President Jimmy Carter is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution
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President Jimmy Carter is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution

August 23, 2019

I Richard Nixon do solemnly swear. I
Richard Nixon do solemnly swear. I Gerald R. Ford do solemnly swear. I Jimmy Carter do solemnly swear. I Ronald Reagan do solemnly swear. That I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States. And will to the best of my
ability, preserve protect and defend, the Constitution of the United States. So
help me God. So help me God. So help me God. So help me God. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,
establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common
defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to
ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
United States of America. The presidency is rooted in the
Constitution, but its modern dimensions created by political necessity were
never imagined by the founding fathers. Understanding the presidency is vitally
important in the success of this great democracy. That is what his program is
about. I am Warren Burger, Chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the
United States Constitution. It is a rare occasion in history to have four living
former presidents. It has happened only once before, when Abraham Lincoln took
office. Our Commission decided to interview our four former presidents, to
record and preserve their views about the office of the presidency, and the
interaction of the president with the other branches of government, with the
people, and with the media. Our interviewer and narrator is the
distinguished journalist, Hugh Sidey, who began covering presidents during the
administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Jimmy Carter, the 39th President, was the
first president from the deep South since before the Civil War. He brought to
the White House conservative fiscal plans, liberal social ideas, and a belief
that politics is a moral activity. Human Rights was to be a centerpiece of his
administration. You know, I grew up in the South. Civil
Rights was part of my life. I saw the benefits it came to both white and black
Americans when racial discrimination was so was no longer the law. And I thought
that we as a great nation should raise high the banner of human rights. So I
wanted to know in practical terms how I could do it. I made
sure that every leader on earth realized that that leader’s relationship with me and
that nation’s relations with the United States was affected, not entirely but partially by their
human rights record. And over a period of four years, slowly but surely these human
rights of pressures, which will always public, always part of the agenda when I
met with a foreign leader, had some impact. The problem is that you can’t have a
uniform human rights policy because circumstances change from one country to
another. The different kinds of reactions. Sometimes it’s best to address a human
rights problem in total secrecy. Sometimes it is best to address it
through the public news media. And there are variations in between. So you can’t
have a uniform policy. But I think that that is the kind of foundation
of moral values that should support, not only American domestic affairs, but also
foreign affairs. Human rights just another word for freedom, justice,
democracy. [I’m coming] Mr. Carter was suddenly thrust into a position of
national and international leadership after experience in a more limited
political arena–Georgia. Before the presidential campaign, he was virtually
unknown nationally. A lot of the insiders in Washington have
said Jimmy Carter has got to be stopped, but I want to tell you that there’s no
way to stop me. You came to Washington as an outsider, and a southerner. Was that a
disadvantage? How did you over come that? Well, I have
mixed feelings about answering that question, because, the reason I was elected in 1976,
was that I came along at a time where this nation was suffering from the
aftermath of Watergate, and the Vietnam War, and the revelations that the CIA had
committed crimes. And the people felt that they had not been told the truth,
and there was a lot of criticism of Washington. And I came along not a part
of Washington, not an attorney, and I promise of people–you know–I’ll tell
you the truth. If I make a misleading statement, don’t vote for me. And so
it just happened that being from outside of Washington was an advantage in 1976.
Another thing was that we had gone through the ordeal as a nation, of doing
away with legal racial discrimination. And I think in some ways many people in
the North and in the West said, why don’t we give the South of chance. You
know they’ve done well with with civil rights, why don’t get a chance. I was the
first southern elected since 1848–a long time. And so I think that was a factor.
And when I got to Washington; however, there was a disadvantage. I would
say primarily with the news media, because I was looked on this kind of a
strange character. You know I was a Baptist, I was a southerner, I was a governor, and they didn’t know me or what I stood for. I’ve made a stupid promise that I
wouldn’t lie to the American people. I’ll never make a misleading statement.
I will never tell a lie. I will never betray a trust I will never avoid a controversial issue. If
I were doing those things don’t support me. I was a kind of an anomaly–maybe an anachronism in
Washington. And as you know, I’ve been severely criticized by some
people in the media for reducing the amount of pomp and ceremony that
surrounded me in the White House. You know, I am a peanut farmer, and an engineer. And I really felt ill at ease with excessive displays of a…. Well you talked
about the imperial presidency. We all did. I was uncomfortable there. And
I’m not the first one that felt way. I really think that Harry Truman felt
that way. I think that Thomas Jefferson felt that way. I’m not trying to equate
myself with them, but some people relish the honors in the ceremony. And I
think the American people kind of hunger for it. In a way, the American people want
a royal family in the White House. I didn’t feel incline to fill that role.
