This interview ran in the November 1976 issue of Playboy magazine.
The biographical details are all too familiar by now and, indeed, may seem a little pointless this month. If Jimmy Carter is elected President of the United Slates a few weeks from now, the facts about where he spent his youth, how he was educated and the way he came out of nowhere to capture the Democratic nomination will soon enough be available in history books and on cereal boxes.
What will be less available and less familiar is what kind of person Carter is. To many Americans, the old charge that he was “fuzzy” on the issues may be less accurate than the persistent feeling that he is fuzzy as a personality. Even this late in the campaign, Carter remains for many an unknown quantity.
When Carter agreed to do a “Playboy Interview” we decided we’d try our best not to add to all the hype that always gushes forth during a Presidential campaign. We wanted to pit him against an interviewer who would prod him and challenge him and not be afraid to ask irreverent questions. Our choice of interviewer was natural: Robert Scheer, the Bronx-born Berkeley-based journalist who in the past year has done interviews with California governor Jerry Brown for Playboy (which was widely regarded as the earliest and most thorough exposure of Brown’s curious politics and beliefs) and both William and Emily Harris for New Times (which provided crucial evidence in the trial of Patty Hearst).
For three months, Scheer dogged the footsteps of the peanut farmer who would be President, scrambling aboard press planes, sleeping in motels, hanging out with the pack of journalists that grew in size as the campaign gathered momentum. With the support of Carter’s young aides—notably, press secretary Jody Powell and campaign manager Hamilton Jordan—Scheer and Playboy managed to log more hours of recorded conversations with the candidate than any other publication or news medium— a fact Carter joked about at the final session. After writing the accompanying article about his experiences and about Carter, a very exhausted Scheer filed this report:
“It was the day after the Democratic Convention in New York City Jody Powell was harried.
“‘Listen, Scheer, I’m not going to kid you. Now that he’s the nominee, I’ve got over 700 requests from all over the world for interviews. He’s told me to cut back, but I’ve got a prior commitment to you guys and I’m going to honor it. So hop a plane down to his place in Plains. We’ll just cut out an appointment with some future Secretary of State.’
“Jody keeps his sense of humor even when lies harried. I had already logged hours of tape with Carter under conditions that were never less than chaotic. Our conversations had started when his chances were shakier and his time slightly more available. But, as Jody had said, once he became the nominee, it was going to be even tougher.
"Some of our sessions were as short as half an hour on board the campaign plane, with the roar of engines and the pilot’s announcements adding to the frenzy. Playboy and I both hung in there through the months, taking (and paying for) flights halfway across the country on the tentative promise of yet one more hurried chat. After all the baggage searches by the Secret Service and the many times I’d had to lurch up an airplane aisle, fumbling with my tape recorder, I was looking forward to a leisurely conversation with Carter at his home after the nomination.
"Earlier this year, when I was working on the interview with Governor Jerry Brown, my Playboy editor, Barry Golson, had joined me for the final sessions at the governor’s office in Sacramento. It had produced interesting results—I, the aggressive Berkeley radical, Golson the Eastern diplomatic Yalie. We felt the Mutt and Jeff technique would he valuable with Carter as well, so Golson and I traveled to Plains for the final session.
"Down in Plains, everything was normal. Brother Billy Carter was in his blue overalls, leaning against a storefront, drawling about this and that to one of the locals who hadn’t been up to New York City for the big show. We drove past the Secret Service barricades, past daughter Amy’s lemonade stand, and parked in front of the Carter home. As we entered the front door, the candidate, dressed in rumpled work clothes and dusty clodhoppers, was ushering out an impeccably dressed six-man contingent from Reader’s Digest.
"As we said hello and sat down in his living room to adjust our tape recorders, I remarked to Carter that he must be in a puckish mood, talking to both the Digest and Playboy on the same afternoon. Carter flashed us every one of his teeth: ‘Yeah, but you guys must have some kind of blackmail leverage on Jody. I’ve spent more time with you than with* Time, Newsweek and all the others combined.’
"It was a flattering opening shot, but probably more canny and less casual than it sounded. A week earlier, during the Democratic Convention, Golson had bumped into Jordan at a party in New York. Neither of them was entirely sober, and they discussed the interview. Golson said something about all the time Carter had spent with me. Jordan replied, 'We wouldn’t do it if it weren’t in our interest. It’s your readers who are probably predisposed toward Jimmy–but they may not vote at all if they feel uneasy about him.’
"For me, the purpose of the questioning was not to get people to vote for or against the man but to push Carter on some of the vagueness he’s wrapped himself in. We tried to get beyond the campaigner to some of the personal doubts and confusions–as well as the strengths–of the man himself. Throughout my months on the campaign trail, I found Carter impatient with social chitchat and eager for challenging questions. He is thin-skinned, as others have reported, and he’ll glare at you if he doesn’t like something you’ve asked. But he can take it as well as dish it out and, unlike many other politicians I’ve interviewed, he’ll eventually respond directly to a question if you press him hard enough. The best evidence of this is contained in the final portion of the interview, an open and revealing monolog that occurred because we happened to ask him one last question on a topic about which he’d become impatient and frustrated.
"Oh, just incidentally, there’s one bit of folklore about Jimmy Carter whose authenticity I can vouch for. When I’ve had a rough day, I’ve been known to toss down a drink or four, and I wondered what Carter did when he needed replenishment. I got my answer during one short session as I slipped into the plane seat next to him after he’d had a miserable day on the hustings. Between answers, he would gobble down handfuls of peanuts at about the same rate at which I drink. Different strokes, I thought.”
After nearly two years on the campaign trail, don’t you feel a little numbed by the routine–for instance, having to give the same speech over and over?
Sometimes. Once, when I was campaigning in the Florida primary, I made 12 speeches in one day. It was the worst day I ever had. But I generally have tried to change the order of the speech and emphasize different things. Sometimes I abbreviate and sometimes I elaborate. Of 20 different parts in a speech, I might take seven or eight and change them around. It depends on the audience–black people, Jewish people, chicanos—and that gives me the ability to make speeches that aren’t boring to myself.
The national news media have absolutely no interest in issues at all…. There’s nobody on the press plane who would ask an issue question unless he thought he could trick me into some crazy statement.
Every politician probably emphasizes different things to different audiences, but in your case, there’s been a common criticism that you seem to have several faces, that you try to be all things to all people. How do you respond to that?
I can’t make myself believe these are contrivances and subterfuges I’ve adopted to get votes. It may be, and I can’t get myself to admit it, but what I want to do is to let people know how I stand on the issues as honestly as I can.
If you feel you’ve been fully honest, why has the charge persisted that you’re “fuzzy” on the issues?
It started during the primaries, when most of my opponents were members of Congress. When any question on an issue came up, they would say, “I’m for the Kennedy-Corman bill on health care, period, no matter what’s in it.” If the question was on employment, they would say, “I’m for the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, no matter what’s in it.” But those bills were constantly being amended!
