Interview with Neal R. Peirce of "National Journal"
Q. Would you describe in your own words the style and character of leadership you would bring to the Presidency?
Governor Carter. The President ought to be a strong leader... The nation is best served by a strong, independent and aggressive President, working with a strong and independent Congress, in harmony for a change, with mutual respect, in the open.
I have a great respect for the Congress, but I don't consider the Congress to be inherently capable of leadership. I think the Founding Fathers expected the President to be the leader of our country. The President is the only person who can speak with a clear voice to the American people and set a standard of ethics and morality, excellence, greatness. He can call on the American people to make a sacrifice and explain the purpose of the sacrifice, propose and carry out bold programs to protect, to expose and root out injustice and discrimination and divisions among our population. He can provide and describe a defense posture that will make our people feel secure, a foreign policy to make us proud once again.
The degree of strength of the White House is probably proportionate to the confidence and trust of the people in the office of President. There is not a time for timidity, but there is a time for careful, cautious consideration of complicated issues, searching for harmony among the disparate groups that comprise American society. I think the Democrats, and indeed the nation, are looking for an end to distrust. I think we've already seen strong evidence of this desire in the evolution of the Democratic Platform, where very controversial issues were handled with sensitivity, and with an adequate degree of aggression, but still an inclination to arrive at a harmonious answer to complicated questions.
The consummation of the platform promises ought to begin in the fall elections when candidates seeking offices of Congress, Senate, possibly governorships, will comment in their own campaigns ... on the Democratic Party commitments. This would be a good way to bridge the gap among the President and the other office seekers so that during and after that period, detailed legislation might be evolved jointly by the President and congressional leaders to carry out the approaches of our party. I think that would be good politics and would also add some substance to the platform promises, which quite often in the past have not been adequately used.
Here is where the President should provide the leadership, and I intend to do that in my major statements during the fall campaign, to cover the items in the platform plus others I might add, to provide, a general debate and a framework on which we Democrats can make commitments. So in relationship with Congress and the population of the country and other officials, the leadership, the role of the President is perhaps most important of all. I intend to provide that leadership as a candidate and hopefully as a President.
Q. Would you say that the general tone and mode of leadership that you would exercise as President would be close to or substantially different from the tone and mode of leadership you exercised as Governor of Georgia?
Governor Carter. It would be similar. I can't change my basic character or basic approach. I learned a lot as governor that would stand me in good stead as President. I think I can do a better job now of being aggressive and innovative and dynamic as a leader and also have a closer relationship with the Congress.
Everything I did as governor was done jointly with the legislature. It had to be. But there was room for improvement in personal relationships between myself as governor and the leadership of the legislature that I would hope to realize as President with the leaders of Congress.
Q. Some people have likened your approach to Theodore Roosevelt's— aggressiveness, activism, personal discipline, the theme of moral revitalization in American life. Do you see any parallel there in your own reading of American history?
Governor Carter. That's a great compliment to me. It's too early to say that I would like to be able to measure up to that kind of standard. But I think it's too early just looking at the campaign to say what kind of President I would be. I've always admired Theodore Roosevelt. Truman had the same approach to the Presidency in a much more quiet and less dramatic way. And I think to some degree, Franklin Roosevelt did too. I've spent a lot of time in the last three to four years reading about various Presidents and their attitude toward the position. I think I would be strong and aggressive— maybe a good deal quieter about it than Theodore Roosevelt.
Q. Is the description by James David Barber of an active-positive President along the lines you'd like to bring to the office?
Governor Carter. Yes, I think so. Again, it's a very subjective expectation and analysis, I would guess. I would be active and, I think, positive in approach. I don't feel ill at ease. I don't feel afraid of the job. I think I would be able to admit a mistake publicly when one was made.
I would not be reticent to use the office of the White House. I think I would be sure enough about my performance to strip away a maximum amount of secrecy that surrounds the President's function.
Q. How do you arrive at a decision on a major policy issue?
Governor Carter. Exact procedure is derived to some degree from my scientific or engineering background—I like to study first all the efforts that have been made historically toward the same goal, to bring together advice or ideas from as wide or divergent points of view as possible, to assimilate them personally or with a small staff, to assess the quality of the points of view and identify the source of those proposals and, if I think the source is worthy, then to include that person or entity into a group I then call in to help me personally to discuss the matter in some depth. Then I make a general decision about what should be done involving time schedules, necessity for legislation, executive acts, publicity to be focused on the issue. Then I like to assign task forces to work on different aspects of the problem, and I like to be personally involved so that I can know the thought processes that go into the final decisions and also so that I can be a spokesman, without prompting, when I take my case to the people, the legislature or Congress.
I have always promised the people willing to help me that we would not yield to political expediency—only when absolutely necessary to save the whole project. I think this gives volunteer contributors a sense of purpose and feeling the governor or President will indeed pursue the ideas proposed aggressively and without reticence. Most of the studies that have been made in the past ... [on welfare, tax reform, etc.] have wound up in a beautiful bound volume and the President has never put the force of his office behind it But I don't intend to do that
Q. Many people suggest that after the many inputs have been made, you make the decision essentially alone. Is that a correct perception?
Governor Carter. Yes, it is to some degree. In reorganization, the members of the legislature, the civil service workers, the business, professional and educational communities were intimately involved in the process from the beginning. They also thought they had a role to play in it. Somebody has to make the final decision in areas of controversy. To some degree that circumstance can be minimized by the degree of harmony that you are able to weld among those who do the basic work, and to the extent that the executive leader is part of the whole process. Then the isolated decision making role can be minimized.
Q. Some persons say that though they admire your decision making process, that either on policy or strategy, it takes heaven and earth to move you thereafter. Is that allegation of stubbornness on your part fair criticism?
Governor Carter. I think so. But you have to be certain the position you propose is best, and it can't be a unilateral decision. You have to have a mutual agreement this is the best road to pursue.
Quite often there are alternative decisions that can be made on the same subject with very little to choose one above the other. In grey areas, the necessity to compromise is obvious.