In the Constitution, Mr. President, I think everybody has a special feeling or
meaning in his life when it concerns the Constitution. What’s yours? Well as a non-lawyer, my guiding
light as a state senator, as a governor, and of course more important, as a
president, has not been the complexities of detail laws, but the overarching
effect of the US Constitution itself. Because even a peanut farmer who hasn’t
been training law school can comprehend the enormous benefits that came to the
American people with a written document that guarantees our basic rights. And
quite often in the White House, when I was faced with a basic decision on
the relationship between the White House and the Congress–or sometimes involving
the states and local governments, or concerned about a particular right–separation of church and state, freedom of the press, I would go back to the
Constitution itself. So I think even more than for lawyer, the Constitution means
a lot to do an average layman. Did you change your mind at all about the
Constitution from your four years? Well in a way, because when I went there
I was I was especially interested in the rights and prerogatives of duties–
the responsibilities of the President. And I was harshly reminded that you know
there was at least one more equal body of government–branch of government–
with you won’t have to deal every day, and that was the Congress. Is that very
delicate balance of power that we’ve all of course revered over the years between
congress, judiciary, and the executive? Is that pretty much intact do you believe?
Yes I think so. Its had to accommodate changing times, but the basic principle
has been observed. The ultimate arbiter of any decisions that were disputed where
the Supreme Court itself. And there’s not been any serious incident when the
Congress and the President didn’t abide by the ultimate authority on the
interpretation of the Constitution, that is Supreme Court. You still think the
presidency is powerful enough in this age when he must do so much and reach so far? Yes I think so. In my office next door, there is a
book of titles of laws that have been passed in the last 200 years giving
additional duties and responsibilities to the President. That book is literally
that thick. And all the Constitution refers in a few paragraphs of the duties
of the President are those additional duties and also
authorities have been adequate, I think, to modify the basic laws of the land. And
no one ever dreamed, you know when the Constitution was originally written, that
that ours would be the foremost nation on earth, and our voice would be so
powerful influence so great. And I think that nobody else–nobody great either–
that the President of the United States would have his personal voice–his personal
influence–have an impact throughout the world. What would you change now looking
back? About the Constitution? About the office about the presidency itself? Well the one thing that that was onerous
to me, for instance, was that when the president negotiates after a long period
of time an agreement with a foreign country in the form of a of a treaty, I think that it should take two-thirds of
a Senate to reject that agreement rather than only a third of the Senate
to reject that agreement. For instance the Salt II Treaty. It was initiated by President Nixon, it was pursued by President Ford, it was finally consummated by me in June
of 1979. And a third of the members of the Senate can veto it. Also we had the most horrendous argument in my presidency. It was in getting the two-thirds
of a vote to approve the Panama Canal Treaties. Almost all the Senators a great
basically it’s a good thing, but the political consequences were horrendous.
The Panama Canal Zone had been United States territory for almost three
quarters of a century. The new treaty intended to turn over its control to
Panama. The waterway had lost much of its commercial and strategic importance, and
all of Latin America would look on its transfer as a gesture of goodwill. To its
critics, the transfer was a giveaway. To them, it signaled the loss of American
prestige. That was I believe the most difficult political challenge I’ve ever
faced in my life. It was harder to get the Panama Canal Treaties implemented
than it was to be elected President first place. And as you probably remember,
it was only a few weeks after Lyndon Johnson took off instead of the
assassination of President Kennedy, that there was a serious altercation in the
Panama Canal Zone. A number of people were killed, both Panamanians on Americans. And President Johnson promise that Panamanian people, who had broken
diplomatic relations with us, that he would negotiate and put into effect new
and fair treaty. He tried, but the Senate laughed at him. President Nixon tried, Present Ford tried. When I got into office, I was determined to do it, on the basis of fairness and
right. So we negotiate the good treaties. They are–public was overwhelmingly
against it. And the Senators though, when they talked to me privately, would say, “well I could vote for it but, my people would never put me back in office. So on probably 10 or 15 different occasions–15
I would say–I invited about 200 of the most prominent and influential
people in that particular state to come to the White House, and I gave them a
briefing, the Secretary of State give a briefing, Dr. Brzezinski gave them a
briefing, and the commander-in-chief of our forces in the Panama Canal Zone gave
a briefing. And we would convert, in effect, the newspaper editors, and the
college president, and the governor and others to let that Senator to have a little
breathing room to vote for the treaties. That was a slow and tedious process.
