The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; "Interview with Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter's Wife"
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. The election campaign moved into its third week today, with most of the suspense directed towards Thursday in the first of the televised debates. President Ford stayed in the White House boning up for the encounter, which his advisors hope will lift him out of the underdog position indicated by the national polls. Jimmy Carter is going back to Plains, Georgia tomorrow to do his debate homework. - He spent today in an old-fashioned whistle-stop train ride between New York and Pittsburgh, invoking the image of Harry Truman.
On Thursday millions of voters will have the first close-up opportunity to compare Jimmy Carter with Gerald Ford. Tonight we want to get another perspective on Carter. Last week one of his associates in Georgia told a reporter, "You can`t really understand Jimmy Carter unless you know Rosalynn. She is not only his wife but also his best friend." Tonight Rosalynn Carter is with Jim Lehrer and me, so let`s test that observation. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Good evening, Mrs. Carter, and welcome. As Robin said, you know Jimmy Carter better than anyone. Is the real Jimmy Carter as you know him coming across to the voters in this campaign or is Jimmy Carter being distorted?
ROSALYNN CARTER: Well, I think as we went into the states people got to know him, but they don`t know him in the whole country yet. But they will; and there are so many opponents and so much opposition and people saying things about him every day that the people are going to have to see Jimmy Carter they`re going to have to learn more about him. He`s not very hard to know; he`s a good, honest.; capable, smart man.
LEHRER: You know, the most recent polls show that he is perceived by some people there`s an uneasiness about him because he is perceived as a man who is fuzzy on the issues, he`s now being accused of being a flip-flopper and all this kind of things, and has trouble making up his mind, trying to talk out of both sides ... all these things I`m sure you`re familiar with and have heard about. Does that concern you?
CARTER: Well, if people believe them it does, but I think that they will see Jimmy Carter the way he is and not listen to the opponents when they know him they will realize they`re not true. And they`re beginning to know him. They`re getting to know him; they already know him in the states where worked hard in the primaries. And Jimmy has never wavered on the issues. He has had the same positions, he does not try to mislead people. But one thing about Jimmy is that the news media has never known him, and he has had to have more substance than the other candidates from the very beginning. I remember going to New Hampshire once with all maybe twelve candidates on a panel, and after it was over I said, "Jimmy, you couldn`t get away with answers like some of those give," and he said, "It`s because the news media know the others, they know how they have reacted in the past, they know what they`ll probably do in the future; but they don`t know me." And that`s true they haven`t known him yet, and so he has had to have more substance. But I think the American people I think the impression of Jimmy is that he came from Georgia, by himself won the Democratic nomination, and without any obligations; and they believe in him.
And I think that the more they get to see him the more their opinions first impressions of him will be confirmed.
MacNEIL: Have you talked about this among yourselves, about this difficulty that seems-to be coming up in the campaign and even your own pollster, Pat Caddell, finds showing up? Have you talked about it with Jimmy, and how to cope with it?
CARTER: Not really, because I didn`t know that it was a difficulty. I know that back in the primaries, when one of the other candidates would say Jimmy Carter says two things: he says we need a strong defense, but we can cut the defense budget; and what the opponent was saying was that he said one thing in one part of the country and another in another. That`s not true; he says both. We have to have a strong defense for our country but we can do something about the bureaucracy in the Pentagon cut the defense budget. Well, I think the confusion was that because people don`t know him they try to put him in a box. And they can`t say he`s all conservative or he`s all liberal people are not that way, and the average citizen understands that but sometimes people who write about him don`t understand that; they try to put him in a box.
LEHRER: Let`s take a more recent example that, here again, got a lot of press: he was asked one day about Clarence Kelley. You`re familiar with the Kelley flap, as it`s now called; he said, "I think President Ford should fire Clarence Kelley." He was asked later, "If you, in fact, are elected President, Mr. Carter, would out fire Clarence Kelley?" And he said, "Well, I don`t know; I`~1 have to cross that bridge when I come to it." Doesn`t that feed this feeling?
CARTER: It would, if you didn`t know what happened; because when he was asked about Clarence Kelley he said, "Based on the facts that I have and I don`t know all the facts based on the facts that I have, if somebody who`s supposed to enforce the law is breaking the law he should be fired." And that`s what he said. But then when they asked, "Would you have fired him?" he said he didn`t have all the facts, and he would have to study that. I don`t see that there`s any inconsistency in that at all.
MacNEIL: Let me ask the question another way. Mr. Carter`s image became known in the country during his long campaign for the primaries. Then, he`s entered a different phase, after the convention, in the campaign, and the pressures are much more intense, obviously, and the scrutiny a great deal more glaring and intense. Do you sense at all that there`s a kind of second wave perception of Jimmy Carter coming in? They saw him one way, early on, and they now see him in a different way?
