Jimmy Carter photo

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Interview With Correspondents of WPIV-TV.

September 03, 1980

JIM GARDNER. Good afternoon and welcome to Action News Issues and Answers for this Wednesday evening, a special edition. Our guest today is the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who has been on a campaign swing through south and north Philadelphia today. And we are going to be talking about the campaign and the major issues at hand. Our panelists today include Jim O'Brien and Vernon Odum and Mark Howard, all from Channel Six, Action News.


Mr. President, I was at Madison Square Garden and witnessed your acceptance speech, the night of your acceptance speech, and it seemed that even among your delegates, reactions to your speech and your renomination failed to produce the outpouring of enthusiasm that we normally associate with such events. The same day I asked a New York City cabdriver, "Whom are you voting for?", and he said, "Carter." And I asked him why, and he said, "Because Reagan is even worse."

It seems that some people, or perhaps many people, who intend to vote for you perceive you as the lesser of evils, as opposed to the better of candidates. Do you agree with that evaluation, and if that's true, do you think that can cause problems in your efforts to govern and lead effectively even after the election?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I agree with part of it. When a President is in office or a mayor or a Governor and there is not a campaign going on, then the likelihood is that that incumbent will be compared to perfection. And whenever anything goes wrong or doesn't quite measure up to the hopes or expectations of a voter, they say that the President or the mayor is at fault.

During the primary season, also, the voters tend to express their displeasure about circumstances in the world by voting against an incumbent, particularly a President. And in the general election there is a hard choice that the voters make, sometimes a pleasant choice, between the two candidates who are running who have a chance to win—the Democratic and the Republican nominee.

So, there will be people who say, "I don't like everything about Jimmy Carter but I think he's the better of the two men," and there are those who say, "I like what he's done, and I want to support him because I have absolute confidence in him." I'll be glad to take the votes either way.

But I've seen, since the convention, a remarkable coalescing of unity within the Democratic Party. I had a call this afternoon, for instance, from Senator Kennedy, who was in the Midwest speaking for me at the Machinists convention, just to wish me well here and to give the Philadelphia people his best regards. So, I think that the Party is coming back together.

The sharp choice that the American people will make this year is perhaps between two men and two current party philosophies that are in as much disagreement as we have ever seen, certainly in my lifetime. So, this, of course, is going to be a good one.


Q. Economically, it seems that you're pretty much what I guess you'd call conservative, in the sense that neither one of you is advocating any tremendous Government expenditures. You both want to hold down expenses. You both basically talk in spending more on defense, which tends to be conservative.

How—what would it matter to a voter? What's the difference to me or anybody who's watching this program which of you becomes President as far as our daily lives are concerned?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the two things that are important are, one, a better domestic life—what will bring a family together, what will give American people jobs, what will let us look to the future with confidence, what will honor the basic civil rights and human needs of American people, how we will have better education, better welfare programs, and a better relationship between the Federal Government and the local and State government. That's one domestic issue. The other one is how do we keep our Nation strong and at peace; at the same time make sure that we don't have the prospect of the possibility of a nuclear war.

Q. Could you give us one example of where you really are different, where if he's elected it'll be one way and you're the other way?

THE PRESIDENT. Sure. Well, one difference is in the basic structure of the tax program. Reagan has advocated the Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal, which will cut taxes in this country roughly a trillion dollars between now and 1987, which means that almost every ongoing Federal program would have to be eliminated in order to meet that target that he has. He also wants to increase Federal spending and claims he can balance the budget. This is obviously a fallacious thing.

In addition to that, for a comparison between my tax proposal and his, mine is a careful program designed to revitalize American industry, and it's highly progressive in nature in that it'll give the average working family in this country a much greater proportion of the tax savings. For instance, for a family making $200,000 a year Reagan's proposal would give that family about 50 times more in tax cuts than would my own proposal. My program is designed to revitalize our Nation's economy, to keep people at work, and to give a balanced benefit from any tax reductions.


Q. Mr. President, the Anderson factor-he seems to be slipping or not moving at all in the polls. If this trend continues, how long ,before you're ready to declare him not a serious enough candidate to be considered for debates or even in the November election?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's not up to me to decide, you know, who is serious and who isn't. I look on all of the people who are running for President—and there are probably a hundred of them, four or five who are well known—as being significant and important. Some of them represent a political philosophy that's important, like Barry Commoner, with his emphasis on the quality of the environment. Another one, Mr. Clark, is a libertarian who wants to remove the Federal Government and all government, as a matter of fact, from the daily lives of Americans, I think to the detriment of our society.