I’m just not able to do that. I have to understand what I’m talking about, and simplistic answers identifying my position with such-and-such a House bill are something I can’t put forward. That’s one reason I’ve been seen as fuzzy.
Another is that I’m not an ideolog and my positions are not predictable. Without any criticism of McGovern, if the question had ever come up on abortion, you could pretty well anticipate what he was going to say. If it were amnesty, you could predict what McGovern was going to say about that. But I’ve tried to analyze each question individually; I’ve taken positions that to me are fair and rational, and sometimes my answers are complicated.
The third reason is that I wasn’t a very vulnerable opponent for those who ran against me. Fuzziness was the only issue Congressman Udall, Senator Church–and others that are hard to remember now–could adopt in their campaigns against me. I think the drumming of that factor into the consciousness of the American voter obviously had some impact.
Still, not everybody’s sure whether you’re a conservative in liberal clothing or vice versa. F.D.R., for instance, turned out to be something of a surprise to people who’d voted for him, because he hadn’t seemed as progressive before he was elected as he turned out to be. Could you be a surprise that way?
I don’t believe that’s going to be the case. If you analyze the Democratic Party platform, you’ll see that it’s a very progressive, very liberal, very socially motivated platform. What sometimes surprises people is that I carry out my promises. People ask how a peanut farmer from the South who believes in balanced budgets and tough management of Government can possibly give the country tax and welfare reform, or a national health program, or insist on equal rights for blacks and women. Well, I’m going to do those things. I’ve promised them during the campaign, so I don’t think there will be many people disappointed–or surprised–when I carry out those commitments as President.
But isn’t it true that you turned out to be more liberal as governor of Georgia than people who voted for you had any reason to suspect?
I don’t really think so. No, The Atlanta Constitution, which was the source of all information about me, categorized me during the gubernatorial campaign as an ignorant, racist, backward, ultraconservative, rednecked South Georgia peanut farmer. Its candidate, Carl Sanders, the former governor, was characterized as an enlightened, progressive, well-educated, urbane, forceful, competent public official. I never agreed with the categorization that was made of me during the campaign. I was the same person before and after I became governor. I remember keeping a check list and every time I made a promise during the campaign, I wrote it down in a notebook. I believe I carried out every promise I made. I told several people during the campaign that one of the phrases I was going to use in my inaugural speech was that the time for racial discrimination was over. I wrote and made that speech.
The ultraconservatives in Georgia–who aren’t supporting me now, by the way–voted for me because of their animosity toward Carl Sanders. I was the alternative to him. They never asked me, “Are you a racist or have you been a member of the Ku Klux Klan?” because they knew I wasn’t and hadn’t been. And yet, despite predictions early this year by The Atlanta Constitution that I couldn’t get a majority of the primary vote in Georgia against Wallace, I received about 85 percent of the votes. So I don’t think the Georgia people have the feeling I betrayed them.
Considering what you’ve just said about The Atlanta Constitution, how do you feel about the media in general and about the job they do in covering the election issues? There’s still a tendency on the part of some members of the press to treat the South, you know, as a suspect nation. There are a few who think that since I am a Southern governor, I must be a secret racist or there’s something in a closet somewhere that’s going to be revealed to show my true colors. There’s been a constant probing back ten, twelve years in my background, even as early as the first primaries. Nobody probed like that into the background of Udall or Bayh or other people. But I don’t object to it particularly, I just recognize it.
(The answer was broken off and, at a later session, Carter returned to the question of the press and its coverage of issues. This time he was tired, his head sunk far back into his airplane seat. The exchange occurred during one of the late primaries.)
Issues? The local media are interested, all right, but the national news media have absolutely no interest in issues at all. Sometimes we freeze out the national media so we can open up press conferences to local people. At least we get questions from them–on timber management, on health care, on education. But the traveling press have zero interest in any issue unless it’s a matter of making a mistake. What they’re looking for is a 47-second argument between me and another candidate or something like that. There’s nobody in the back of this plane who would ask an issue question unless he thought he could trick me into some crazy statement.
My mother would come out of the L.B.J. headquarters and find her car smeared with soap and the antenna tied in a knot and ugly messages left on the front seat.
One crazy statement you were supposed to have made was reported by Robert Shrum after he quit as your speechwriter earlier this year. He said he’d been in conversations with you when you made some slighting references to Jewish voters. What’s your version of what happened?
Shrum dreamed up eight or ten conversations that never took place and nobody in the press ever asked me if they had occurred. The press just assumed that they had. I never talked to Shrum in private except for maybe a couple of minutes. If he had told the truth, if I had said all the things he claimed I had said, I wouldn’t vote for myself.
When a poll came out early in the primaries that said I had a small proportion of the Jewish vote, I said, “Well, this is really a disappointment to me–we’ve worked so hard with the Jewish voters. But my pro-Israel stand won’t change, even if I don’t get a single Jewish vote; I guess we’ll have to depend on non-Jews to put me in office.” But Shrum treated it as if it were some kind of racist disavowal of Jews. Well, that’s a kind of sleazy twisting of a conversation.
While we’re on the subject of the press, how do you feel about an issue that concerns the press itself–the right of journalists to keep their sources secret?
I would do everything I could to protect the secrecy of sources for the news media.
Both the press and the public seem to have made an issue out of your Baptist beliefs. Why do you think this has happened?
I’m not unique. There are a lot of people in this country who have the same religious faith. It’s not a mysterious or mystical or magical thing. But for those who don’t know the feeling of someone who believes in Christ, who is aware of the presence of God, there is, I presume, a quizzical attitude toward it. But it’s always been something I’ve discussed very frankly throughout my adult life.
We’ve heard that you pray 25 times a day. Is that true?
I’ve never counted. I’ve forgotten who asked me that, but I’d say that on an eventful day, you know, it’s something like that.
When you say an eventful day, do you mean you pray as a kind of pause, to control your blood pressure and relax?
Well, yes. If something happens to me that is a little disconcerting, if I feel a trepidation, if a thought comes into my head of animosity or hatred toward someone, then I just kind of say a brief silent prayer. I don’t ask for myself but just to let me understand what another’s feelings might be. Going through a crowd, quite often people bring me a problem, and I pray that their needs might be met. A lot of times, I’ll be in the back seat of a car and not know what kind of audience I’m going to face. I don’t mean I’m terror-stricken, just that I don’t know what to expect next. I’ll pray then, but it’s not something that’s conscious or formal. It’s just a part of my life.
One reason some people might be quizzical is that you have a sister, Ruth, who is a faith healer. The association of politics with faith healing is an idea many find disconcerting.
I don’t even know what political ideas Ruth has had, and for people to suggest I’m under the hold of a sister–or any other person–is a complete distortion of fact. I don’t have any idea whether Ruth has supported Democrats or not, whereas the political views of my other sister, Gloria, are remarkably harmonious with mine.