CARTER: I don`t know. I think Jimmy`s appeal to people was that he came from nowhere and did this on his own, and has no obligations. Jimmy has always been a fiscal conservative; he thinks you can manage government. And then when the Republican convention came.. among, they started talking about "...and Jimmy Carter and the Democratic Congress did this." Jimmy`s never been in Washington. They tried to tie him to that massive federal spending; they say if Jimmy Carter is the nominee he`ll add $100 billion just fantastic amounts of money to the budget. Those things are not true. And we won the primaries because Jimmy is a manager he managed the government of Georgia and he thinks that if you manage the government and bring some kind of businesslike structure to it that you will have money for the services. And I think that the perception that people had of him at first is the correct perception. The Republican convention, when they criticized him every day and tried to tie him to those things may make some people think, but before it is over people will know that that`s not the Jimmy Carter that they know. And so I do think that all of that criticism where every day everybody was saying awful things - and people in the country were listening I think they have to realize and be shown, that that`s not true.
MacNEIL: You are credited with and I think by your own admission getting him to try and rectify that impression, is that not right, that you said, "Hey, wait a minute. This isn`t the real Jimmy Carter and let`s get this right on the fiscal conservatism"? Is that correct?
CARTER: He`s always been a fiscal conservative. I worked with a mental health program in Georgia, and I saw what happened when we cut through the bureaucracy we were spending all of the money in the bureaucracy when you cut through the bureaucracy, we had funds for services. We had one of the worst systems of services in the country when Jimmy was elected Governor, for the mentally afflicted; now we have one of the best because Jimmy managed the money, and we had money to do things that needed to be done. I might have told him that I thought that, simply because I went to him and I said, "Jimmy, are you going to...is everybody`s income tax going up? Are you really going to add $100 million or $100 billion whatever it is to the budget?" And he said, "If I added what we want to do to the terrible mess we have now, of course it would cost more." But he doesn`t intend to do that. And I said, "Well, you know, I`ve been watching the Republican convention and I would maybe get the impression that you`re going to do that. Let people know that you`re not going to do that." But I really believe, as I said, in those states that we went into people know him and they will get to know him now because he is consistent, he has never changed, he has had the same things from the very beginning of the campaign.
LEHRER: Does he have trouble making up his mind? CARTER: No. He studies.
LEHRER: Why is it perceived as that by so many people?`
I`m talking about by the polls, now.
CARTER: I didn`t know that he was perceived as that way. He never takes just one person`s advice or just listens to one person. Before he ever makes a decision about or forms `an opinion about an issue he studies everything he can get his hands on.
MacNEIL: Including your advice.
CARTER: I can talk to him about mental health and some of the things that are important to me, but I leave nuclear proliferation, and things like that, to him. He knows more about that than I do. We spent the summer, for instance, with experts in every field coming to Plains, Georgia; and he didn`t invite people with just one persuasion he invited people of all different opinions who could `argue and debate about what should be done for the country. And then he can listen to all of it, question them and he can decide what he thinks is right.
MacNEIL: What don`t we know about Jimmy Carter that we should; what isn`t coming across-to the people?What do you think people are ignoring, or not perceiving in him, that they should?
CARTER: I don`t know I really think the perception that people have of him is the correct perception. I think that they want to be reassured about it because of things that have been said about him by the Republicans. But he`s a farmer; he`s worked for a living. And I`ve worked I`ve always worked. He`s a businessman who managed. ..when you do like we did I kept the books in our peanut warehouse, the children came from school every day to work when you-scrimp and save like we did to build up a business and then get into government, it`s unbelievable the waste and extravagance. That`s what I think that Jimmy can cut out, and the reason I think he can do it and this is what I hope the American people will understand, is that he has no obligations. We went into the states and won the primary, we won the delegates by going to the people and having people vote for our delegates. And so Jimmy has no obligations to anybody; and it`s never been that way before -never in our history. Now, persons have always been nominated with large contributions by special interest groups, by bargaining and trading, and this is the first time that it`s different. One reason is because of so many primaries, and the other is the campaign finance law. But it`s different this time. And it`s the first time that we have had a chance to elect a President with no strings attached, who can just do exactly what`s right for the people.
LEHRER: Your husband has spoken often now, thus far in the campaign, about President Ford. Let me ask you, what is your own personal assessment of President Ford?
CARTER: I think he`s a very nice man.
LEHRER: That`s what your husband said.