John Anderson is a Republican. He ran, as you know, as a Republican candidate. He never won a primary. He never won a State caucus campaign, even in his own home State, and after he lost out, then he decided to run as an independent. But he's still basically a Republican, and for me to run against two Republicans is something that I don't want to avoid, but I don't particularly want to promote it.

The basic choice that the American people will have to make is among those who have a chance to win. And I am convinced at this time—and I don't see anything to change my mind in the future-that the choice is between myself and Governor Reagan.

But the fact is that when public opinion polls are run, either by myself or the ones that have been made public, whenever Reagan [Anderson] picks up seven votes at my expense, he only picks up one vote at Governor Reagan's expense. So, as Anderson goes down in the polls it does help me. But I'm perfectly willing to face any candidate that runs, and I'll run it on my own record, not against them.


Q. Mr. President, let's get back to the economic sector for just a minute. Last week you introduced your seventh economic program since becoming President. You say that it will fight unemployment, that it will encourage investment and productivity without fueling the fires of inflation.


Q. Why should the voters, why should our viewers have faith that this program will work, when the current state of the economy would suggest that the six that came before it did not?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you can't have an economy frozen in concrete that will last year after year after year. Circumstances change. In 1979 alone we had the price of oil on a worldwide basis go up more than the price of oil had gone up since it was first discovered in the 1800's, and this was a shock to the international economic system. So, the first part of March I had to put some restraint on budget spending, and 85 percent of those budget restraints are still intact. I had to put some restraints on credit and also try to bring down the interest rates, and they've dropped precipitously, and inflation rates, and they've dropped, too.

I don't want to pick out one month as being typical, but last month we had the first time in 13 years that the inflation rate has been zero. I don't expect it to be zero in August, but the fact is that was a good indication. Last month, in July, we had the highest increase in economic indicators in this country of any month since the indicators were first started being kept or recorded. I don't expect that to continue.

For six straight weeks now we've had a decrease each week in unemployment compensation claims. And it's obvious that the American automobile industry is beginning to rejuvenate itself as the Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and others produce the kind of small, efficient cars that the American consumers want. So, I see some indications that are favorable-housing starts, the last indications are very good; business investment plans, very good. I think we've bottomed out on the recession rates.

The fact is that the commitment I made back in March to keep a tight restraint on spending and to keep the dollar strong and to keep an emphasis on controlling inflation has not changed.


Q. I think we have a tendency, Mr. President, to look to you and the White House as being sort of a Pandora's Box that you open up and everything comes flying out okay. In the area of the automobile industry, that seems to be a pivotal point for you fellows these days as you try to win votes and win union support and what have you. And the general trend comes to us that when you're there they're going "yea," and when Reagan's there they're going "yea" but booing a little bit and what have you. But it seems to me like you said not long ago that you tried to get the automobile industry a couple of years back to realize—

THE PRESIDENT. Three years ago.

Q.—right—that there needed to be some changes made as far as producing these fuel-efficient, smaller compact type cars, rather than getting mad at Japan or mad at Germany for sending them over here. Why didn't the automobile industry listen to you then? Why couldn't you get their attention? Why couldn't you make the point at that time from your executive position to make this vast industry take notice and make the changes then that should have been made, rather than get into this critical situation we're in now.?

THE PRESIDENT. I made a speech on television—maybe you heard it—in April of 1977. And I called the energy crisis the moral equivalent of war—

Q. Use that all the time myself.

THE PRESIDENT. —and it was, at that time at least, ridiculed. There was a lot of fun made of it. As a matter of fact, my prediction that the world supply of oil would be matched by world demand in 1985 was more optimistic than what actually occurred.

We had a meeting then—I had personally a meeting then—with all the leaders, the presidents and the chief executive officers, of the major automobile manufacturing companies and told them that they had to change their model styles to comply with environmental standards and also to comply with efficiency and safety standards. They pointed out to me then that they could not do it. And I said, "Well, they're doing it in Sweden, they're doing it in Germany, they're doing it in Japan." And they said, "Yes, but the gasoline over there's already $2.40 a gallon. The American consumer will not buy that small, efficient automobile." Well, the fact is had they changed then they would have been in much better shape now.