So you’re closer to Gloria, who has described herself as a McGovern Democrat and rides motorcycles as a hobby?
I like them both. But in the past 20 or 25 years, I’ve been much closer to Gloria, because she lives next door to me and Ruth lives in North Carolina. We hardly saw Ruth more than once a year at family get-togethers. What political attitudes Ruth has had, I have not the slightest idea. But my mother and Gloria and I have been very compatible. We supported Lyndon Johnson openly during the 1964 campaign and my mother worked at the Johnson county headquarters, which was courageous, not an easy thing to do politically. She would come out of the Johnson headquarters and find her car smeared with soap and the antenna tied in a knot and ugly messages left on the front seat. When my young boys went to school, they were beaten. So Mother and Gloria and I. along with my Rosalynn, have had the same attitudes even when we were in a minority in Plains. But Ruth lives in a different world in North Carolina.
Granting that you’re not as close to your religious sister as is assumed, we still wonder how your religious beliefs would translate into political action. For instance, would you appoint judges who would be harsh or lenient toward victimless crimes–offenses such as drug use, adultery, sodomy and homosexuality?
Committing adultery, according to the Bible–which I believe in–is a sin. For us to hate one another, for us to have sexual intercourse outside marriage, for us to engage in homosexual activities, for us to steal, for us to lie–all these are sins. But Jesus teaches us not to judge other people. We don’t assume the role of judge and say to another human being, “You’re condemned because you commit sins.” All Christians, all of us, acknowledge that we are sinful and the judgment comes from God, not from another human being.
As governor of Georgia, I tried to shift the emphasis of law enforcement away from victimless crimes. We lessened the penalties on the use of marijuana. We removed alcoholism as a crime, and so forth. Victimless crimes, in my opinion, should have a very low priority in terms of enforcing the laws on the books. But as to appointing judges, that would not be the basis on which I’d appoint them. I would choose people who were competent, whose judgment and integrity were sound. I think it would be inappropriate to ask them how they were going to rule on a particular question before I appointed them.
What about those laws on the books that govern personal behavior? Should they be enforced?
Almost every state in the Union has laws against adultery and many of them have laws against homosexuality and sodomy. But they’re often considered by police officers as not worthy of enforcing to the extent of disturbing consenting adults or breaking into a person’s private home.
But, of course, that gives the police a lot of leeway to enforce them selectively. Do you think such laws should be on the books at all?
That’s a judgment for the individual states to make. I think the laws are on the books quite often because of their relationship to the Bible. Early in the nation’s development, the Judaeo-Christian moral standards were accepted as a basis for civil law. But I don’t think it hurts to have this kind of standard maintained as a goal. I also think it’s an area that’s been interpreted by the Supreme Court as one that can rightfully be retained by the individual states.
Do you think liberalization of the laws over the past decade by factors as diverse as the pill and Playboy—an effect some people would term permissiveness–has been a harmful development?
Liberalization of some of the laws has been good. You can’t legislate morality. We tried to outlaw consumption of alcoholic beverages. We found that violation of the law led to bigger crimes and bred disrespect for the law.
We’re confused. You say morality can’t be legislated, yet you support certain laws because they preserve old moral standards. How do you reconcile the two positions?
I believe people should honor civil laws. If there is a conflict between God’s law and civil law, we should honor God’s law. But we should be willing to accept civil punishment. Most of Christ’s original followers were killed because of their belief in Christ; they violated the civil law in following God’s law. Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian who has dealt with this problem at length, says that the framework of law is a balancing of forces in a society; the law itself tends to alleviate tensions brought about by these forces. But the laws on the books are not a measure of this balance nearly as much as the degree to which the laws are enforced. So when a law is anachronistic and is carried over from a previous age, it’s just not observed.
What we’re getting at is how much you’d tolerate behavior that your religion considers wrong. For instance, in San Francisco, you said you considered homosexuality a sin. What does that mean in political terms?
The issue of homosexuality always makes me nervous. It’s obviously one of the major issues in San Francisco. I don’t have any, you know, personal knowledge about homosexuality and I guess being a Baptist, that would contribute to a sense of being uneasy.
Does it make you uneasy to discuss it simply as a political question?
No, it’s more complicated than that. It’s political, it’s moral and it’s strange territory for me. At home in Plains, we’ve had homosexuals in our community, our church. There’s never been any sort of discrimination–some embarrassment but no animosity, no harassment. But to inject it into a public discussion on politics and how it conflicts with morality is a new experience for me. I’ve thought about it a lot, but I don’t see how to handle it differently from the way I look on other sexual acts outside marriage.
We’d like to ask you a blunt question: Isn’t it just these views about what’s “sinful” and what’s “immoral” that contribute to the feeling that you might get a call from God, or get inspired and push the wrong button? More realistically, wouldn’t we expect a puritanical tone to be set in the White House if you were elected?
Harry Truman was a Baptist. Some people get very abusive about the Baptist faith. If people want to know about it, they can read the New Testament. The main thing is that we don’t think we’re better than anyone else. We are taught not to judge other people. But as to some of the behavior you’ve mentioned, I can’t change the teachings of Christ. I can’t change the teachings of Christ! I believe in them, and a lot of people in this country do as well. Jews believe in the Bible. They have the same commandments.
Then you as President, in appointing Supreme Court Justices—
I think we’ve pursued this conversation long enough–if you have another question…. Look, I’ll try to express my views. It’s not a matter of condemnation, it’s not a matter of persecution. I’ve been a governor for four years. Anybody can come and look at my record. I didn’t run around breaking down people’s doors to see if they were fornicating. This is something that’s ridiculous.
We know you didn’t, but we’re being so persistent because of this matter of self-righteousness, because of the moral certainty of so many of your statements. People wonder if Jimmy Carter ever is unsure. Has he ever been wrong, has he ever had a failure of moral nerve?
Well, there are a lot of things I could have done differently had I known during my early life what I now know. I would certainly have spoken out more clearly and loudly on the civil rights issue. I would have demanded that our nation never get involved initially in the Vietnam war. I would have told the country in 1972 that Watergate was a much more horrible crime than we thought at the time. It’s easy to say in hindsight what you would have done if you had had information you now have.
We were asking not so much about hindsight as about being fallible. Aren’t there any examples of things you did that weren’t absolutely right?
I don’t mind repeating myself. There are a lot of those in my life. Not speaking out for the cessation of the war in Vietnam. The fact that I didn’t crusade at a very early stage for civil rights in the South, for the one-man, one-vote ruling. It might be that now I should drop my campaign for President and start a crusade for black-majority rule in South Africa or Rhodesia. It might be that later on, we’ll discover there were opportunities in our lives to do wonderful things and we didn’t take advantage of them.