CARTER: He`s been in Washington since 1942, and I have traveled, myself, since April of last year. I already knew what it was to work for a living because we worked for a living; but I don`t think that anybody who`s been in Washington that long can know what it is to be out in the country and work for a living. And the reason I feel so strongly about it is because when Jimmy was Governor the first year, we stayed in Atlanta most of the time. He was reorganizing the government. He literally worked 18 hours a day. He divided the state into, I think, ten parts and went into each part once, maybe, to get input into his reorganization, and we had people in. But you lose perspective of the whole state of Georgia by staying in Atlanta for a year. To me, there`s no way you can stay in Washington and know what is going on in the country. And I know myself that from traveling since last April.
I see things every day that need help, and I become interested in things every day. That`s not just to write about, but you are there and you see people, and you see the problems, and to me there is no comparison in knowing and feeling the needs of the people from seeing them.
LEHRER: Give us an example of something that you have picked up since you began campaigning that you didn`t realize before.
CARTER: One thing that I`ve become so concerned about are the elderly; I go in a convalescent home in every single community, or to the nursing home or to a hot lunch program or something and see great people with such talent that we need, and see the small amount of money that goes back for the elderly who`ve paid their taxes all their lives. I`ve become very concerned about the elderly. Every day I was. at a construction site the other day where the people had not been to work for months and months, didn`t know what they were going to do when that hospital was finished. A young artist; maybe 20 years old, who hadn`t been able to find a job for a year; but he would do anything paint signs, anything. And then you read drastic action for jobs not necessary, the President says. And the unemployment among young people is something like 28 percent 18 percent with whites and even higher with minority groups; it just is unbelievable that you can...there`s a lot of difference in reading about unemployment and going out there where people don`t have a job, and seeing people every day say, "The government doesn`t care about me, it doesn`t matter what I do nobody cares about me." People do not think the government will solve their problems or can, or cares about it. They think people are in office politicians just to perpetuate themselves in office. They really don`t feel that they`re a part of the government or that the government cares about them.
MacNEIL: Is he a very private man, your husband?
CARTER: I don`t know, because he`s not, with me. We`ve been busy for a long time, and Jimmy`s worked for a long time and we do have close friends that we meet with-and just talk; but for the last couple of- years in campaigning we`re only home two days a week, and the thing we enjoy doing is just being together with the family. So if that`s being private, I don`t know.
MacNEIL: I was talking the other day to a public opinion analyst, he`s a pollster and analyst and he`d been doing his own polls on this campaign; and he was saying one of the things which was coming up in the data he had was that voters had experienced two very private, guarded Presidents in recent times. One was Johnson and one was Nixon. He wasn`t comparing Mr. Carter in any other way with them, but saying he wondered whether there wasn`t some anxiety in the minds of some voters about having yet another President who seemed who was perceived by them as a very private, secretive guarded man in his decision-making.
CARTER: I don`t think that`s the people`s perception of Jimmy at all, because I know that he`s out with people all day every day and I know that he enjoys being there and people can tell it. People can tell when you really enjoy being with them and are concerned about them and when you`re not. And I think people realize, when they`re with him and when they see him, that he is genuinely interested in them; and if that`s the kind of private you`-re talking about, I don`t think they have that perception of Timmy.
LEHRER: It`s been said that both of you are verb private people but that I read this today, as a matter of fact that once you made the decision to go into politics together that you realized that you could no longer be private, and that you`re now having to expose yourselves, your families, your ideas, your religion, your everything; is that not in fact true?
CARTER: It amazes me, what I heard you read. We live in Plains, Georgia. Plains has a population of 683. There is absolutely no privacy; everybody knows everything I`ve ever done. There`s nothing that I have to share with people that everybody doesn`t already know.
LEHRER: Before you ran for President, or Governor, you mean?
CARTER: Always. That`s right. And there`s no way that I could have campaigned since April of last year if I didn`t enjoy being with people and meeting people you can`t put that on; you might do it for a month, but you can`t put that on. You either enjoy it and you like to be with people and you like to be surrounded by people, or you don`t like it. And I don`t know how you reached "private" the only thing that I can think of that would make people call us private is that we`ve worked. We worked at the peanut warehouse, we`d come home at night, we`d get up in the morning, we`d go to work. Which is the way I think a lot of people live. When we were in Atlanta we did a lot of entertaining at the mansion. The state functions Jimmy made Georgia an international state and we had ambassadors and foreign dignitaries, we had people who had input into the government; but we never did get involved with the social life of Atlanta because we didn`t have time, if that`s what you mean by being private.
LEHRER: Do you enjoy things like this, being interviewed by people like MacNeil and Lehrer?
CARTER: I don`t mind.
LEHRER: I mean, is it an uncomfortable thing for you, or do you bone up, do you prepare for interviews...?
CARTER: No. (Laughing.)
LEHRER: ... or is something that you do rather comfortably now?