But American buyers are now demanding that kind of automobile. And I'm very grateful that with a tremendous investment of money and with great confidence in the future the automobile workers themselves and the American manufacturers are now producing that kind of automobile that will be very attractive in the future to the American consumer. At the same time it's efficient and clean-burning, it's more safe, as proven by recent tests, than are the foreign imports.

So, I think that the American manufactured cars are going to be in a good competitive position from now on.


Q. What about the bottom 20 or 95 percent, though, of our population that really can't afford to spend $1.30 a gallon for gas? So far nobody's come up with any way to help them or some kind of a cushion there to put under the poor people who can't pay that price.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we've had a major investment in recent years in the rapid transit systems. As a matter of fact, the community of Philadelphia has benefited greatly since I've been in office.

In addition, out of the windfall profits tax, which is a tax that'll be taken away from the oil companies, away from their unearned income, we'll have about $13 billion in the next 10 years, above and beyond what was already scheduled for rapid transit, to put into public transportation systems of all kinds, some buses, some rail, and some intercity transit systems. At the same time we're trying to rebuild our railroad system, improve the repair of our highway system, and improve our ports and waterways.

One of the tremendous, untapped opportunities that we have in this country is to export American coal and let it replace OPEC oil as a growing energy source, not only in this country but around the world. But we don't yet have the adequate rail and highway and port facilities to handle it fast enough. That will be a major part of this new program that I've put forward.

Q. That's long run, though, but in the short run, basically the people who live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, in a sense you're telling them, "You just can't go into town to shop" or "You can't go to the shore, because you can't spend that money on gas." Is that really what you're saying?

THE PRESIDENT. No, that's not what I'm saying. There's a limit to what government can do, and one limit that I've put on myself is not to lie to people. There is no way in the foreseeable future that the price of gasoline and the price of oil internationally is going to go down, and we've got to change some of our habits, we've got to share more transportation or, if we own automobiles, carpool more, use public transportation more and sometimes just not travel as much. But in my judgment this can be the basis for a better life for American people as we live more efficiently, as we insulate our homes better, as we have more efficient automobiles, as we bring our families closer together. Take a little more physical exercise. There might be more walking and jogging and a little bit more bicycle riding than in the past, and there might be an inclination for families not to travel so far when they go on vacation.

But I don't see that the quality of life of Americans will be damaged as we face this tremendous new opportunity through the next decade to take advantage of the change that's been forced on us and carve out a new program for Americans' lives. I'd like to add one other point.

In this next 10 years, we'll have more Government money derived from the windfall profits tax and the oil companies to spend on conservation, transit systems, and to help poor people heat their homes and also to produce more energy than the total of the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe, the total space program, and the total Interstate Highway System. And to invest those billions and billions of American dollars into American technology, with American know-how, American education, American innovation and to create American jobs can give us a much better life even though we've had—

Q. Thirty-cent dollars, I think.

Q. I was going to say—

Q. Yes, inflated dollars.

Q.—some cynic might wonder whether that's a measure of commitment or a measure of inflation.

THE PRESIDENT. That's a measure of commitment. And in the process we'll cut down inflation. In fact, the entire economic program that I described last week is noninflationary in nature, a sharp difference, that I didn't point out before, between what the Republicans have put forth, which is highly inflationary. As a matter of fact, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Mr. Bush, said that the Ronald Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax proposal would increase inflation in this country more than 30 percent, and I think he's right.


Q. Mr. President, we see a lot of headlines these days: Soviets are number one; America, a country in decline; the allies lose respect for America and for Jimmy Carter. Does this country still have the clout, still have the ability to stand up to the Russians if push comes to shove?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. This country is not second to the Soviet Union in military strength nor in political influence nor in economic strength nor in moral strength.

Q. What about your relationship with the allies?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's better now than it's been in the last 20 years. The NATO Alliance has been strengthened. We have a common commitment to theater nuclear force, to building up our cooperation and consultation. We've strengthened our military presence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean area. In every way I think we're better off, and what's becoming more obvious to people all over the world is that our policy on human rights works.