And eventually the members of the Senate were able to vote for it. In my opinion, in
the history of our country, that was the most courageous political decision that
the Congress has ever made. Of the 20 senators who voted in favor of the
Panama Canal Treaties in the summer of 1978, you had to run for reelection that year. Of those 20, only seven came back to the Senate the
following January. President Carter did not make a great
distinction between morality and domestic issues and foreign policy
issues. He sought international peace as well as domestic peace. Mr. President and Mrs. Carter, shalom and welcome to Israel. In the Middle East, a state of war between Egypt and Israel had existed for nearly three
decades. President Carter chose that troubled area to act the peacemaker. The Camp David session, I would guess was and will be unique in history. I cannot
imagine ever again in the history of my country, when the President of the United
States could go into seclusion for almost two weeks with the leaders of two
other nations, and just spend that time trying to find peace. I always thought that
if for World War erupted it would be because of the Middle East. So I elevated
peace in the Middle East higher in my own priorities perhaps in my
predecessors our successes did. And I saw Sadat’s our visit to Jerusalem of being
fretted away with no positive benefits. And I also understood that Israel, because of
its so political orientation, did not trust the United Nations as a forum
within which peace talk could be held. So it was kind of a vacuum there. And when they
were walking at Camp David, Rosen said this would be a good place in this quiet solitude
to bring together the Egyptians and Israeli so maybe to get to know each
other. We thought that the most would be there three days. It turns out that we
were there 13 days. But I would say it was in an act of political desperation. It
was the only forum within which I could conceive the possibility of success in
finding peace. And we lay the framework for peace it’s still quite
applicable in the Middle East. I was going to say one of the old rules of
symmetry was, you have to know the results before you sit down or the risks
are high. Public anticipation runs away with it. You took that risk. And I was a lonely
voice. You know most of my political advisors and most of my staff and cabinet officers
said don’t do it because if you do fail it’s going to be a horrible
embarrassment to our country. And even more risky thing was six months
later when I flew from Washington to Jerusalem and to Cairo to try to bring
the two together on a peace treaty. And we were successful. Had I’ve been
unsuccessful, I would have looked quite foolish as a
President. The results were worth it in your mind? I think so because you know the
last 11 years since the peace treaty, as I said, both sides have honored every
word and every paragraph in that peace treaty. Is this going to become an
increasing activity of Presidents, I mean summitry it one kind or
another because it seems now with so much communication, the ease of travel as
it is, there is just a force there that brings them together more often? Well the primary thing we talked about
symmetry is between the leader of the Soviet Union and and the leader of our
country. And that’s become quite a popular political thing to do, to go
there to talk about this or that and have a press conference and photograph
opportunity. And usually the summit meetings are primarily a dramatic
orchestration. Sometimes you do conclude an agreement most times you get it
worked out ahead of time. What you want is for the world to know we are meeting
together this alleviates tension and fear of war. We have been successful in
agreeing on these things which is also a very important political statement. And
quite often you notice that the things on which we don’t agree, we just don’t
mention those in the final press conference. The most onerous burden of
the Carter Administration also came from abroad–from the Middle East. The Shah of Iran had been ousted,
replaced by the religious leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Mr. Carter came under fierce pressure from
various political figures to permit the Shah, a long-standing ally, to undergo
medical treatment for cancer in New York. It started a string of episodes that
tested President Carter’s political, diplomatic, and eventually his military
leadership. I was the last holdout in my administration on bringing the Shah into
New York Hospital. He had terminal cancer, and I was urged by many prominent
influential Americans to let the Shah come in. I finally decided after the
State Department medical doctor said this was his last chance to have his
life extended, to them come in. We contacted the Prime Minister and foreign
minister of Iran with whom we were getting a little fairly well. This was about
10 months after the Shah departed from Iran. And they gave us their assurance
that our embassy would be protected. If the Shah, in going to New York, did not
make public political statements condemning Iran, I gave him that
assurance. The Shah came in, the militants went into the embassy. The
Ayatollah Khomeini publicly supported the militants, and Bazargan and Yazdi who was the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister resigned in protest. How did you organize for a crisis like
that? Suddenly you have it on you–you have your NSC, you have Pentagon, you have CIA. How do you bring those together? Is there any special case? In that particular case which was unique in my administration, we appointed a small committee made up from the Defense Department, the State Department, and the national security staff in the White
House. That literally met or stayed in session 24 hours a day. The main thing though was just a very few
days after the hostages were taken, the Ayatollah Khomeini was announcing that
he was I put our hostages on trial, ascertain
which ones were spies and executed them. So we went to Camp David with the top
leadership, including the Vice President, Attorney General and others, and I sent Khomeini a secret message which I thought was very important. And I told the Ayatollah, if
you put a single hostage on trial we will interrupt all commerce between Iran
and the outside world. If you injure or kill a hostage, we will respond
militarily. This was a secret message. It didn’t make him lose face when he did
indeed comply. He never again mentioned putting hostages on trial or
executing them. I think the best way to deal with a with a terrorist threat, if
you know the source of it, is not to throw down a public gauntlet that makes
those people almost find it impossible to comply with your command from the
White House, but to give them a way to know that the consequences are very
serious, that they can modify their policies without being embarrassed. One of the difficulties of course, in
dealing with these foreign policies is the congressional intrusion. I think
every president has complained about it. Did you have–was that a problem in
this case? Not really there never was a time during that very difficult year
when the hostages were held that I was in opposition to the Congress, or vice
versa. The Congress was very supportive. In fact, the whole nation was
obsessed with the holding of the hostages. It wasn’t just I. The news
media, the people themselves. There were probably millions literally of yellow
ribbons around trees through the United States. And and I never have been as strongly concerned by the so-called War Powers Act as other presidents have
been since the Vietnam War. It hasn’t concern me very much. I kept the congressional leaders informed. And also I made a pledge when I was a candidate, that I would never interfere in
the internal affairs of foreign country, unless our nation’s security was
directly threatened–not just indirectly threatened. So I wasn’t tempted to to have military adventures very much.