The fact that in 1954 I sat back and required the Warren Court to make this ruling without having crusaded myself—that was obviously a mistake on my part. But these are things you have to judge under the circumstances that prevailed when the decisions were being made. Back then, the Congress, the President, the newspaper editors, the civil libertarians all said that separate-but-equal facilities were adequate. These are opportunities overlooked, or maybe they could be characterized as absence of courage.
Since you still seem to be saying you’d have done the right thing if you’d known what you know now, is it realistic to conclude that a person running for the highest office in the land can’t admit many mistakes or moments of self-doubt?
I think that’s a human circumstance. But if there are issues I’m avoiding because of a lack of courage, either I don’t recognize them or I can’t make myself recognize them.
You mentioned Vietnam. Do you feel you spoke out at an early enough stage against the war?
No, I did not. I never spoke out publicly about withdrawing completely from Vietnam until March of 1971.
It was the first time anybody had asked me about it. I was a farmer before then and wasn’t asked about the war until I took office. There was a general feeling in this country that we ought not to be in Vietnam to start with. The American people were tremendously misled about the immediate prospects for victory, about the level of our involvement, about the relative cost in American lives. If I had known in the Sixties what I knew in the early Seventies, I think I would have spoken out more strongly. I was not in public office. When I took office as governor in 1970, I began to speak out about complete withdrawal. It was late compared with what many others had done, but I think it’s accurate to say that the Congress and the people–with the exception of very small numbers of people–shared the belief that we were protecting our democratic allies.
I can’t change the teachings of Christ. I can’t change the teachings of Christ! I believe in them, and a lot of people in this country do as well.
Even without holding office, you must have had some feelings about the war. When do you recall first feeling it was wrong?
There was an accepted feeling by me and everybody else that we ought not to be there, that we should never have gotten involved, we ought to get out.
You felt that way all through the Sixties?
Yeah, that’s right, and I might hasten to say that it was the same feeling expressed by Senators Russell and Talmadge—very conservative Southern political figures. They thought it was a serious mistake to be in Vietnam.
Your son Jack fought in that war. Did you have any qualms about it at the time?
Well, yes, I had problems about my son fighting in the war. period. But I never make my sons’ decisions for them. Jack went to war feeling it was foolish, a waste of time, much more deeply than I did. He also felt it would have been grossly unfair for him not to go when other, poorer kids had to.
You were in favor of allocating funds for the South Vietnamese in 1975 as the war was coming to a close, weren’t you?
That was when we were getting ready to evacuate our troops. The purpose of the money was to get our people out and maintain harmony between us and our Vietnamese allies, who had fought with us for 25 years. And I said yes, I would do that. But it was not a permanent thing, not to continue the war but to let us get our troops out in an orderly fashion.
How do you respond to the argument that it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who got us into the Vietnam war?
I think it started originally, maybe, with Eisenhower, then Kennedy. Johnson and then Nixon. It’s not a partisan matter. I think Eisenhower probably first got us in there thinking that since France had failed, our country might slip in there and succeed. Kennedy thought he could escalate involvement by going beyond the mere advisory role. I guess if there was one President who made the most determined effort, conceivably, to end the war by massive force, it was certainly Johnson. And Nixon went into Cambodia and bombed it, and so forth.
It’s not partisan—it’s just a matter that evolved as a habit over several administrations. There was a governmental consciousness to deal in secrecy, to exclude the American people, to mislead them with false statements and sometimes outright lies. Had the American people been told the facts from the beginning by Eisenhower, Kennedy. MacNamara, Johnson, Kissinger and Nixon, I think there would have been different decisions made in our Government.
At the Democratic Convention, you praised Johnson as a President who had vastly extended human rights. Were you simply omitting any mention of Vietnam?
It was obviously the factor that destroyed his political career and damaged his whole life. But as far as what I said at the convention, there hasn’t been another President in our history—with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln—who did so much to advance the cause of human rights.
Except for the human rights of the Vietnamese and the Americans who fought there.
Well, I really believe that Johnson’s motives were good. I think he tried to end the war even while the fighting was going on, and he was speaking about massive rehabilitation efforts, financed by our Government, to help people. I don’t think he ever had any desire for permanent entrenchment of our forces in Vietnam. I think he had a mistaken notion that he was defending democracy and that what he was doing was compatible with the desires of the South Vietnamese.
Then what about the administration that ended the war? Don’t you have to give credit to Kissinger, the Secretary of State of a Republican President, for ending a war that a Democratic President escalated?
I think the statistics show that more bombs were dropped in Vietnam and Cambodia under Nixon and Kissinger than under Johnson. Both administrations were at fault; but I don’t think the end came about as a result of Kissinger’s superior diplomacy. It was the result of several factors that built up in an inexorable way: the demonstrated strength of the Viet Cong, the tremendous pressure to withdraw that came from the American people and an aroused Congress. I think Nixon and Kissinger did the proper thing in starting a phased withdrawal, but I don’t consider that to be a notable diplomatic achievement by Kissinger. As we’ve now learned, he promised the Vietnamese things that cannot be delivered–reparations, payments, economic advantages, and so forth. Getting out of Vietnam was very good, but whether Kissinger deserved substantial diplomatic credit for it is something I doubt.
You’ve said you’ll pardon men who refused military service because of the Vietnam war but not necessarily those who deserted while they were in the Armed Forces. Is that right?
That’s right. I would not include them. Deserters ought to be handled on a separate-case basis. There’s a difference to me. I was in the Navy for a long time. Somebody who goes into the military joins a kind of mutual partnership arrangement, you know what I mean? Your life depends on other people, their lives depend on you. So I don’t intend to pardon the deserters. As far as the other categories of war resisters go, to me the ones who stayed in this country and let their opposition to the war be known publicly are more heroic than those who went and hid in Sweden. But I’m not capable of judging motives, so I’m just going to declare a blanket pardon.
The first week I’m in office.
You’ve avoided the word amnesty and chosen to use the word pardon, but there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two in the dictionary. Could it be because amnesty is more emotionally charged and pardon a word more people will accept?
You know I can’t deny that. But my reason for distinguishing between the two is that I think that all of those poor, and often black, young men who went to Vietnam are more worthy of recognition than those who defected, and the word pardon includes those who simply avoided the war completely. But I just want to bring the defectors back to this country without punishment and, in doing so, I would like to have the support of the American people. I haven’t been able to devise for private or public presentation a better way to do it.
Earlier this year, there was a report that as governor of Georgia, you had issued a resolution that seemed to support William Galley after his trial for the My Lai massacre and that you’d referred to him as a scapegoat. Was that a misreading of your position?
Yes. There was no reason for me to mislead anybody on the Calley thing. I thought when I first read about him that Calley was a murderer. He was tried in Georgia and found to be a murderer. I said two things: One, that Calley was not typical of our American Servicemen and, two, that he was a scapegoat because his superiors should have been tried, too. The resolution I made as governor didn’t have anything to do with Calley. The purpose of it, calling for solidarity with our boys in Vietnam, was to distinguish American Servicemen fighting an unpopular war. They weren’t murderers, but they were equated, unfortunately, with a murderer in people’s minds.
