from the South is dissipating rapidly.

Novak. Governor, when you are ever asked about your desire to cut the defense budget $7 or $8 billion, you always mention how many generals or admirals there are; do you know, either in percentages or in flat amounts, what the cost of the salaries of the generals and admirals is?

Governor Carter. No; I don't.

Novak. It's four-tenths of 1 percent—four one-hundredths of I percent of $41 million. Don't you think that also borders on exaggeration in making that a major issue?

Governor Carter. No; it doesn't, because the actual number of admirals and generals is mirrored all the way down through the ranks. We have too much of an overload of bureaucracy in the Defense Department. As I said many times, we have more admirals and generals than we had when we had 11 million Americans in uniform at the end of the Second World War. And when you have an admiral, you've got an awful lot of people under him who are almost admirals. We've got an admiral now for 1.7 ships, we've got 8 captains for every ship, which I think is ridiculous.

Herman. I have to interrupt this flow of statistics and thank you very much, Governor Carter, for being with us on Face the Nation.

Governor Carter. Thank you.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with George Herman, Ed Rabel and Robert Novak on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347599