Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with "Time" Magazine

November 08, 1976

Q. How would you sum up the campaign? What have been the important themes?

Governor Carter. Well, we've maintained the same theme for the last 2 years: that our people have been hurt and alienated by Vietnam, Cambodia, Watergate, CIA, Angola and so forth. They've been withdrawing from participation in government. They've lost trust in public officials, and it is time for a basic change. My own background outside Washington as a former businessman and a nuclear engineer qualifies me to go in and make those basic changes.

There are three things in the government that the people are looking for. One is confidence—to have a well-organized, efficient, economical, purposeful, and manageable government for a change. The second is that the government be sensitive to people's needs. We need someone in the White House who understands the problems and needs and hopes and aspirations of the average American family. And the third thing is a basic sense of integrity, trust.

There ought to be additional openness in government. Strip away secrecy. Have a greater respect for personal privacy.

Q. What are the principal differences between yourself and President Ford on foreign policy?

Governor Carter. One is that our foreign policy has been conducted almost exclusively by Henry Kissinger. I don't think Mr. Ford has any interest in foreign policy. Mr. Kissinger is a very secretive' man. He's inclined to play a lonely role in the evolution of foreign policy. There's no consistency in it. There's no predictability about it. There's no broad theme about it; and in many instances we've abandoned the basic character and principles of the American people in the evolution and consummation of foreign policy. I would restore bipartisan support for our foreign policy and let the American people be involved as deeply as possible.

When we negotiate a treaty, obviously we can't have a press release every day telling what the status of it is. But after a treaty or an agreement is concluded, a complete revelation ought to be made to the American people.

I would also get away from the power-bloc delineation, with us on one side, the Soviets on the other, and all the other nations forced to align themselves pro or con. I would deal much more on a bilateral basis with individual nations. I would be much more inclined to have our country reestablish firm and predictable consultative relationships with our natural allies— Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Japan. I would move aggressively to stop the proliferation of atomic weapons. I have proposed, in definitive terms I believe, in speeches at the United Nations and subsequent events, 11 different things that ought to be done to hold down just a peaceful proliferation of plutonium and other atomic wastes, with a moratorium on the testing of all nuclear devices and with a prohibition against the sale of atomic fuel to countries that don't agree to prevent changing their waste into atomic explosives.

I would not see any need in the future for additional grain embargoes. We've had three since Mr. Ford's been in office, none of which were necessary. I would try to strengthen trade. We've relegated foreign trade to a secondary position in our country for too long, and we now have a very severe balance of trade deficit.

Q. Is there a real difference between you and the President on whether the United States should give advance notice about where it is unwilling to use troops abroad?

Governor Carter. No, I don't know of any difference that exists there. The President and Mr. Kissinger criticized my position on Yugoslavia, but on six different occasions since Mr. Ford has been in office, he has said flatly, "I would not send troops into this or that part of the world"—the Middle East, Rhodesia, Lebanon, Eastern Europe. On two other occasions, he said, "I would not send troops [to Angola and Southern Africa]." But so far as I know, there is no difference between us on that.

Q. Given your lack of experience in foreign affairs, would you not defer to a Secretary of State who had more expertise than you?

Governor Carter. I would defer to a Secretary of State and to many foreign policy experts in the evolution of my decisions, but I would be the spokesman for our country. I don't know of an instance in history where a President has completely turned over the foreign policy decision making process and spokesmanship to a Secretary of State, as Mr. Ford has done with Mr. Kissinger.

Q. What are the differences between you and Gerald Ford on domestic policy?

Governor Carter. Mr. Ford has no domestic policy, except one of complete negativism. He's had four times as many vetoes per year as Mr. Nixon ever had. He's had four times as great a deficit in his 2 years as Mr. Nixon ever had. He's not put forth a single viable proposal, so far as I know, in the area of employment, inflation, housing, education, transportation or energy.

Mr. Ford is a decent and honest man, but there's never been one effort on his part to accomplish a single major program. He's been in office, or will have been in office, as long as John Kennedy, but he tries to give the American people the impression that he just got there. In the field of crime, he made a speech about a month or two ago and said, "If I'm elected, in the first 100 days of my administration I'm going to have an all-out war on crime." Why wait 3 years before you do anything about crime or unemployment? I would hope to be a strong leader and to put forth specific proposals for welfare reform, tax reform, government reorganization, employment opportunities, housing, transportation, and energy, as soon as I'm elected in some instances, as soon as I am inaugurated in others.

Q. In your travels, what have you learned about the country? Have you found that the American people are as good as you thought they were?

Governor Carter. Obviously, individual Americans have selfish tendencies and fallibilities, but the cumulative character of the American people is basically unselfish, idealistic, and honest. Our government has not mirrored those characteristics in domestic or foreign affairs. The American people are competent, but we have come to the point where we are willing to accept incompetence in government as normal. I don't agree with that. The average American wants very little from government.

It used to be that we could set a goal for ourselves at the end of 5 or 6 years; with our savings we could make the down payment on a house, we could buy a new car in 2 years, we could be sure that we could put our kids through college. Now that has been wiped away by rampant inflation, which in this administration has been at least three times what it was under President Johnson. There is no way to predict what is going to happen in the future.

Q. Have you learned anything about the country that you didn't know when you began?

Governor Carter. Well, I've broadened my experience in agriculture, which is my own business. Also in government. I know infinitely more now about the proper interrelationship that ought to exist in a system of federalism than I did before, although I have served 7 years in local government and 8 years in state government and have been a very close observer of the national scene. I could go down a tremendous litany of things that have been added to my knowledge in the last 24 months, for example in the areas of environment, transportation, energy. It has been a very good education process for me. I might add that 10 or 11 members of my family have campaigned independently of me, and my own knowledge of the country has been greatly expanded by constant reports from them.

Q. What have you learned about yourself?

Governor Carter. I've learned to be a lot more cautious about what I say and that some of the things that I've always taken for granted have aroused great doubt among people who haven't had the same background and experience as myself. I think I've learned to accept criticism much better than I could at first, and I've learned about my own inadequacies, my own lack of knowledge. I've had a chance to see problems in people's lives that I had never visualized before. I learned a lot more about ethnic groups who still feel the brunt of discrimination. I've seen much more clearly the dual interest of people who live in this country but still have a very strong affinity for their family home in Poland or Czechoslovakia, Israel or Africa. So, I think in the process of campaigning, I've learned about my own needs for constant study and for the assimilation of dther people's ideas.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with "Time" Magazine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347595