You don't see any boats lining up in Key West with Americans trying to get in those boats to escape to Cuba. And I think people are beginning to realize, more and more, that the wall that's been built in Berlin is not to keep people out of Communist Germany, it's to keep people from coming to freedom.

What our country has to offer, in strength and stability and a brighter future, is much better than the Communist world. And one of the reasons the Soviets went into Afghanistan—and they should not have done it—is because their own system failed. There is not a single other nation on Earth that's trying to build their own government now patterned after Communist Soviet Government.


Q. Mr. President, if I could go back to domestic situations for one moment. There has been a lot of talk in the past several days about the Ku Klux Klan, based on Mr. Reagan's remarks in Michigan the other day. But aside from that, there has been a militant revival, it seems to me, of Klan and Nazi offshoot party activity in this country in recent years. What special is the Justice Department doing to handle that situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the top law enforcement officer under the Attorney General is Drew Days, who is a very knowledgeable civil rights worker who happens to be black, who's very eager to eliminate any element of racial harassment or racial division in our country.

We have a standard operating procedure now that as soon as a racist act takes place in a community, the Justice Department and the FBI offer their services. If it's obvious that the local and State officials can care for that situation and if the State courts are going to proceed in accordance with the Constitution, then that's where the first responsibility lies. But my commitment and the Attorney General's and Drew Days' is all to prevent that kind of resurgence that you described.

I've grown up in the South, and I can tell you that compared to when I was a younger man, the Ku Klux Klan is practically insignificant. When I spoke in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Monday, when I realized that there were Klansmen there, and I lashed out at them as being un-American and not understanding the South or our Nation, it was the biggest round of applause I got among those tens of thousands of people there—and they were all southerners, from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, with a few from the Carolinas and Georgia. But that shows that there's a new attitude in our country of condemnation of those cowards who hide behind white sheets and who besmirch the flags and who also besmirch the cross where a crucified savior said we need to love one another and not hate.


Q. I hate to bring this up, Mr. President, but we've got to talk about something that's very much on the minds of most people these days, and that's Iran, the situation over there.


Q. It's gone past 300 days now, and we hesitate to bring it up mainly because we sort of feel like we're getting into a touchy area because you're doing everything you possibly can. We can't blow any secrets, and we know we can't let the cats out of the bags and what have you as far as what you're really planning on doing somewhere in the future. But somehow or other the people, I think, need to know what the difference between then, when you were in the White House for 6 months without really moving, because you were so absorbed in this thing, and now, where you can be Grit campaigning for President, because that's what you've got to do to get your next 4 years in the White House and see this thing through.

How do we stand with the Iranian situation, with the hostages?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have much good to report about the immediate prospects for release of our hostages. It's a problem that's always with me as President. As I said in my acceptance speech in New York, it's as though those hostages were members of my own family, my own sons and daughters.

We stay in close touch with the families of the hostages, and we have a constant effort ongoing, some through public means, some through private diplomatic channels, some through emissaries who are not part of government, to try to induce the Iranians to release those hostages as something that's humane in nature but also something that would remove a tremendous burden politically, economically, and financially from Iran itself. There is a serious problem in Iran brought about to a major degree because those hostages are being held.

In the past there has been no government with whom we could deal. Last week their Prime Minister was finally chosen. He's not yet been approved by their parliament. The parliament has now been elected, a speaker has been chosen, and a President has been chosen. So, we finally have, just in the last few days, a government in Iran that's still in the formative stages, and this week Secretary Muskie sent to the new Prime Minister an outline of our hopes that the hostages would be released and the circumstances under which we would cooperate with Iran after that had been accomplished.


Q. Do you think that this constant reference of yours to human rights, in other words, I think you've attacked the whole Iran problem in that area of it's only right that these people be released; they're innocent. You're constantly referring to that whether it be with regard to Cuba or the Jews in the Soviet Union or the strikers in Poland or whatever it is. Every now and then that almost places you in a bit of a posture as being weak, because you're constantly talking about human rights.

We all want human rights, but every now and then this country in its history has had to sort of rear up on its hind legs and fight for human rights or stand up strongly, and yet you never seem to take that posture. You always seem to slowly go along talking about human rights because it's right and because it's good.