Its theoretical, but had you had something approaching that, would you
have gone to Congress for a declaration of war, because that is such an issue? I doubt it, because quite often the advantage of surprise is
so enormous, I don’t think I would. But I would not have objected to complying
with the War Powers Act. But the basic principle of sharing a long-term and
very serious military commitment with the Congress I think is wise. The only military action in the Iranian
crisis was an American attempt to rescue the hostages. Code name “Desert One,” the
action was aborted in the Iranian desert when a helicopter collided with a
transport plane, killing eight people. What about covert action, because you had
your operation Desert One, and that had to be secret? Exactly. There again it was completely
within the bounds of the of the War Powers Act, other laws, and also within
the bounds of the Constitution. We were trying to rescue the hostages, and had we
forewarned the Iranians were coming to get our hostages out, there would have
been a catastrophe. They would have all been assassinated. Does the country need
to keep a capacity a covert capacity? Of course, of course. We tried
when I was in the White House to improve substantially the quality of our
electronics surveillance capability– satellites and others–particular radio
monitoring. And we reduced the functions are off the CIA and other
intelligence agencies, that in the past had been condemned because of illicit
activities–things that were violating the basic principle of our country, including
the the planning of an the execution of murder. So we kept the intelligence of covert
operations within the bounds of moral standards that that guide us in our
lives. I think the same standards ought to guide us as relate to other people. One of the things, of course, that’s been
a guide through history was that the United States protected its citizens abroad. With hundreds of thousands of Americans
abroad now–possible hostages– can we do that? Do we need to change that
viewpoint? No, I think the President has a
obligation to protect American citizens abroad. Presidents also have an obligation
not to precipitate crisis where Americans are put in danger. And of
course, another thing is that Americans are taken hostages and held for long
period of time primarily because the people in the country dislike us, distrust us, feel that we are
mistreating them in some way. I think in the case of the Iran hostage crisis while
I was President, it wasn’t so much anything that the United States had done, but it
was a fact that the Shah had been a close ally and friend, I think of seven
different Presidents. And they equated the Shah, who may have overthrown in a
revolution, with the United States. But that’s the source of the threat to our
country, and our people overseas really is a inadequate understanding of
and cooperative operation between a mutual trust between those people in our
country. The American hostages in Iran were released eventually and we returned
to the United States after complex legal and diplomatic negotiations. During the Iran hostage ordeal, another
crisis erupted. This time in Afghanistan, and a threaten vital American interests.