In preparing for this interview, we spoke with your mother, your son Chip and your sister Gloria. We asked them what single action would most disappoint them in a Carter Presidency. They all replied that it would be if you ever sent troops to intervene in a foreign war. In fact, Miss Lillian said she would picket the White House.
They share my views completely.
What about more limited military action? Would you have handled the Mayaguez incident the same way President Ford did?
Let me assess that in retrospect. It’s obvious we didn’t have adequate intelligence; we attacked an island when the Mayaguez crew was no longer there. There was a desire, I think, on the part of President Ford to extract maximum publicity from our effort, so that about 23 minutes after our crew was released, we went ahead and bombed the island airport. I hope I would have been capable of getting adequate intelligence, surrounded the island more quickly and isolated the crew so we wouldn’t have had to attack the airport after the crew was released. These are some of the differences in the way I would have done it.
So it’s a matter of degree; you would have intervened militarily, too.
I would have done everything necessary to keep the crew from being taken to the mainland, yes.
Then would you summarize your position on foreign intervention?
I would never intervene for the purpose of overthrowing a government. If enough were at stake for our national interest, I would use prestige, legitimate diplomatic leverage, trade mechanisms. But it would be the sort of effort that would not be embarrassing to this nation if revealed completely. I don’t ever want to do anything as President that would be a contravention of the moral and ethical standards that I would exemplify in my own life as an individual or that would violate the principles or character of the American people.
Do you feel it’s fair criticism that you seem to be going back to some familiar faces–such as Paul Warlike and Cyrus Vance–for foreign-policy advice? Isn’t there a danger of history’s repeating itself when you seek out those who were involved in our Vietnam decisions?
I haven’t heard that criticism. If you’re raising it, then I respond to the new critic. These people contribute to foreign-affairs journals, they individually explore different concepts of foreign policy. I have 15 or 20 people who work with me very closely on foreign affairs. Their views are quite divergent. The fact that they may or may not have been involved in foreign-policy decisions in the past is certainly no detriment to their ability to help me now.
I don’t ever want to do anything as President that would be a contravention of the moral and ethical standards that I would exemplify in my own life as an individual.
In some respects, your foreign policy seems similar to that established by Kissinger, Nixon and Ford. In fact, Kissinger stated that he didn’t think your differences were substantial. How, precisely, does your view differ from theirs?
As I’ve said in my speeches, I feel the policy of détente has given up too much to the Russians and gotten too little in return. I also feel Kissinger has equated his own popularity with the so-called advantages of détente. As I’ve traveled and spoken with world leaders—Helmut Schmidt of West Germany, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, various leaders in Japan—I’ve discerned a deep concern on their part that the United States has abandoned a long-standing principle: to consult mutually, to share responsibility for problems. This has been a damaging thing. In addition, I believe we should have stronger bilateral relations with developing nations.
What do you mean when you say we’ve given up too much to the Russians?
One example I’ve mentioned often is the Helsinki agreement. I never saw any reason we should be involved in the Helsinki meetings at all. We added the stature of our presence and signature to an agreement that, in effect, ratified the take-over of eastern Europe by the Soviet Union. We got very little, if anything, in return. The Russians promised they would honor democratic principles and permit the free movement of their citizens, including those who want to emigrate. The Soviet Union has not lived up to those promises and Mr. Brezhnev was able to celebrate the major achievement of his diplomatic life.
Are you charging that Kissinger was too soft on the Russians?
Kissinger has been in the position of being almost uniquely a spokesman for our nation. I think that is a legitimate role and a proper responsibility of the President himself. Kissinger has had a kind of Lone Ranger, secret foreign-policy attitude, which almost ensures that there cannot be adequate consultation with our allies; there cannot be a long-range commitment to unchanging principles; there cannot be a coherent evolution on foreign policy; there cannot be a bipartisan approach with support and advice from Congress. This is what I would avoid as President and is one of the major defects in the Nixon-Ford foreign policy as expressed by Kissinger.
Say. do you always do your own sewing? (This portion of the interview also took place aboard a plane. As he answered the interviewer’s questions, Carter had been sewing a rip in his jacket with a needle and thread he carried with him.)
Uh-huh. (He bit off the thread with his teeth.)
Anyway, you said earlier that your foreign policy would exemplify your moral and ethical standards. Isn’t there as much danger in an overly moralistic policy as in the kind that is too pragmatic?
I’ve said I don’t think we should intervene militarily, but I see no reason not to express our approval, at least verbally, with those nations that develop democratically. When Kissinger says, as he did recently in a speech, that Brazil is the sort of government that is most compatible with ours–well, that’s the kind of thing we want to change. Brazil is not a democratic government; it’s a military dictatorship. In many instances, it’s highly repressive to political prisoners. Our Government should justify the character and moral principles of the American people, and our foreign policy should not short-circuit that for temporary advantage. I think in every instance we’ve done that it’s been counterproductive. When the CIA undertakes covert activities that might be justified if they were peaceful, we always suffer when they’re revealed–it always seems as if we’re trying to tell other people how to act. When Kissinger and Ford warned Italy she would be excluded from NATO if the Communists assumed power, that was the best way to make sure Communists were elected. The Italian voters resent it. A proper posture for our country in this sort of situation is to show, through demonstration, that our own Government works properly, that democracy is advantageous, and let the. Italian people make their own decisions.
And what if the Communists in Italy had been elected in greater numbers than they were? What if they had actually become a key part of the Italian government?
I think it would be a mechanism for subversion of the strength of NATO and the cohesiveness that ought to bind European countries together. The proper posture was the one taken by Helmut Schmidt, who said that German aid to Italy would be endangered.
Don’t you think that constitutes a form of intervention in the democratic processes of another nation?
No, I don’t. I think that when the democratic nations of the world express themselves frankly and forcefully and openly, that’s a proper exertion of influence. We did the same thing in Portugal. Instead of going in through surreptitious means and trying to overthrow the government when it looked like the minority Communist Party was going to assume power, the NATO countries as a group made it clear to Portugal what it would lose in the way of friendship, trade opportunities, and so forth. And the Portuguese people, recognizing that possibility, decided that the Communists should not lead their government. Well, that was legitimate exertion of influence, in my opinion. It was done openly and it was a mere statement of fact.
You used the word subversion referring to communism. Hasn’t the world changed since we used to throw words like that around? Aren’t the west European Communist parties more independent of Moscow and more willing to respect democracy?
Yes, the world’s changed. In my speeches, I’ve made it clear that as far as Communist leaders in such countries as Italy, France and Portugal are concerned, I would not want to close the doors of communication, consultation and friendship to them. That would be an almost automatic forcing of the Communist leaders into the Soviet sphere of influence. I also think we should keep open our opportunities for the east European nations–even those that are completely Communist–to trade with us, understand us, have tourist exchange and give them an option from complete domination by the Soviet Union.