I've always been inclined on a matter of principle or importance not to compromise until it's absolutely necessary. I don't see any reason to compromise away a position early in the stage of passage through the Congress or the legislature.
There is a final forum that even transcends the inclination ci the legislative body. That's the people themselves. When you do have a difference of opinion with the legislative body, then the people themselves ought to be acquainted with the discussion. I've never had the inclination nor the knowledge about the process to twist arms or force people to vote different from what they thought. But I've always seen the effectiveness of convincing the constituents back home about the question and then giving the legislative members maximum credit for the success achieved. If the legislative leaders can be involved in the initial stages of a project, if they can take credit for what is done, and not be placed in a combative attitude, then most of those disharmonies can be avoided.
Q. Do you see any validity in people's suggestion that when you're convinced the principle is right, the brittleness could be so great you'd get into a Woodrow Wilson-League of Nations type of situation?
Governor Carter. I can't recall an incident when that's happened yet in my public life.
I've been through profound changes in the Georgia government that involved prison reform, education reform, government reorganization, judicial reform, mental health programs. I can't remember any instance, minor or major, when an adamant position on my part doomed a desirable goal.
Q. There were some comments that Jimmy Carter approached being governor like being skipper of a submarine. As President, would you like to avoid that type of feeling and have a more harmonious working relationship?
Governor Carter. I don't accept that categorization as accurate. It was made by the present speaker of the Georgia House, Tom Murphy, who's always been a political critic of mine. I never tried to be autocratic as governor or to run other people's feelings.
If I had, I would have had an adamant resistance from the legislature instead of the cooperation we experienced. But I would be much more able now, with the experience of four years as governor, to assure harmony.
Q. A constant theme of some observers of the Presidency is the dangerous sense of invincibility and infallibility that pervades the White House, especially after there1s been a successful campaign and the winning team and its leader are in office. Some talk of "groupthink"—a mutually reinforcing idea that we've conquered the opposition and therefore whatever problem lies ahead of us, even like a Bay of Pigs in the early '60s under Kennedy, we can conquer also. Have you thought about that type of occurrence in your Presidency and do you see a way to prevent it happening?
Governor Carter. Yes, I've thought about it. Obviously, I've seen it in other administrations. It's a serious enough matter to make every effort to remember the possibility and also to prevent the eventuality. One obvious measure that can help to prevent that kind of circumstance is a maximum degree of openness in government—a constant relationship between the President and the people of this country and the President and Congress. I favor strong sunshine legislation, and I will pursue that aggressively through Executive order. I'll open up as much as I can of the deliberations of the Executive Branch of government to public scrutiny.
Another measure that could prevent a recurrence of those tragedies is to have foreign and domestic policy shaped with a maximum interrelationship with the congressional leaders. I need their help.
I recognize my inexperience in Washington. Many congressional leaders have already pledged their support to me, if I should become President, in the most complete way. Another prevention that can be instituted is to maintain a staff with free access to me and encouragement of an almost unrestricted debate within the White House circles. I think we had this while I was governor. I guess there were 200 people in the Georgia government who had unimpeded access to me, through memoranda or personally. This was a problem that sometimes I had with department heads because the key members within their departments knew they could come to me directly whenever they chose. I won't go into detail about the sensitive relationship between them and their superiors, but it worked well.
I think this kind of mistake can be prevented.
Q. Do you have persons on your staff who feel free to say "that's wrong— everybody else in this room is wrong—including you?"
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. Do you encourage that?
Governor Carter. Yes, I do.
Q. George Reedy says that's impossible to maintain in the White House.
Governor Carter. I've read his book. I recognize that the stature of the Presidency itself is much more awe-inspiring that the stature of a governor or candidate for President. I hope, I believe, I can maintain my commitment to those preventive steps that I've described to you.
Q. Are there several members of your staff who feel they have that freedom?
Governor Carter. Yes... We had quite an argument yesterday afternoon, as a matter of fact, about whether I should release the names of 12 or 15 potential vice presidential nominees. And there was quite a free-wheeling discussion about that. I don't believe there was any reticence about it at all.
Q. Some say your wife also performs this function at times.
Governor Carter. She does. You could leave off "at times."
Also, I intend to restore frequent press conferences. I would say every two weeks, at least 20 times a year. And also restore the format of the fireside chat.
I believe an open presentation by the President to the American people of his ideas on matters of controversy or potential seriousness is a very self-disciplinary measure that would require the President to reexamine his position before those positions are made public. Once they are made public, then you have a massive amount of editorial comment. This would apply to our relationships with the Soviet Union or the 200 mile fishing limit or environmental quality or International Monetary Fund or aid to developing countries, for example. Many matters of foreign policy, plus a much larger number of domestic matters. I'm committed to doing that on my word of honor to the American people, and I don't believe I would ever be tempted not to carry out that commitment.
Q. Do you mean in relationship to these subjects?
Governor Carter. Yes, the frequency of the press conferences and also the fireside chat format.
Q. You've made a suggestion on accountability, of Cabinet members going before a joint session of Congress. Do you see any merit to another proposal that the President might appear two or three times a year with the congressional leadership in a televised discussion of national issues? Does that type of idea have any potential?
Governor Carter. Possibly. I don't know how much validity it would have if it was preplanned or staged. I'm not sure.
Q. Other ideas are people's press conferences or even letting people telephone in occasionally questions to a President in some type of a public format.
Governor Carter. I would certainly have no objection to that. While I was governor, we had a similar format, in that I would travel around the state for anywhere from four to eight days at a time. Let the radio stations know in advance when I would be there. They would call in questions ahead of time. The radio station manager would read the questions to me. This would be done live, and I would respond to the questions.
That was always a great pleasure to me. In addition, we had visitors' day once a month when anyone in Georgia who wanted to see me personally could come and do so. That would be a difficult thing to handle as President, but anything I can devise that would maintain a feeling of open access to me by the American people—I would try it.