President Carter said it was imperative to draw the line. Massive Soviet military
forces have invaded the small, non-aligned, sovereign nation of
Afghanistan. I have decided to halt, or to reduce exports to the Soviet Union in
three areas that are particularly important to them. There is absolutely no
doubt that these actions are in the interest of world peace, and in the
interest of the security of our own nation. Well, when the Soviets invaded
Afghanistan in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, Iran was vulnerable, and I
looked upon Afghanistan as a possible stepping stone for the Soviets to go
from Afghanistan, if they were successful, toward the warm waters of the Indian
Ocean, or through Iran, or maybe through Pakistan. This was very serious matter to
me. I thought my own nation security was indeed at stake. In my State
of the Union message in January of 1980, about a month after the Soviets invasion, I made a statement which was
characterized by some members of the press is the “Carter Doctrine.” I told the
Soviets, any move by them from Afghanistan southward, would be
interpreted by me as a direct threat to the security of my country, and that we
would respond militarily, and would not confine our response to that particular
area of the world. It was a very serious public warning by me to the Soviet Union
through a speech to the Congress. And I think it was so it was delivered very
clearly, and I think the Soviets understood if they did invade Pakistan
or if they did invade Iran, that we would respond militarily. We wouldn’t
necessarily send out troops halfway around the world. Our response would be
global in nature. We had an eight million ton food grain agreement with the
Soviet Union which I honored. We did not violate that agreement, but the
Soviets had ordered additional grains to be used for animal feed, and I did stop
the shipment of those grains. And I don’t know–the other thing that we did it was
much more pertinent–it was very secretive at that time, was to furnish the Afghan
freedom fighters with adequate weapons to defend themselves. And I was
determined to do everything I could, working with other countries, of course,
to make sure the Soviets were not successful in their effort to take over
Afghanistan and subsequent to move south and endanger the Gulf region. And I think
that this was successful. Was the White House set up properly to deal with such
complex issues? I thought it was. The White House under my administration was
set up basically the way I had run my life before that, in my own personal
business and the governor’s mansion and I did the same thing during my campaigns,
and also in the White House. I like to delegate authority to people whom I had
confidence. I like for them to have direct access to me not just have to
deal with the chief of staff who stood between me and them. And also one of the
most controversial and criticize things about administration was I like to get
a varied point of view. I didn’t want to have just sycophants around me who
would tell me what I wanted to hear, or give me one, and only one, version of
what we should do a time of crisis. I wanted to get conflicting views, and I
made the decisions. So I liked the way the White House was operated in my term,
but it’s different what other Presidents have… I think you call that “spokes of a
wheel” that came into the center rather than–the chief of staff. Yes, that’s right. You can’t have to involve…. But you can handle seven or eight different key people, each
one that they have domestic policy, one to deal directly with–say with urban problems, one to deal with environment, one to deal with science and technology, one to
deal with defense and so forth. Well that’s not too much more complexity.
As much as presidents are forced to react to emergencies, President Carter
organized his administration to deal with long-range policy issues, to
determine what the big national problems would be in the coming years, and then spirit of problem solvers, to take them
on. An example of this was his national policy on energy. We simply must balance
our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can
control our future instead of letting the future control us. I probably spent–you know three times as much of my effort trying to get it on energy policy for our country as I did
fooling around with Middle East peace. But that slow tedious negotiating of an energy policy. The deregulation of oil and gas prices.
The orchestration of legislation requiring automobiles to be more
efficient. The change in the rate structure of electricity so you don’t
waste electricity to deliberately. The more
careful of our building of homes so they don’t waste electricty. Those are the kind
of things that took so much of my time– much more than foreign policy, but
they’re not the kind of things that grab the attention of the press of the public.
I had been trying to convince the country that it was best for us to stop
wasting energy. When I went into office, we were importing about forty eight
percent about our oil. I thought it was a threat to our security, and I used a
phrase that Admiral Rickover gave me on a little piece of paper, the moral
equivalent of war. And I was getting ready I think to make my fifth so-called
fireside chat or speech to the country, and I said look the American people to
quit listening. They don’t want to hear anymore about sacrifice. They don’t want to hear more about limits. So I cancelled the speech and I went up to Camp David and consulted a lot of people and I made this speech saying, in effect, that our
country had been to some shocking times in the past. We went to the Civil War. We
went to the assassination of John Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, and Martin
Luther King Jr. We went to the ordeal of Watergate and Vietnam. But our Country
had been resilient. We had been able to take these crises, and to survive them. Now
we had a crisis on our hands in dealing with the oil shortages, and I had
confidence that people could resolve this issue as well. The speech
amazingly was with the best received speech ever made immediately
thereafter. It was later characterized with the word I never use. It was malaise. Malaise? I wasn’t pointing out that our country was decrepit, or lacking in
resolve, or integrity, or strength. The point I made a speech in, and I hope you
read it, was that our country had been through these ordeals successfully, and
we can still do so. Also our natural resources are not limitless. We need to
conserve. But these are the kind of things that people don’t want to hear.
You know they want to hear that we are preeminent. We are a city–a light on a
hill. You know people look to us for guidance, for leadership, for authority,
for–for direction. We don’t have to worry about oil shortages. But you felt it was
necessary? I felt it was necessary, and it was a
kind of a of a negative message that was not at all politically popular. You’ve
commented in the past, Mr. President, about the cumbersome congressional
committee system. It seemed to have absorbed so much time of your people, for hearings–various things. Do you have any suggestions how to change that? It seems to get bigger. Well the problem is the fragmentation of the congressional responsibility. I remember when we had some of our a–
just very basic legislation being considered on energy policy. There would
be five major committees in the Congress working on it simultaneously, each one
with a different perspective and each one with different turf to protect. And
then within the house itself, you had to then have a reconciliation among those
five or six major committees, and then let the entire house vote on it. It was a
very tedious process, and then of course you had to have a reconciliation
between that and Senate. But reforms I think in the House and Senate are very
difficult to orchestrate, because it has to be
self reform. But now you’ve got several tens of thousands of congressional staff
members. That’s right, yes almost 30,000, I think.