Do you really believe the rest of the world looks at human rights like that and can absorb that from you, or can we lead in that way?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The best way to enhance human rights around the world is not to go to war and to kill people; it's to keep constantly before the leaders and the people of this world the possibility of freedom, of liberty, of democratic processes, of equality of opportunity. We've seen several military dictatorships in this hemisphere since I've been in office change into true democracies, with new leaders chosen by the people, compatible with the people, and responsible to the people. I think we've seen this happen in Africa too, where for the first time our Nation is playing a major role in that large continent.

We have helped greatly to bring about the realization of human rights in Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, and now we have a democracy there with an elected leader, who was over here to visit us the other night. We have, in Namibia, a chance for that country to become free and to establish human rights based on democratic principles. We hope to eliminate apartheid in South Africa as well.

But our country's position is staunch and strong. We've sent a clear signal to the people that are behind the Iron Curtain, dominated in the past, sometimes without recognition, by a totalitarian government. The dissidents who are held in the Soviet Union send me messages frequently, "Mr. President, please do not yield in your demand for the realization of human rights."

In November we'll be going to Madrid, Spain, to make the Soviets and others answer for any deprivation of human rights among the people who live in their countries. This is an agreement that was worked out, and we'll be having a preliminary conference on that in September.

And I think that, although we did not interfere at all, we stayed completely aloof from it, the recent demand by the Polish workers for free labor unions and freedom of the press and the right for religious services to be telecast throughout Poland was a realization of the pent-up desire for human rights. It's not something that I'm responsible for. It's not something that I get up and wave a flag for by myself. It's in the hearts and minds of people all over this world who have not had freedom in the past and who demand it, and for our country, that epitomizes human rights, to keep high that banner and not let people forget about it, I think, is a legitimate and responsible role for a President.


Q. Mr. President, two quick questions; we have 2 minutes left.

Mayor Green was a staunch supporter of Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy lost; you won. If you win the general election in November, is there any penalty coming to Philadelphia as a result of Mr. Green's allegiance with the Senator?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think Bill Green is one of the finest mayors in this Nation, and ever since he's been in office, he and I have had a very close and good and proper working relationship. He's had a longstanding friendship with the Kennedy family. Before he ever endorsed Senator Kennedy in the primaries, he told me his reasons for it. I understood it completely. And after the Pennsylvania primary was over and before the other primaries had been completed, I came to Philadelphia, as you may remember. Bill Green pledged his support to me then.

I don't have any doubt that he'll do everything he can to help the Democratic ticket win in November, and regardless of whether I win or lose in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania in November, I represent the people of Philadelphia just as much as the mayor does.


Q. One final question. When you open a newspaper and you see that 78 percent of the people polled in a Gallup Poll or a Harris Poll do not think that you're doing a very good job—a 22-percent approval rating—do you insist to yourself that nobody quite understands what you're up against, or do you sometimes think that when you're by yourself and engaging the same fears and apprehensions as every other American, that perhaps they have some justification for thinking that you're not doing a good enough job?

THE PRESIDENT. Look, the only poll that matters in politics is the poll that the people conduct on election day. If I went back 5 years ago, nobody would know who I was and nobody thought I would win, even in early '76. I won. Ten months ago, when the prospects were that Senator Kennedy would announce for President, most people thought that I would just resign and not even run for reelection.

Q. Some were seriously asking the question?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, seriously asking. I won. The people, I think in the judgment, said that they had at least adequate confidence in me.

I'll do the best I can in the next few weeks, and when the people go to the polls in November to decide about the future of this Nation, I'll trust their judgment. And I think that's the poll that counts. But obviously, if you ask somebody, "Are you very pleased or satisfied or do you think he's doing a fair job or a good job with inflation or foreign affairs," the answer could be, "He's not doing a good job" or "I think he's doing a fair job"—or I think very few say, "He's doing an outstanding job." That doesn't bother me a bit.

Q. Okay. President Carter, thank you for being with us on Action News Issues and Answers. Our thanks to Jim O'Brien, Vernon Odum, and Mark Howard. For Action News Issues and Answers, I'm Jim Gardner. Good night.

Note: The interview began at 3 p.m. at the WPIV-TV studios. It was taped for broadcast later the same day.

Jimmy Carter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Interview With Correspondents of WPIV-TV. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250612

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