Q. You seem to be seeking some historic breakthrough in terms of communications.
Governor Carter. Yes, it could prevent recurrence of Watergate. I think we'd also contribute to prevention of another Vietnam or Cambodia, when the President hid behind a veil of secrecy and the people of this country were misled about what was going on.
There would be no sure prevention for mistakes, obviously. But if you can tap on a truly continuing basis the experience and common sense and sound judgment and high moral character of the American people and let that be exemplified within the government of our country through the President and Congress, it's a great insurance against a serious national mistake, such as we've witnessed in recent years.
Q. The type of open Presidency you're describing—does that include "pressing the flesh"—or don't you think that's as essential as the kind of communication you're describing?
Governor Carter. I really don't think that's as essential. It's enjoyable and it's great for the ego of the President. It's fairly non-substantial as far as communication is concerned. In transient moments of contact with individual persons, there's very little opportunity for exchange of ideas. I think that would probably be of less significance than earlier, but I would certainly do it on occasion.
Q. People like George Reedy have talked about a republican officer as President—lower case "r"—less emphasis on "Hail to the Chief," great booming guns and so on. Have you given some thought to that?
Governor Carter. Yes, I'd like to minimize the-pomp and circumstance of the office. And I think the American people would appreciate that. I would not form a secret White House "palace guard." I would expect Cabinet members to play a much larger and more autonomous role, much like the role that was played by the cabinet heads when I was Governor of Georgia.
I would try to appoint members of the Cabinet in whom I had complete confidence, who could speak clearly to the American people and had judgment enough to act on their own. I would monitor their performance and try to bring cohesion within the Executive Branch of government as different departments shared a common purpose. But I would not have anyone within the White House try to administer the affairs of the Executive Branch of government.
Q. You have talked about your contact with everyday citizens, the help you felt that gave you to keep in touch with people when you were governor, and the help it could give in avoiding misadventures as President. Could you give me one or two examples of such contacts, when you were governor, that led you to new policy positions or new insights?
Governor Carter. Every month I was governor, as I told you before, I had a visitors' day, when anyone who wanted to could come in and see me. On one of the first visitors' days, although my wife and I had already participated publicly in a program for hiring the handicapped, I had a young man with a withered hand who came in to talk to me. He said that it was impossible to take the merit system examination for employment in the state government because he was handicapped. "Well," I said, "I'm sure that your own relatively minor handicap of having one withered hand would not be an obstacle to employment." He said, "They won't let me take die examination for employment." And I said, "That cannot possibly be die case." And he said, "Governor, I can tell you for a fact that it is." And so I went over and picked up the phone and called the head of our merit system, which is civil service in Georgia, and reported to the administrator of the system what the young man had reported to me. The head of the merit system said, "Yes, sir, that's right. Four or five governors ago a decision was made that we would not employ handicapped people in the state government." So the policy was changed. We later had an aggressive program for hiring the handicapped. But I could very well have gone through a large portion of my administration pushing hiring of the handicapped in private industry and other ways and then discovered that state government had a policy of not hiring handicapped people.
Another example was during my campaign for governor, when it became obvious toward the end of my campaign that I might very well be governor. People would quite quickly come up to me and say "Governor," or "Jimmy," or "Senator, I've got a handicapped child at home, and I hope you'll do something about it." And I would glibly say, "Yes, this is going to be one of the major thrusts of my administration if I'm elected"—just to get votes. I didn't really think seriously about what I was going to do. And after I got the nomination, one day in a grocery store a fellow came up and touched me on the shoulder, and I turned around and he said, "I'm going to vote for you for Governor." I said, "Well, I really appreciate that." And he said, "Do you know why?" And I said, "No, why?" "It's because I've got a retarded child at home." And he turned around and walked away. And I stood there shocked in a way to realize that the kind of political statements that I'd been making in the campaign about retarded children were actually such a deep, personal thing for a lot of Georgians. So I marshalled then a major effort to revise completely the mental retardation system in Georgia. I did it successfully, I think. So that's the kind of contact to me that's very important And under the zero-base budgeting technique, the instigation for change and for better delivery of services is deep within the department among people who actually deliver those services.
Q. Is it possible to make the vice presidency a substantially important position? There's been certainly, with a strong White House staff, a constant tendency to downgrade the Vice President's role, to make sure that he gets neither the exciting nor credit-winning jobs, and he's left with very heavily partisan duties or going to funerals in other parts of the world. Do you think there's a way to prevent that from happening?
Governor Carter. [laughing] I think it's an inherent danger. I'm certainly determined to make the vice presidency a substantive position. I see no reason for the President to be worried about challenge in public acceptance or public stature from the Vice President or anyone else. The office of the Presidency is so powerful and so much a center of attention that the idea of competition with a Vice President seems quite remote. I hope to have the kind of Vice President, if I am elected, who would share with me all the purposes of the administration in an easy, unrestrained way. And I think both the President and Vice President are best served, no matter what their future aspirations might be, by working in harmony. I think the people would react adversely to any sort of disharmony or conflict. I think the country loses when a competent Vice President is deprived of an opportunity to serve in a forceful way.
Q. It's just that it seems to have happened every time, no matter what everyone's intentions were at the start. Some people believe the problem is so inherent that they say there should be no Vice President.
Governor Carter. I recognize that. That's why I laughed at first and said that it seems to be inherent. But I'm determined to try.
Q. Would the Vice President or another White House staff person with direct access to you be given broad responsibility in the intergovernmental relations area?
Governor Carter. I intend to use the Vice President in major roles. It would depend on the background and experience and knowledge of the Vice President, where the emphasis might be placed. And I have not made that decision yet
Q. If not the Vice President, would another person have that role [in intergovernmental relations], with direct access to you?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. Some of the experts on Presidential leadership—Thomas E. Cronin in particular—say that there are really two Cabinets—the inner Cabinet of Secretary of State, Attorney General, the Secretaries of Treasury and Defense, and the outer Cabinet of Agriculture, Labor, HEW, Transportation, etc. The latter are said, after a few weeks of becoming Cabinet members, to become advocates of the special constituencies that they represent, and to become, as Vice President Charles G. Dawes once said, the natural enemies of the President because they're always trying to get more of the fiscal pie for their special concerns. Often Presidents do interpose staff members to fend off the outer Cabinet members. Do you think that's avoidable? Is there a way to treat your outer Cabinet as counselors rather than advocates?