30,000 it’s amazing, and those people, although they’re very fine specialists that are valuable to the member of Congress and shaping opinion
and decisions, are determined not to endanger their own existence as
government employees. So they are protecting what is there. So you’ve got
now a very rigid and very costly bureaucratic impediment to incisive
decisions in the House and Senate. You’ve mentioned the budget difficulty several times. What about a balanced budget amendment–a national? That’s foolish. You know, the people that have been advocating a
balanced budget amendment, including some very well respected presidents, all
they’ve got to do is to draft a balanced budget that is sound and justifiable
indefensible and presented to the Congress, and in that the Congress take
the ownness, which would be quite severe on balancing the budget. That has not
been done in the last 10 years. In fact, the budgets have gotten out of hand–the
budget deficits are in just eight years after he left office, the nation’s
federal debt tripled. An extraordinary blight, I think on the future of our
country and its fiscal and financial integrity. Our founding fathers that
divides that Constitution we talked about never envisioned what we now call
a divided government–that is a Congress of one party in a White House of another
party, and they don’t seem to be able to resolve that. What would you do? Well I don’t think we ought to change
the Constitution to require that the two be the same party. I didn’t have a problem
because I had a Democratic Congress. You were one of those that escaped that. But let me say that quite often I had to turn to the Republican leadership to do things that
I thought was important. For instance, to reform the federal bureaucracy was a
campaign promise of mine, and when I was elected, I very carefully drafted a law
and presented it to the Congress my first day the White House. I could not get a single
Democratic congressman to introduce that legislation, so I called on the
Republican leadership to introduce legislation for me, and it and it passed. What about currently this kind of
standoff that sometimes reflects itself and gridlock, whether it be budget or not,
does that go to the political system? Would you change the terms of Senators,
Congressmen? Would you limit those? Would you change the finance of campaigns now? I would not change the terms of the House and Senate, but I
would certainly change the financial promise. I think that perhaps one of the
most–I don’t know whether it’s a disturbing or disgraceful–I’ll say
disgraceful elements of our modern political system is the unwarranted
influence of political action committees, who in effect legally bribe the members
of the House and Senate. And when they finance a campaign by giving tens or
hundreds of thousands of dollars to a favored chairman of a committee or chairman of the subcommittee, that contribution is expected to be repaid. And quite often it’s
repaid by the orientation of that member of Congress to meet the needs off that
powerful lobby group and not meet the needs of our country. It is a very
serious defect in in the American political system now. There’s a new
effort being made to put in some reforms. I would like to see that. One possible
way of course is by public financing of the House and Senate races, but
incumbents will be very strongly opposed to that because it gives their they’re
non incumbent challengers much more of an equal chance to be elected, and they
don’t want to do that. What did you look for in people, both in
your cabinet and your staff? What were qualifications? I would say three things.
And you probably like the first thing, that’s loyalty. In the inner workings of the White House, you’ve got to have loyalty, because of free exchange of ideas and an absence of for betrayal to the public and so
forth is extremely important. I would say secondly is just intelligence and–or
competence. You’ve got to have people that can understand complexities, make
sound judgments, deal with subordinates, manage, and that’s important. And the
third thing I would say is a is a spirit of for servant-hood. You know people are
there to ingratiate themselves or to use their positions as a stepping stone to
greater things–that he has financial reward to leave the administration, I
think is something that I tried to avoid. So I’d say loyalty, competence, and
the eagerness to serve others, not to serve yourself. What rules did you lay
down for memoir writing–you know the person who comes in and serves a little time, goes out writes a book. Or leaks? As far as leaks are concerned, that’s a
different proposition. You know, there are times when you have making
tentative decisions trying to formulate your final conclusion to write
legislation or make a public speech–a statement. When the revelation of that
process can be very damaging. It can make sure that your success is–is gone. And
the worst thing is it up through the bureaucracy–I’d say take the State
Department is a special case. If you are considering two or three options on how
to deal with the Soviet Union or how to deal with the Middle East, if some
particular person in that in the State Department is a strong proponent of a
particular idea and the President ultimately it looks as though he’s going
to conclude differently, then that person will go to the Washington Post, or the
Time Magazine or whatever and say, “this is what’s going on and it’s a very bad
mistake, and this is what should be done.” And it robs the government of its legitimate level of integrity and trust. Well those are the kind of
things that you have to let you have to try to minimize. You had no rules, just case-by-case That’s right. one time I remember we
had a document that I considered to be so secret that in a White House we only
made one copy. I read it. The Vice President read it, the National Security Advisor read it, my chief of staff read it, and that was