But again, I don’t think you could expect West Germany to lend Poland two billion dollars–which was the figure in the case of Italy–when Poland is part of the Soviet government’s satellite and supportive-nation group. So I think the best way to minimize totalitarian influence within the governments of Europe is to make sure the democratic forces perform properly. The major shift toward the Communists in Italy was in the local elections, when the Christian Democrats destroyed their reputation by graft and corruption. If we can make our own Government work, if we can avoid future Watergates and avoid the activities of the CIA that have been revealed, if we can minimize joblessness and inflation, this will be a good way to lessen the inclination of people in other countries to turn away from our form of government.
I’m just a human being like everybody else…. I have different relationships with different kinds of people: sometimes very serious, sometimes very formal, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes intense, sometimes casual.
What about Chile? Would you agree that that was a case of the United States’, through the CIA, intervening improperly?
Yes. There’s no doubt about it. Sure.
And you would stop that sort of thing?
Absolutely. Yes, sir.
What about economic sanctions? Do you feel we should have punished the Allende government the way we did?
That’s a complicated question, because we don’t know what caused the fall of the Allende government, the murder of perhaps thousands of people, the incarceration of many others. I don’t have any facts as to how deeply involved we were, but my impression is that we were involved quite deeply. As I said, I wouldn’t have done that if I were President. But as to whether or not we ought to have an option on the terms of our loans, repayment schedules, interest charges, the kinds of materials we sell to them–those are options I would retain depending upon the compatibility of a foreign government with our own.
To what do you attribute all those deceptions and secret maneuverings through the years? Why were they allowed to happen?
It was a matter of people’s just saying, Well, that’s politics; we don’t have a right to know what our Government is doing; secrecy is OK; accepting gifts is OK; excluding the American people is OK. These are the kinds of things I want to change.
It sounds as if you’re saying Americans accepted indecency and lies in their Government all too easily. Doesn’t that make your constant campaign theme, invoking the decency and honesty of the American people, somewhat naive and ingenuous?
I say that the American people are basically decent and honest and want a truthful Government. Obviously, I know there are people in this country, out of 214,000,000, who are murderers. There are people, maybe, who don’t want a decent Government. Maybe there are people who prefer lies to truth. But I don’t think it’s simplistic to say that our Government hasn’t measured up to the ethical and moral standards of the people of this country. We’ve had better governments in the past and I think our people, as I’ve said many times, are just as strong, courageous and intelligent as they were 200 years ago. I think we still have the same inner strength they had then.
Even though a lot of people support that feeling, many others think it makes you sound like an evangelist. And that makes it all the more confusing when they read about your hanging out with people so different from you in lifestyle and beliefs. Your publicized friendship with journalist Hunter Thompson, who makes no secret of his affinity for drugs and other craziness, is a good example.
Well, in the first place, I’m a human being. I’m not a packaged article that you can put in a little box and say, “Here’s a Southern Baptist, an ignorant Georgia peanut farmer who doesn’t have the right to enjoy music, who has no flexibility in his mind, who can’t understand the sensitivities of an interpersonal relationship. He’s gotta be predictable. He’s gotta be for Galley and for the war. He’s gotta be a liar. He’s gotta be a racist.”
You know, that’s the sort of stereotype people tend to assume, and I hope it doesn’t apply to me. And I don’t see any mystery about having a friendship with Hunter Thompson. I guess it’s something that’s part of my character and it becomes a curiosity for those who see some mystery about someone of my background being elected President. I’m just a human being like everybody else. I have different interests, different understandings of the world around me, different relationships with different kinds of people. I have a broad range of friends: sometimes very serious, sometimes very formal, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes intense, sometimes casual.
So when you find yourself at a rock concert or in some other situation that seems at odds with your rural, religious background, you never feel a sense of estrangement?
None. No. I feel at home with 'em.
How did you get to feel this way without going through culture shock?
I have three sons, who now range from 23 to 29, and the oldest of them were very influenced by Bob Dylan in their attitudes toward civil rights, criminal justice and the Vietnam war. This was about the period of time I was entering politics. I’ve been fairly close to my sons and their taste in music influenced my taste, and I was able to see the impact of Bob Dylan’s attitudes on young people. And I was both gratified by and involved emotionally in those changes of attitudes.
Later, when I became governor, I was acquainted with some of the people at Capricorn Records in Macon–Otis Redding and others. It was they who began to meld the white and black music industries, and that was quite a sociological change for our region. So as I began to travel around Georgia, I made contact a few days every month or two with Capricorn Records, just to stay in touch with people in the state, and got to know all the Allman Brothers, Dicky Betts and others. Later on, I met Charlie Daniels and the Marshall Tucker Band.
Then I decided to run for President. I didn’t have any money and didn’t have any political base, so I had to depend substantially on the friends I already had. One of my potential sources for fund raising and for recruiting young volunteers was the group of recording stars I already knew. So we began to have concerts and I got to know them even better.
Of course, I’ve also been close to the country-music folks in Georgia, as well as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The first large contribution I got–$1000–was from Robert Shaw, the music director of the orchestra. We’ve been over at the Grand Ole Opry a few times and gotten to know people like Chubby Jackson and Tom T. Hall.
There’s been a lot of publicity about your relationship with Dylan, whom you quoted in your acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. How did that come about?
A number of years ago, my second son, Chip, who was working full time in our farming business, took a week off during Christmas. He and a couple of his friends drove all the way to New York–just to see Bob Dylan. There had been a heavy snowstorm and the boys had to park several miles from Dylan’s home. It was after Dylan was injured, when he was in seclusion. Apparently, Dylan came to the door with two of his kids and shook hands with Chip. By the time Chip got to the nearest phone, a couple of miles away, and called us at home, he was nearly incoherent. Rosalynn couldn’t understand what Chip was talking about, so she screamed, “Jimmy, come here quick! Something’s happened to Chip!”
We finally deciphered that he had shaken Dylan’s hand and was just, you know, very carried away with it. So when I read that Dylan was going on tour again, I wrote him a little personal note and asked him to come visit me at the governor’s mansion. I think he checked with Phil Walden of Capricorn Records and Bill Graham to find out what kind of guy is this, and he was assured I didn’t want to use him, I was just interested in his music.
The night he came, we had a chance to talk about his music and about changing times and pent-up emotions in young people. He said he didn’t have any inclination to change the world, that he wasn’t crusading and that his personal feelings were apparently compatible with the yearnings of an entire generation. We also discussed Israel, which he had a strong interest in. But that’s my only contact with Bob Dylan, that night.
I’ve been fairly close to my sons and their taste in music influenced my taste, and I was able to see the impact of Bob Dylan’s attitudes on young people.