Governor Carter. I believe so. Of course the same situation, the same parallel exists in a state government. The best mechanism to minimize this problem is the establishment of long-range goals or purposes of the government and a mutual commitment to those goals by different Cabinet members, both so-called inner and outer Cabinet members. The preparation of the budget in accordance with the long-range goals of the nation would help to cement the different Cabinet functions to a common purpose. Another element is the relevant priorities of the President himself. HEW, for instance. President Johnson was probably more aggressive in trying to deal with human needs than even Secretaries of HEW were.
The same thing applied in other administrations, depending on the relative importance of different elements of government service to the President and his staff. In any instance, when the President is laggard in meeting the needs of people, a given Cabinet member in that neglected area will probably be more of an advocate than a counselor. I think that's a good, built-in minor system of checks and balances. And I see nothing wrong with it.
Q. You're saying that you will have no "oversecretaries of domestic affairs" in the White House to whom these Cabinet members speak. Are you making a pledge that if you're elected President these Cabinet members will have direct access to you?
Governor Carter. That's right. But I would certainly reserve the option of using the Vice President in a major role to be determined later. I would expect the Vice President to help carry out, in a generic sense, the commitments of my administration and to deal directly with governors and other state officials, to work closely with the Congress and obviously work directly with the Cabinet members. I would not prevent, though, the governors, mayors, Congress and Cabinet members to have direct access to me.
Q. What kind of people and qualities are you looking for in the Cabinet and other major policy making roles? What kind of talent hunt method are you thinking of and what goals beyond just the brightest and best people in America—what types of directions are you looking in? How much would you be looking toward traditional establishment figures who've been in other administrations and have an understanding of federal policy making? How much fresh appeal?
Governor Carter. I think my inclination would be to go toward a new generation of leaden. I would put a strong emphasis on executive management capacity and sensitivity to people's needs. Obviously compatibility would be an important factor—not only with me but with other members of the Cabinet. I would ensure that those who are most dependent on government to meet their human needs would be reassured by the record and reputation and attitudes of the appointments I would make in the field of human rights, civil rights, justice, health, welfare, education, housing, transportation.
I would choose those in whom I have complete confidence to orient government services where services are the most needed—among the poor, deprived, the illiterate, and minority groups—and at the same time have the competence to deliver those services in an efficient, economical way.
I will probably continue to form my opinions about potential Cabinet members in the period following the convention when we start detailed preparation of legislation for issue analysis for the fall election. I will observe personally as much as possible the relative competence of the people who might be in the Cabinet in the future. I would deliberately seek advisers during the pre-election period with that as a major factor. If someone recommended to me a future Cabinet member, I'd be inclined deliberately to seek out that person as a working companion during the post-convention period so that I could become personally acquainted with him. I would seek the advice obviously of those who've served in previous administrations. I can't say I would never use somebody who had served in a previous administration. Obviously I will use some. But my inclination would be to go to a new generation.
Q. Do you desire a high degree of independence among your Cabinet members?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. Should a President tolerate Cabinet members who dissent from administration policy as heavily as James R. Schlesinger did as Secretary of Defense?
Governor Carter. I believe I could prevent that disharmony occurring by being more heavily involved in the evolution of basic commitments. I always managed the affairs of Georgia on long-range goals and I can't imagine a basic strategic difference developing between myself and one of my Cabinet members if the understanding were that we worked toward the long-range goals. There might be some difference on tactics. But I think I could tolerate the degree of independence shown by James Schlesinger—yes.
Q. You recently stated that foreign and domestic issues are becoming more and more interrelated, and "we must develop a policy-making machinery that transcends narrow perspectives.91 How would you propose to do that?
Governor Carter. Within the Cabinet structure, and within the process of evolving well-understood, publicly described, long-range policies in, for instance, economics and foreign political affairs, there's got to be some coordination. I would not make the Secretary of State the boss over his domestic counterparts. I think that the Secretary of Treasury, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Commerce and others all inherently play a major role in the carrying out of matters that relate to foreign policy. Rather than make one of those leaders dominant over all the rest, the coordination has got to come from the President, I would say within the structure of the National Security Council, or perhaps some other Cabinet structure. But I think there ought to be a realization on the part of the Secretary of State that these are the long-range commitments that I've made in the fields of agriculture, commerce, treasury, and so forth, and that the other Cabinet members have a similar awareness of the long, range commitments in foreign policy, and let me ensure, as President, through proper administrative mechanisms, that the disharmonies among these leaders be minimized.
Q. Do you expect to continue both the Domestic Council and the National Security Council?
Governor Carter. I'm not yet ready to answer that question.
Q. Would you pick many Cabinet or sub-Cabinet or key staff members from state and local governments?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. Is it correct to assume that some of your long-term associates, including Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, would be members of your White House staff?
Governor Carter. That would be a good guess, but I think assumption is too strong a word. I've never discussed it with any of them. And I will reserve that judgment.
Q. Do you have in mind what other type of persons you would seek for close-in staff—what kind of qualifications would you look for?
Governor Carter. I would guess that most of them would come from those who would help me following the convention in putting together plans for the election, for implementation of the platform, for working harmoniously with the Congress. There would certainly be some exceptions to that But I would depend quite heavily for advice, at least for the identification of staff members, on those with whom I've been associated during the campaign itself up through November.
Q. Many past administrations have been heavily manned with former Capitol Hill staff, who were familiar with various areas of federal policy. Would that be true in your administration?
Governor Carter. Well I think "heavily" is the only word with which I would disagree. I certainly expect to have some representation within the White House staff from those who are familiar with the workings of Washington, and also working with Congress. But it would not be a dominant role.