it. We all put our initial the same document, and then the document went to
the Defense Department because it involved defense matter. And I later
found out they made a hundred and ten Xerox copies and distribute it all
through the top and secondary levels to the Defense Department. You know these kind of things can be very costly. And when we were ready to normalize
relations with China, I just decided not to let the State Department know about
it. So we sent all of our messages back and forth from the White House itself. Of
course the Secretary of State, Cy Vance came into the White House to help us
draft the negotiating text that went then to Beijing. But we will never send a
single copy of this document to the State Department. Had we done that it
would have been revealed to the public, and the so-called “Taiwan Lobby” which was a very powerful factor, and I can choose you know, would have probably have subverted the entire process. The media, terribly powerful now. Is it too powerful? Does it
have too much effect now on the presidency? I really don’t think so. There have been scholarly analysis done and published in–I think a book called, “The Presidential Quarterly,” that
showed that my administration was treated more severely by the press than
any other in this century, including President Nixon during the Watergate years. But
even then, you know I never thought that it would be advisable to restrict the
freedom or the influence of power of the press. The only way really that the
President has to to relay his views to the American people, to use a so-called
bully pulpit, is through the press. The press in this country is basically
self-correcting. It’s not always accurate– you know with the pressures of for
deadlines and so forth, but if one particular medium does report
an event erroneously, with great relish, their competitors in the news media jump
on that mistake and publicize it. So I think the self-correcting nature of the
press, and the incisive analysis of what’s going on in the internal affairs
of Government is very healthy. The White House press corps is basically combative.
It’s basically trying to trick the President to say something that’s ridiculous, or foolish, or ludicrous. The thing that I did that was very are helpful to me, was to have on Friday noon, about 40 regional news representatives
come into the Cabinet Room–editors of ________ newspapers, TV directors in
regional places. And they would ask me a totally different kind of question.
You leap–leap over that [leap over that] and in–what they ask is questions was sometimes very difficult to answer. But it also gave you a very
good insight into what’s going on in Des Moines. What are the people in Sarasota,
Florida, worrying about? Or, how the logging industry being treated
in in Washington State? Those are the kind of questions you wouldn’t get from the White House press corps, but you did get them when you
invited those people to come into the White House. And that’s what I did
very regularly and consistently for four years. Mr. President, one of the things been suggested it should you have press conferences occasionally where you limit
the subject matter on one subject, say no other question? Well that’s certainly possible, and I
think the president could orchestrate that. As a matter of fact, I did have one
or two. One was quite unpleasant by the way. I had a press conference on my
brother Billy. Billy Carter was a colorful personality whose freelance
business dealings, such as those with Libya, were extremely controversial.
Shortly before the 1980 convention, and there was so much show fervor in the
press about my brother, that I called a press conference at lasted the full hour–
not just a half an hour. And I only answered questions about
Billy, which is what the press wanted. But I think it’s very difficult to do that
as a habitual thing. How often did you believe you had to have press conferences? Did you set yourself that strategy? Yes, I set a goal
of every two weeks and we adhered to that goal for two-and-a-half years. Did you have to prepare for those? Yes, I did. The day of the press
conference, I would usually have a briefing book that was that was done by
the press office, and they would try to guess what kind of questions would be
asked. It wasn’t very difficult, and I would say they had about an eighty-five
percent batting average. In other words, eighty-five percent of the questions of
the President gets at the press conference are predictable. Every now and
then, of course those you get that you can’t predict. I really enjoyed those. You can
look at look at some of the tapes of my old press conferences. You can tell that
kind of enjoyed the give-and-take with the…Were they worthwhile? I think so. Yes i think so. I
believe they were worthwhile, and it lets the President of present his views
directed to the people without editing. How did you read public opinion?
Did you rely on polls, a good deal? Or did you feel you had enough input from your staff and other people? I don’t believe we ever did polls in the
White House, except we would obviously read those that were published in the major media. So you didn’t go out and measure on an issue yourself? No, what I did quite often if
you look back in history was had town meetings. I would go to a place in
Arkansas, in Massachusetts, or in California, wherever, and spend the night
with a private American family, which was always interesting, and then that
evening would have a live television covered a town meeting, and
sometimes it would be telecast nationwide. We’re glad to have you here,
and I know you like tough questions. I think I have one. Right on. In the spirit
of your… I would answer questions of the unrestrained type from
private citizens for like an hour and a half. And that kind of questioning gives
me a very good feedback. Our target is to have twenty percent of all the energy
that we consume in this nation come directly from the sun by the year 2000.