That brings us back to the reason so many people find it hard to get a handle on you: On the one hand, your association with youth culture, civil rights and other liberal movements; and on the other, your apparent conservatism on many issues. Would you care to put it in a nutshell for us?
I’ll try. On human rights, civil rights, environmental quality, I consider myself to be very liberal. On the management of government, on openness of government, on strengthening individual liberties and local levels of government, I consider myself a conservative. And I don’t see that the two attitudes are incompatible.
Then let’s explore a few more issues. Not everyone is sure, for instance, what you mean by your call for tax reform. Does it mean that the burden will shift to corporations and upper-income groups and away from the middle- and lower-income groups, or are you talking merely about a simplified tax code?
It would involve both. One change I’m calling for is simplification, and the other involves shifting the income-tax burden away from the lower-income families. But what I’m really talking about is total, comprehensive tax reform for the first time since the income tax was approved back in 1913, I think it was.
It’s not possible to give you a definitive statement on tax reform any time soon. It’s going to take at least a year before we can come up with a new tax structure. But there are some general provisions that would be instituted that aren’t there now. The income-tax code, which now comprises 40,000 pages, will be greatly simplified. Income should be taxed only once. We should have a true progressive income tax, so that the higher the income, the higher the percentage of taxation. I see no reason why capital gains should be taxed at half the rate of income from manual labor. I would be committed to a great reduction in tax incentives, loopholes or whatever you want to call them, which are used as mechanisms to solve transient economic problems; they ought to be on a basis of annual appropriation or a time limit, rather than be built into the tax structure.
In any case, these are five or six things that would be dramatic departures from what we presently have and they should tell you what side of the issue I stand on.
Would one of those be increasing taxes for corporations, especially the overseas and domestic profits of multinational corporations?
No, I don’t think so. Obviously, there have been provisions written into the law that favor certain corporations, including those that have overseas investments; I would remove those incentives. Tax laws also benefit those who have the best lobbying efforts, those who have the most influence in Washington, and the larger the corporations are, on the average, the smaller proportion they pay in taxes. Small businesses quite often pay the flat maximum rate, 48 percent, while some larger corporations pay as little as five or six percent. That ought to be changed.
But as far as increasing over-all corporate taxes above the 50 percent level, I wouldn’t favor that. We also have the circumstance of multinational corporations’ depending on bribery as a mechanism for determining the outcome of a sale. I think bribery in international affairs ought to be considered a crime and punishable by imprisonment.
Would you sympathize with the anticorporate attitude that many voters feel?
Well, I’m not particularly anti-corporate, but I’d say I’m more oriented to consumer protection. One of the things I’ve established throughout the campaign is the need to break up the sweetheart arrangement between regulatory agencies and the industries they regulate. Another is the need for rigid and enthusiastic enforcement of the antitrust laws.
To take another issue, you favor a comprehensive Federal health-care system. Why don’t you just support the Kennedy-Corman bill, which provides for precisely that?
As a general philosophy, wherever the private sector can perform a function as effectively and efficiently as the Government, I would prefer to keep it within the private sector. So I would like the insurance aspect of the health program to be carried out by employer/employee contribution. There would be contributions from the general fund for those who are indigent. I would also have a very heavy emphasis on preventive health care, since I believe most of the major afflictions that beset people can be prevented or minimized. And I favor the use to a greater degree of nonphysicians, such as nurses, physicians’ assistants, and so forth. Some of these things are in conflict with the provisions of the Kennedy-Corman bill.
Let us ask you about one last stand: abortion.
I think abortion is wrong and I will do everything I can as President to minimize the need for abortions–within the framework of the decision of the Supreme Court, which I can’t change. Georgia had a more conservative approach to abortion, which I personally favored, but the Supreme Court ruling suits me all right. I signed a Georgia law as governor that was compatible with the Supreme Court decision.
You think it’s wrong, but the ruling suits you? What would we tell a woman who said her vote would depend on how you stood on abortion?
If a woman’s major purpose in life is to have unrestricted abortions, then she ought not to vote for me. But she wouldn’t have anyone to vote for.
There seem to have been relatively few women in important staff positions in your campaign. Is that accurate?
Women have been in charge of our entire campaign effort in Georgia and in New York State outside New York City. Also in Nebraska. Kansas, a third of the state of Florida and other areas.
But whenever we hear about a meeting of top staff members, they almost always seem to be white males. Is that a failing in your organization?
I don’t know about a failing. The three people with whom I consult regularly–in addition to my wife–are white males: Hamilton Jordan, Jody Powell and Charles Kirbo. But we do have a lot of women involved in the campaign. We are now setting up a policy committee to run a nationwide effort to coordinate Democratic races and 50 percent of the members of this committee will be women. But Jody has been my press secretary since 1970, and Hamilton and Kirbo were my major advisors in 1966. It’s such an extremely stable staff that there’s been no turnover at all in the past five or six years. But we’ve made a lot of progress, I think, in including women, and I think you’ll see more.
I just look at death as not a threat. It’s inevitable, and I have an assurance of eternal life…. I don’t say that in a mysterious way; I recognize the possibility of assassination…. But I just don’t worry.
You mention very frequently how much you count on your wife’s advice. Isn’t there a strain during the campaign, with the two of you separated so much of the time?
Well, when I was in the Navy, I was at sea most of the time and I’d see her maybe one or two nights a week. Now, when I’m home in Plains, I see her almost every night. And if I’m elected President, I’ll see her every night. So there is obviously a time to be together and a time to be separated. If you’re apart three or four days and then meet again, it’s almost–for me, it’s a very exciting reunion. I’ll have been away from Rosalynn for a few days and if I see her across an airport lobby, or across a street, I get just as excited as I did when I was, you know, 30 years younger.
We have a very close, very intimate sharing of our lives and we’ve had a tremendous magnification of our life’s purposes in politics. Before 1966, she and I were both very shy. It was almost a painful thing to approach a stranger or make a speech. It’s been a mutual change we’ve gone through, because we both felt it was worth while; so no matter what the outcome of the election, the relationship between Rosalynn and me will be very precious.
Did you both have the usual share of troubles adjusting to marriage?
We did at first. We’ve come to understand each other much better. I was by far the dominant person in the marriage at the beginning, but not anymore. She’s just as strong, if not stronger than I am. She’s fully equal to me in every way in our relationship, in making business decisions, and she makes most of the decisions about family affairs. And I think it was a struggle for her to achieve this degree of independence and equality in our personal relationship. So, to summarize, years ago we had a lot of quarrels–none serious, particularly–but now we don’t.
A lot of marriages are foundering these days. Why is yours so successful?