Q. Do you think the White House staff should be cut from its current level of 500 or 600?
Governor Carter. You can depend on it.
Q. Do you think there3s a need for a single White House chief of staff?
Governor Carter. I don't believe so. I did not have a single chief of staff as governor. I had, I would say, three or four persons who had equal responsibilities for different aspects of my own duties. And I would probably continue that approach as President.
Q. How central a role would the Office of Management and Budget have in your administration? Do you see using it as the effective arm to manage the federal government?
Governor Carter. Yes. Not particularly management, but in planning and budgeting, yes. I favor a complete melding of the planning and budgeting process, using the monitoring of the expenditure of funds in the carrying out of programs as a basis on which to predicate decisions concerning the next year's budget.
In Georgia, we had a team made up always of planners and those evolving the next budget. And this was an extension of myself as governor. We never got the Office of Planning and Budget involved in the actual administration of programs, but in the monitoring of them, yes.
Q. Would the consultation you talk of with Congress begin with key congressional figures in the formulative stages of legislation?
Governor Carter. Yes, it's already begun, as a matter of fact.
Q. Would it extend to broad numbers of Senators and Representatives who are not in leadership positions?
Governor Carter. Yes. Not only in the actual work with key staff members, but also during the campaigning process itself in 1976. I would hope that with a very good Democratic Party platform, which we now have, that there would be a mutual commitment by myself and the 85 percent of the Democratic Members of Congress who are running for reelection this fall that we would carry out the provisions of the platform. And at that very early stage, there would be a method by which they could cooperate.
Q. Do you think there are circumstances under which a President should seek to influence the outcome of a competition for leadership posts in the House or Senate?
Governor Carter. No. I really don't think so. I attempted that a couple of times in Georgia as an ostensible demonstration of my strength. It was a mistake. And I don't intend to try to determine in the Congress who occupies positions of leadership.
Q. Do you think the recent moves toward increased congressional independence—the War Powers Act and most particularly the new congressional budget process—will make it more difficult for a Democratic President to deal with a Democratic Congress?
Governor Carter. No. Not necessarily. I think it makes it much more incumbent on the President and Congress to share the responsibilities at the early stage of the evolution of foreign policy. I think the stronger the congressional budgeting process might be, the more sure the nation can feel that the final budget will be both proper, substantive and responsible. So I don't fear that at all. I'll prepare the Executive budget, using the zero-base budgeting technique. I'll submit it to the Congress for final disposition. I'll reserve the right to use my influence within the Congress to prevail on recommendations in which I have a deep sense of conviction they're proper. But I don't see anything wrong with the Congress having a very strong, very competent, very responsible budgeting procedure. That's good.
Q. Would you consider negotiation to set common budget goals with the Senate and House Budget Committees?
Governor Carter. I think consultation would be better than negotiation. I'll reserve the right to make the final decision on the Executive budget recommendation. I'll reserve the right to determine how much consultation there ought to be. As the Congress considers the budget that I propose to them, then will come the time for negotiation and consultation in a much more in-depth manner.
Q. When you were governor and consumer legislation was blocked in the legislature, you were openly critical of the special interest lobbies and the legislature's listening to them. Are there circumstances under which a major piece of legislation could be blocked in Congress, and you would feel compelled to make a similar statement as President?
Governor Carter. Yes. And I would not hesitate to do it.
Unfortunately for Georgia, I started working on consumer protection legislation too late. I was so wrapped up in complete reorganization of the government, mental health programs, prison reform, a new basic law on education, judicial reform, zero-base budgeting, that I didn't start early enough in my administration on consumer protection, and the special interest groups prevailed on about half of it. I prevailed—rather the Georgia people prevailed— on the other half.
I would use that influence of going directly to the people and identifying special interest groups that block good legislation. And I believe the President's voice would be much more authoritative and much more clear than any governor's voice could be, because of the close attention paid to the President's statements by the news media—much more so than any Governor.
Q. Would you describe your opposition to incremental reform?
Governor Carter. Most of the controversial issues that are not routinely well-addressed can only respond to a comprehensive approach. Incremental efforts to make basic changes are often foredoomed to failure because the special interest groups can benefit from the status quo, can focus their attention on the increments that most affect themselves, and the general public can't be made either interested or aware.
Let's say welfare or tax reform or government reorganization is addressed, then a governor or a President can say "this is what we have now—quite often a terrible mess—this is what we can have—a much improved circumstance— and these are the steps to arrive at the change."
If it's clear, comprehensive and it's presented in such a way as to arouse the support of the people, then the special interests quite often back off because most of them don't want to be exposed to a public altercation against the people of a state or nation. So the comprehensive approach is inherently necessary to make controversial decisions.
Q. Everyone says that in reorganization, you bird-tailed every detail, both in passage and implementation.
Governor Carter. I think I did. When the process was approaching a conclusion, I knew as much about the state government—its present form, the need for the changes—as anyone in Georgia. I also had a close enough relationship with the specialists in matters like personnel management, transportation, electronic data processing, printing, plus organizational structure, to speak with authority on the subject. But somebody has to understand the whole process in the comprehensive state. If the person is a good manager and organizer, this can be done without interfering with the administrative responsibilities of the executive.
I recognize you can't as governor or President, you can't drop everything and just work on one item exclusively... You don't drop everything else. But you have to let your workers know you're deeply interested and you have to let the persons who are deeply affected by the changes participate in the project from its inception.
Q. Do you remain committed to seeking reauthorization of the Executive Branch reorganization authority that was enacted in 1949 but expired in 1973?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. And are you going to ask Congress early in 1977 to grant that authority as an early priority?
Governor Carter. Yes. I might even ask them in 1976 during the campaign.
Q. If this attempt to win reorganization authority were to fail, would the "sunset" bill now before Congress—which would put all federal programs on a five-year cycle and thus provide an opportunity for Presidential leadership in what is extended and what not—be a logical fallback position for you?