Another very interesting proposal that I made when I was first elected, I don’t think
it’s ever been written about, is that I propose to the Speaker of the House and
to the Senate Majority Leader that come over to the Congress on occasion, every
month or so, and answer questions from the members of Congress in session. That’s a little like the parliamentary system. Yes, I thought that they would be delighted, but I got an immediate rejection of that
idea from the Speaker and from the Majority Leader. Their explanation
privately was I thought it would give me too much influence into the deliberation
of the Congress if I could come there and make a personal appeal to the
members of the House and Senate on a of issue of my preference. Vice Presidents
are constitutionally mandated to preside over the Senate without holding the
powers of senators. They represent the president ceremonies and chair various
fact-finding committees. However, Mr. Carter said he intended to have his Vice
President, Walter Mondale, play a larger role in government, to prepare him to
step into the office of the presidency. You made Mr. Mondale a prominent figure. You
brought him into the internal workings of the White House. I guess more than any
other president. I did. When I decided to ask Fritz Mondale to be Vice President, it was with the understanding that he would be treated with respect and with dignity
and with responsibilities. I gave him an office inside the White House. He was
never once excluded from a meeting of the utmost importance, in which I was
involved. I gave him substantive things to do. I didn’t make him just a figurehead
of a Blue-ribbon Commission. Should we change the laws? Should their be statutory…? No, I think that’s a decision for each president to make. You know, some Presidents just let the Vice President be his representative to attend foreign leaders
funerals, and to head so-called Drug Enforcement
Blue-ribbon Commission and so forth. I really thought that I needed Fritz
Mondale to be a partner with me. And that partnership was was beautiful. I
always felt at ease about my Vice President taken over if something
happened to me. Also, an interesting thing was that when I went into office when I
was elected before was inaugurated, I discovered that the Vice President had
not ever been included in the process for handing nuclear weapons, which is a
startling was a startling discovery. None of the three previous Vice
Presidents were. I couldn’t believe it was true, but the Vice President Mondale
was placed in the succession just behind me. He had all of the information about–about the so-called strategic response to a prospect of
strike. So in every possible way, Mondale, my vice president’s was treated in
such a way that if anything happened to me, he could immediately know about and
understand what was happening. What about this idea that’s knocked around a bit, Mr. President, that we have to go to a single six-year term, and not burden a
President with reelective politics while he’s in office? I think it would be a good idea. Do you like that six year term? Yes, I do. I see it work in France very beautiful, I think they have
a seven-year term. But I think one six year term for an American President with no
reelection would be the best approach. I don’t think it’s ever going to be done
because it’s so difficult under our system to amend the Constitution, for which I’m
thankful. You’re anti-Jeffersonian there again. He proposed a constitutional
convention every 20 years to readjust the Constitution you think not? That
frightens me. Rather keep it the way it is unless you… I have real doubts? This is not this kind of harsh thing to say. I have real doubts that in a constitutional convention now you could pass a 10 of
Bill of Rights. Really? Yes. Too contentions? Yes, too contentious, too contentious. I see? What about the 22nd amendment, Mr. President, that limits a
President to two terms. Now some of your predecessors and successors as a matter
of fact that said that robs the sitting President, who is not running
again of some power. He’s a lame duck. Well, I personally don’t favor changing that. As far as a length of time a President, I think either a two four-year terms or one six year term. My preference would be the latter. I
think it would add stature and more respect for the office of the President if they
knew that he was serving one term. That he was not looking just to reelect
himself through doing only popular things and avoiding the difficult issues.
I think that would be helpful. Mr. President, it’s always been of interest to
me how a president reconciles his own moral code individually, man to man, with… what you have to do sometimes in office. I never really found any irreconcilable conflicts in my life between marrow deep religious and moral
beliefs, on the one hand in my duties as a president. I had a problem with the
abortion issue, because of my religious faith convinces me that
abortion is not right, and still I was sworn in an oath before God to uphold
the Constitution laws of my country and the constitution laws of my country. And the laws of my country on abortion as
interpreted by the Supreme Court that said that in the first trimester of pregnancy
that abortions are permitted. So I enforce that law. And I thought that
human rights was a moral issue, but the way I feel is that the United States
is a moral country. You know, we are guided not only as individuals but by as
a country by the same basic standards, and so they ought not to be any
substantial discrepancies between what we do as human beings that it’s right
and decent and just and fair and compassionate on the one end, and what we do as a nation that’s right and decent just and fair. That is the theme which got
Jimmy Carter elected President, and it stands as a code of conduct for
any person in the Oval Office.

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