Well, I really love Rosalynn more now than I did when I married her. And I have loved no other women except her. I had gone out with all kinds of girls, sometimes fairly steadily, but I just never cared about them. Rosalynn had been a friend of my sister’s and was three years younger than I, which is a tremendous chasm in the high school years. She was just one of those insignificant little girls around the house. Then, when I was 21 and home from the Navy on leave. I took her out to a movie. Nothing extraordinary happened, but the next morning I told my mother, “That’s the girl I want to marry.” It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
We also share a religious faith, and the two or three times in our married life when we’ve had a serious crisis, I think that’s what sustained our marriage and helped us overcome our difficulty. Our children, too, have been a factor binding Rosalynn and me together. After the boys, Amy came along late and it’s been especially delightful for me, maybe because she’s a little girl.
This is a tough question to ask, but because it’s been such a factor in American political life, we wonder if you’ve ever discussed with Rosalynn the possibility of being assassinated. And, assuming you have, how do you deal with it in your own mind?
Well, in the first place, I’m not afraid of death. In the second place, it’s the same commitment I made when I volunteered to go into the submarine force. I accepted a certain degree of danger when I made the original decision, then I didn’t worry about it anymore. It wasn’t something that preyed on my mind; it wasn’t something I had to reassess every five minutes. There is a certain element of danger in running for President, borne out by statistics on the number of Presidents who have been attacked, but I have to say frankly that it’s something I never worry about.
Your first answer was that you don’t fear death. Why not?
It’s part of my religious belief. I just look at death as not a threat. It’s inevitable, and I have an assurance of eternal life. There is no feeling on my part that I have to be President, or that I have to live, or that I’m immune to danger. It’s just that the termination of my physical life is relatively insignificant in my concept of over-all existence. I don’t say that in a mysterious way; I recognize the possibility of assassination. But I guess everybody recognizes the possibility of other forms of death—automobile accidents, airplane accidents, cancer. I just don’t worry.
There’s been some evidence that Johnson and Nixon both seemed to have gone a bit crazy while they were in the White House. Do you ever wonder if the pressures of the office might make anyone mentally unstable?
I really don’t have the feeling that being in the White House is what caused Nixon’s or Johnson’s problems. Other Presidents have served without developing mental problems—Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, for instance. As far as I’ve been able to discern, President Ford approaches—or avoids—the duties of the White House with equanimity and self-assurance.
I think the ability to accept oneself and to feel secure and confident, to avoid any degree of paranoia, to face reality, these factors are fairly independent of whether or not one is President. The same factors would be important if someone were chief of police, or a schoolteacher, or a magazine editor. The pressure is greater on a President, obviously, than some of the jobs I’ve described, but I think the ability to accommodate pressure is a personal thing.
We noticed your crack about President Ford’s avoiding the duties of the White House. Do you agree with Senator Mondale’s assessment, when he said shortly after the nomination that Ford isn’t intelligent enough to be a good President?
Well, if you leave Mondale out of it, I personally think that President Ford is adequately intelligent to be President.
And what about your Presidency, if you’re elected—will you have a dramatic first 1000 days?
I would hope that my Administration wouldn’t be terminated at the end of 1000 days, as was the case with one administration. I’m beginning to meet with key leaders of Congress to evolve specific legislation to implement the Democratic platform commitment. If I’m elected, there will be no delay in moving aggressively on a broad front to carry out the promises I’ve made to the American people. I intend to stick to everything I’ve promised.
Thanks for all the time you’ve given us. Incidentally, do you have any problems with appearing in Playboy? Do you think you’ll be criticized?
I don’t object to that at all. I don’t believe I’ll be criticized.
(At the final session, which took place in the living room of Carter’s home in Plains, the allotted time was up. A press aide indicated that there were other appointments for which Carter was already late, and the aide opened the front door while amenities were exchanged. As the interviewer and the playboy editor stood at the door, recording equipment in their arms, a final, seemingly casual question was tossed off. Carter then delivered a long, softly spoken monolog that grew in intensity as he made his final points. One of the journalists signaled to Carter that they were still taping, to which Carter nodded his assent.)
I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do and God forgives me for it.
Do you feel you’ve reassured people with this interview, people who are uneasy about your religious beliefs, who wonder if you’re going to make a rigid, unbending President?
I don’t know if you’ve been to Sunday school here yet; some of the press has attended. I teach there about every three or four weeks. It’s getting to be a real problem because we don’t have room to put everybody now when I teach. I don’t know if we’re going to have to issue passes or what. It almost destroys the worship aspect of it. But we had a good class last Sunday. It’s a good way to learn what I believe and what the Baptists believe.
One thing the Baptists believe in is complete autonomy. I don’t accept any domination of my life by the Baptist Church, none. Every Baptist church is individual and autonomous. We don’t accept domination of our church from the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason the Baptist Church was formed in this country was because of our belief in absolute and total separation of church and state. These basic tenets make us almost unique. We don’t believe in any hierarchy in church. We don’t have bishops. Any officers chosen by the church are defined as servants, not bosses. They’re supposed to do the dirty work, make sure the church is clean and painted and that sort of thing. So it’s a very good, democratic structure.
When my sons were small, we went to church and they went, too. But when they got old enough to make their own decisions, they decided when to go and they varied in their devoutness. Amy really looks forward to going to church, because she gets to see all her cousins at Sunday school. I never knew anything except going to church. My wife and I were born and raised in innocent times. The normal thing to do was to go to church.
What Christ taught about most was pride, that one person should never think he was any better than anybody else. One of the most vivid stories Christ told in one of his parables was about two people who went into a church. One was an official of the church, a Pharisee, and he said, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like all those other people. I keep all your commandments, I give a tenth of everything I own. I’m here to give thanks for making me more acceptable in your sight.” The other guy was despised by the nation, and he went in, prostrated himself on the floor and said, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. I’m not worthy to lift my eyes to heaven.” Christ asked the disciples which of the two had justified his life. The answer was obviously the one who was humble.
The thing that’s drummed into us all the time is not to be proud, not to be better than anyone else, not to look down on people but to make ourselves acceptable in God’s eyes through our own actions and recognize the simple truth that we’re saved by grace. It’s just a free gift through faith in Christ. This gives us a mechanism by which we can relate permanently to God. I’m not speaking for other people, but it gives me a sense of peace and equanimity and assurance.
I try not to commit a deliberate sin. I recognize that I’m going to do it anyhow, because I’m human and I’m tempted. And Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, “I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.”
I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do–and I have done it–and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock.
Christ says, Don’t consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness. One thing that Paul Tillich said was that religion is a search for the truth about man’s existence and his relationship with God and his fellow man; and that once you stop searching and think you’ve got it made–at that point, you lose your religion. Constant reassessment, searching in one’s heart–it gives me a feeling of confidence.
I don’t inject these beliefs in my answers to your secular questions.
(Carter clenched his fist and gestured sharply.)
But I don’t think I would ever take on the same frame of mind that Nixon or Johnson did–lying, cheating and distorting the truth. Not taking into consideration my hope for my strength of character, I think that my religious beliefs alone would prevent that from happening to me. I have that confidence. I hope it’s justified.