Governor Carter. I don't consider that a fallback position, but I consider that a correlative commitment. The two are mutually exclusive. I don't believe that the sunset legislation or zero-base budgeting would be effective with the present conglomerate organizational structure. So I consider them to be separate considerations entirely, all of them almost mandatory: government reorganization, and either zero-base budgeting or the sunset approach. I personally favor zero-base budgeting, but they are related, one to another.
Q. Both—sunset legislation and zero-base budgeting—could coexist, couldn't they?
Governor Carter. Yes, they could, certainly.
Q. Would you expect reorganization, in addition to making the federal bureaucracy more rational and accessible, to cause the elimination of a substantial number of outmoded programs?
Governor Carter. Yes. The programs themselves are much more effectively eliminated through zero-base budgeting techniques. But as the programs become obsolescent, the major consideration is to detect that obsolescence and to act on it. I think that the proliferation of government agencies is quite often related to the number of programs, so that I don't believe it will be possible to separate the considerations.
Q. Wouldn't any reorganization plan that you proposed be likely to encounter massive and perhaps crippling opposition from entrenched federal interest groups? I can name three: the government employee unions, leery about any steps that might cut the number of jobs; the so-called "poverty-industrial complex" of social workers and others; and third, congressional chairmen and subcommittee chairmen who are fearful of any departmental reorganization that could render obsolete their chairmanships, power and patronage.
Governor Carter. All three of those are possible sources of opposition. Similar opposition is obviously a characteristic of state government. But the answer to all those is to provide more effective government in the areas of life that interest those groups.
When I demonstrated to the civil service employees in Georgia that their professional careers could be more productive—the clear assignment of responsibility, clear delineation of authority, minimum of red tape, minimum of paperwork, much more productive delivery of services—they became strong supporters of reorganization. At first, they were very afraid of it.
Secondly, the special interest groups. If we can combine comprehensive welfare reform, comprehensive national health care, better tax programs and tax reforms, this is the best way to assuage the special interest groups that are interested in social programs.
The Congress is a key to the whole question. I believe that most of the Members of Congress, and certainly all with whom I've discussed this question, recognize the low esteem now of Congress in the eyes of the public. I think they'll be very eager to share the credit for government improvement Their interest is the same as mine. I think most Members of Congress want to do a good job. I don't think they would put their own chairmanships above the public interest if that public interest could be clearly identified.
The other factor is this; we will have made, during the campaign this year, a commitment to the people to carry out these changes. I hope that as many candidates for Congress as possible will have an opportunity to express themselves on the subject. And if I should have an ultimate disagreement with any of these groups, including the Congress, I would take my case directly to the people and let them be the ultimate forum. And I think they could prevail over public employees, they could prevail over the special interest groups, they could prevail over the Members of Congress.
Q. Can a President really control the permanent bureaucratic government in Washington? A corollary is—can the President use inspirational leadership to motivate the Civil Service?
Governor Carter. The President can't control the bureaucracy if there's a disharmonious or combative relationship between the President and those responsible for carrying out executive responsibilities. I don't intend to have that kind of relationship. I'll consider the employees of the federal government to be my allies, not my enemies, and try to work intimately with them in the consummation of any changes that relate to their own public service. There's no other source of leadership of a comprehensive nature than the President. In the absence of that leadership, there is no leadership.
Q. Would some of the type of inspirational leadership you've used in the campaign be applicable to working with federal workers?
Governor Carter. Yes, I believe so. I believe that there's a desire among elected officials and professional career workers in the federal government to do a good job.
Q. Some citizens are concerned about federal pay and fringe benefits that are above those paid in private industry. Is that a concern of yours?
Governor Carter. Some aspects of retirement are definitely a concern of mine. I would want to make sure that retirement benefits and pay for federal employees are compatible with those in private life, and not excessively superior, and certainly not inferior.
Q. Some studies have shown an immense turnover in high administration ranks, especially at the assistant secretary level—16 months, for instance, being average tenure. Many people then leave before they’ve mastered their jobs. Do you think that's a serious problem? Do you see a way to counteract it?
Governor Carter. It's a serious problem. I don't blame them for leaving. With the present bureaucratic mess we've got in Washington, the experience of trying to administer an unmanageable bureaucracy must be extremely frustrating to anyone. I believe that my record in Georgia, with tremendous stability at the leadership level, would be a good indication of what might very well materialize in the next administration if I'm President. But this is something that can only be corrected with proper management, with clear goals and policies, with coordination of different elements of the Executive Branch of government, a close working relationship with the Congress, a sense of gratification and a justifiable degree of appreciation within the public for the good job that's being done in Washington. Almost all those elements now are missing.
Q. On civil service, because of the many incredibly hard and rigid rules and conditions on hiring, promoting and firing, some people have suggested that the U.S. Civil Service Commission should be split. They suggest there should be a hiring management arm of the federal government to get the best possible employees, and then a separate agency for their protection against political abuse or unjust firing or other unfair treatment. Have you ever considered that type of change?
Governor Carter. No, I haven't thought about it. Georgia has both functions combined into one department.
Q. The federal government does too, in the Civil Service Commission. Some people believe that's part of the problem.
Governor Carter. My experience with the Georgia merit system administration was fairly good, although it's a thankless job. I couldn't say we didn't have problems with it—we had constant problems. I haven't considered whether any of the problems were because of a need for separation of the two functions. I wouldn't mark it off...
We had some problems with reorganization. I didn't fire anybody because of reorganization, but I reserved the right to transfer them to more productive jobs with no loss in pay status or seniority. And I also reserved the right not to refill vacancies as they occurred. That was enough of a leverage for me to exert.
The time frame of planning out a reorganizational proposal is long enough so that normal attrition provides you with a tremendous amount of flexibility; So we didn't have any problems there. As a matter of fact, before the recession came, and unemployment went way up and state jobs got so valuable, we had an average of about a 15 percent attrition rate every year—this was a nationwide average for state governments. I haven't seen a more recent figure—I'd guess it might be half that or maybe 8 or 10 percent. If it takes you three years to carry out something with a 15 percent annual attrition rate, that's a maximum.
Q. Would you be so fortunate at the federal level, where you're dealing with a much more entrenched bureaucracy?
Governor Carter. Yes, I know that. I recognize that.
Q. A contributing factor is that the employee benefits are so high that people fust can't think of leaving after a few years. Doesn't that make the job of an executive, to motivate federal workers, all the more difficult?
Governor Carter. Well, public scrutiny and natural pride in one's one and only life work on earth is a pretty heavy motivation. And I think it's a mistake— and I don't think I'm being naive about it—I think it's a mistake for us to think that I as a politician, or you as a journalist, have a higher commitment to do something worthy with our lives than the ones who work in public office...
And there's a peer pressure, too, that exists there. When higher standards are demanded of people and when there's a spirit of competition involved, then to have one laggard in an office quite often results in focusing criticism on this person by their peers...
Q. Would their understanding of intergovernmental relations be one reason for your intended choice of many key local officials for positions in your administration?
Governor Carter. Yes. And I also intend to adhere strictly to a rule of having representatives of state and local government to help me in the evolution and consummation of major program changes, including the drafting of legislation. I want to make sure that the programs we put through Congress work at the delivery end. I think the best way to assure that is for governors, mayors and other officials of state and local government to be involved from the beginning.
Q. Your statements and the Democratic Platform indicate a desire for more federal aid to states and cities in the next years. If that issue is then put to the side, how do you feel about "New Federalism" in terms of devolution of authority to state and local governments? Do you favor more of it?
Governor Carter. Yes, I do. There are some programs that must be coordinated at the federal level just to provide equity. But whenever possible, I would give the authority to the local or state government to deliver services and to control the mechanism of delivery to meet the needs of the citizens of individual communities.
One area, to illustrate the point, would be in the field of education. I see a growing role for the federal government in financing education to eliminate discrepancies in the amount of local financing available in a community for the children who live there. But I would want to keep control of the school system as near as possible to the local government.
Q. Are you concerned about federal funding reaching such levels that the impetus is lost for fundamental tax reforms on the state and local level, particularly the state level?
Governor Carter. I don't believe that's a danger. I would be much more inclined to give local governments financial relief than I would be to give states financial relief—for several reasons.
One is that the states have almost complete flexibility in their basic taxation and their rate of taxation. Second, the states have much more flexibility in the services that they deliver. Third, the states have a much greater authority to decide their own commitments than do local governments, because many of the local governments' decisions are made at the state legislative level. And fourth, the states have a much more progressive tax structure, based quite often on income tax, corporate tax, corporate and personal income taxes, whereas the local governments' tax base is most often restricted primarily to property taxes and state taxes, which are inflexible and also fall more heavily on the low-income families. So for all those reasons, I would favor, when given a choice, the allocation of federal funds to local governments in preference to state governments.
Q. Would some devolution of authority to state and local governments be part of your reorganization?
Governor Carter. I think that would come more naturally under the process of writing new programs in the field of education, health care, welfare reform, than under the reorganization of the federal government mechanism itself.
Q. Would the heaviest priority of your administration be on foreign or domestic affairs?
Governor Carter. The number one responsibility of any President, above everything else, is to guarantee the security of his country—freedom from fear of attack or successful attack or blackmail, the ability to carry out a legitimate foreign policy. I would certainly place that aspect of life and world peace in a preeminent position. As far as the amount of time devoted to domestic or foreign affairs, I would guess that most of the time would be devoted to domestic affairs.
Q. Some recent Presidents seem to have had a sickly fascination with foreign affairs—crisis management, the daily secret briefings, dealings with heads of state—all the while avoiding some hard domestic problems and slogging budget questions. Would you seek to avoid that type of diversion of time into foreign affairs?
Governor Carter. Yes, I would. I think a crucial prerequisite of an effective foreign policy is to restore the confidence and morale and commitment of our people in their own domestic affairs. So I would not use foreign affairs or foreign trips as an escape mechanism to avoid responsibilities on the domestic scene.
Q. What type of qualities would you look for in a Secretary of State? What type of background and personal characteristics? Would you like to have someone who came out of the foreign policy "establishment" and had been involved in foreign affairs over the years? Or someone who had been watching it in a more detached way?
Governor Carter. That's something I haven't yet decided, nor have I had to decide it I would probably depend more upon my confidence in the intelligence and judgment and moral commitment of. the person, than I would on the particular environment that has shaped that person's knowledge of foreign affaire. I've got about 15 or 20 people in whom I have placed a lot of responsibility, and among that group I would seek advice before I made a final decision on Secretary of State. The main thing that's missing now is confidence by the Secretary of State in the sound judgment, common sense and integrity of the American people.
Q. Would a Secretary of State in your administration be basically there to make foreign policy or to carry out the foreign policy that you make?
Governor Carter. Both. I would retain the responsibility of making the final decisions. I would insist on being clearly informed. And I would retain the role of being spokesman for this country. But I would consider the Secretary of State to be a partner with me, an adviser, an administrator of the complex foreign affairs mechanism that falls within the responsibility of the Secretary of State. But I would be the ultimate one to make the decisions.
Q. Do you see a model in any of the recent Secretaries of State—William Rogers, who was sort of a sword carrier, Henry Kissinger the policy maker, or perhaps Dean Acheson, who seemed to do it fairly cooperatively with the President?
Governor Carter. I think Dean Acheson, George Marshall would be two who did a superb job, in my opinion. I don't think there was ever any doubt in the minds of the American people about who was responsible ultimately. Even when those two very strong Secretaries of State were in office, it was the President They were men of conviction, of sensitivity, of competence and authority. And they worked harmoniously with the President. And they carried out the responsibilities specifically designated to them by the President, on an individual basis of agreement. So I think those two would be the kinds of persons that I would admire very much.
Q. In the foreign policy area, would your priorities be more East-West, dealing with traditional allies and the Soviet Union, or North-South, in planning for future relationships with the underdeveloped world?
Governor Carter. I really see three relationships. One is in our relationship with our natural allies and friends—the democratic, developed nations of the world: Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and others such as Australia, New Zealand, Israel. That's one solid base of strength, mutual purpose, consultation, and it must be maintained. It's been damaged severely, in my opinion, recently.
The second relationship would be the relationship between the democracies of the world and the socialist or Communist nations—our relationship with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Not a unilateral relationship between the United States and those nations, but as much as possible involving the other democracies of the world.
And third, of course, would be the relationship between the developed nations and the developing nations. And I would like to get as much as possible the OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] countries and the Soviet Union, for instance, to join with the developed democracies of the world to share the responsibility for the less developed nations.
Q. What qualities and experience would you look for in a Secretary of Defense?
Governor Carter. I would look on each Cabinet member to some degree as being an advocate for that department. And this would certainly include a Secretary of Defense who believes that we must always be able to defend our country without doubt. I would want one committed to the proposition of peace. I would want one to share my commitment that we should not become militarily involved in the internal affairs of another country unless our own security was directly threatened. I would want one who could withstand the pressures from special interest groups, including munitions manufacturers. I would want one who is an outstanding administrator, recognizing the complexities of the Defense Department organizational structure. I would want one who could reduce the involvement of the Defense Department in matters that can be equally well addressed by the civilian agencies of government, to remove the overlapping functions and singly address the Defense Department toward the capability to fight. I would want one who was willing to reduce waste in personnel allocations and also in unnecessary weapons systems that don't corollate with the long-range purposes of our own security and foreign policy. And one who could work harmoniously with the other Cabinet members. Those are some of the characteristics that come to mind at this moment.
Q. Of the recent Secretaries of Defense, is there one that you have found you admire the most as a model for the job: Schlesinger, Melvin Laird, Clark Clifford or Robert McNamara?
Governor Carter. Well, I'm a little reluctant to choose one because of the implied criticism of the others. I think they all brought beneficial characteristics to the job—McNamara was coldly analytical, and I think operated under very difficult circumstances in Vietnam. Laird was much better able to work harmoniously with the Congress. I think Schlesinger was a brilliant strategist who was very independent, who thought he didn't have quite close enough relationships with the President and the Secretary of State to avoid public disharmonies, but I think a very competent, brilliant man. I wouldn't want to say who was my favorite.
Q. Will the Joint Chiefs of Staff have a veto over military policy?
Governor Carter. Well, the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and makes the ultimate decisions. It would be a violation of the Constitution if the ultimate decisions in an incident of disagreement between the President and the Joint Chiefs was resolved by the Joint Chiefs. I think I have enough knowledge of the military and enough of an adequate concept of the Presidency to avoid those conflicts. The Joint Chiefs would not be completely subservient to the President They have a responsibility on their shoulders to testify openly and I presume aggressively before the committees of Congress, and the Congress would make the ultimate decisions on weapons of war and on organizational matters. But I, as President, would not defer to the Joint Chiefs if I thought that my opinion was in the best interest of our country.
Q. Do you think the United States basically should look to buying enough military hardware for what is assessed as real strategic needs, or buy what's perceived as important in keeping up with the Soviets?
Governor Carter. I think the best approach is to buy what's necessary to meet the strategic security needs of our country and to meet our legitimate obligations to our allies.
Q. In Georgia, you established a judicial nominating commission and selected judges from a list that had been submitted. Would you do the same as President in nominating judges?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. Would you seek Supreme Court nominees of a certain ideological persuasion or bent?
Governor Carter. Among the few best qualified potential appointees that were available to me, I would probably choose the one that I thought was the most compatible with my own basic philosophy. That's the human thing to do, and I can't claim otherwise.
Q. Would you look for Supreme Court Justices who had the same qualities of compassion and caring for people that you described for other types of appointees?
Governor Carter. Well, I think so. There's a great deal of injustice that still exists in this country, and I believe that the final arbiter of that injustice is the Supreme Court. So I would look for that as an ultimate characteristic compatible with the guarantees in the Constitution, which in my opinion are designed to correct those same injustices.
Q. Do you favor reform of the federal judiciary and court system anywhere near as comprehensive as what you were able to effect during your four years as Governor of Georgia?
Governor Carter. Well, I've only done an embryonic study of the federal judiciary, but the answer's yes. I believe that the speeches that have been made recently by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger are good indications that substantive organization is necessary. To the extent that it was appropriate, I would work closely with him and the other federal judicial leaders of the country in seeking far quicker trials, assured justice for equitable sentences, and a fair treatment of our people within the criminal justice system, without respect to wealth or social prestige or influence.
Q. The strong self-confidence in yourself that everyone comments on— does that stem in part from the lonely but ultimately vindicated position your family took on race relations in the 1950's in south Georgia?
Governor Carter. No, I don't think you could take a particular instance in our family life and ascribe one's self-confidence in it. We've always had a closeknit, I think competent, family group, who shared major problems and opportunities and with a mutual purpose. Any observer of the campaign itself would say that my family and the strong support I got from my home state were the two factors I had that gave me a decided advantage over all my opponents. It's a mistake to exaggerate—we were probably drawn together as a family because there was some degree of isolation here.
But then we had enough independence and enough stature in the community to prevent that isolation being a sacrifice or a danger. It wasn't a big factor of courage. I always felt southern people even in those days were searching for some way to get past the racial question, even though publicly they weren't ready to accept the rulings of the Supreme Court or HEW or civil rights laws or integration of churches. They were looking for a few people in the South—perhaps like myself—who were in a position of influence to speak frankly. There was not that vicious reaction against us that might otherwise have been there. I think southern people were ready for it.
NOTE: This is a composite of two interviews by Neal R. Peirce of "National Journal".
Jimmy Carter, Interview with Neal R. Peirce of "National Journal" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347631