CARTER: I really don`t mind it, but I`m glad that I started in April of last year, because at first I was scared to death. But Jimmy`s never, ever told me what to say nobody`s ever told me what to say. If I wanted his positions, they were on position papers. His positions never change, and if I have a question about something, he says, "Did you read my health speech?" If I studied the health speech but still wanted to know something else, he tells me. We talk about issues all the time, and argue and debate about them. But nobody has ever, in this campaign, told me what to say and nobody`s ever told the children. Every once in a while they will come in and say "Tell me your speech, Mom, so that I`ll get some new ideas of things to say," but nobody has ever told us in the campaign what to say and what not to say. If Jimmy makes a speech on health or energy, or something like that, I try to study it so that I can answer questions intelligently. I don`t try to know all the details there`s no way I could do that; I try to know basically how he stands.
MacNEIL: It must be a rare wife who has been married for 30 years and still looks upon her husband with the same gilded eyesight as she did 30 years before; and yet, you sound as though you do, with your husband.
CARTER: We have a very, very close relationship. And we always have had, and I think it`s because we have a mutual respect for each other he thinks I can do things, I think he can do things. Politics has always brought our family close together. When Jimmy ran for Governor we didn`t have any money, we didn`t have any of the political power structure for us, we just worked hard like a family my children and Jimmy and I. We campaigned every single day and we won. And we had done it together, against all odds. And the polls mean nothing to me; when we first started campaigning for Governor, Jimmy had already won once, in `66 got in late, when our leading candidate had a heart attack -and just was in for not even two months. He didn`t have time to get known. The first poll was 78-12; 12 percent was Jimmy, and our opponent had 78 percent. "rile beat him with, like, 60 percent of the vote. And so polls mean nothing to me.
LEHRER: Including the ones that show Jimmy way ahead now, I guess, right?
CARTER: I think it`s going to be a hard, tough race and we always have thought it, because I think the power of the incumbency is so great.
LEHRER: Are you Worried about the debates; are you nervous about those at all? You know, some people say that the election could be decided on Thursday night. Has that prospect crossed 17our mind, and are your worried about it or nervous about it?
CARTER: No, I`ve been afraid they were going to not come to an agreement and not have then, because I want people to see Jimmy I think we go into the debates at a disadvantage, because Ford has been practicing for so long weeks and studying, and boning up; he`s hired somebody to coach him in debating, and all of this, and Jimmy`s been out campaigning. He`s going home tomorrow he has a couple of days to study, but with all of that practicing, and big steps and all to happen, I think Jimmy will go in at a disadvantage, but I think he`ll do really well, and I think people are going to be pleased when they see how much Jimmy knows.
I do not think, unless one is overshadowed completely, that they will determine the election because too much has gone on. We`ve been organizing and campaigning, and we have enthusiastic friends in the whole country; and I don`t think the Republicans have that. And I think people are ready for a change in Washington. I just think Jimmy can win.
LEHRER: Speaking of a change in Washington, here again the polls show that what the American people say they want is moral leadership. And this is something, of course, that your husband has stressed, and you have, too. My question is this: how can you give moral leadership without imposing your own moral values on a nation? I know that sounds like a highfalutin fancy question, but you know what I mean.
CARTER: I think that people in our country are insecure. They`re insecure about a job and being able to take care of their families, but they`re kind of at loose ends and they really are looking for some stability. And I think that one of Jimmy`s appeals is that he has the stability that comes from being religious. It doesn`t have to be the same religion as anybody else; people are free to have their own religion, but I think that nevertheless they do recognize that there is a stability that comes from being religious. And so I don`t think that Jimmy would ever impose his own moral standards on a country, but I think that he would give people a kind of stability that they are searching for.
MacNEIL: Well, what is moral leadership, if he`s not imposing his own moral standards?
CARTER: I .think being honest and open with the American people. It`s been a long time since the government was just honest and open and we had somebody in Washington who would tell us what our problems were. In `73, when Nixon...
MacNEIL: Mr. Ford isn`t honest and open?
CARTER: I don`t think the American people there`s so much holdover, and people want somebody who`s not associated with Washington past. The same past is there it`s the present, and people don`t want that in the future; and I really believe we can solve our problems in our country if we have a President who has confidence in people. To me, you can stay in Washington forever and talk to your peers, and talk about...but to be out in the country with the people and have the people feel part of it, gets to be very hard when you`ve been there so long, I think. Just from my own experience, as I said before, with Jimmy as Governor. What
I started to say was that in 1973, 1 think it was, when Nixon called on us to cut back on energy? The American people voluntarily cut back 15 percent. If we know what our problems are, if we have a President who says we`re in trouble.... Here we have a President who sales inflation is going to go away. We`ve been hearing that since Nixon was in office. if we know the truth and if we have a President who is honest and open with the business of the government and lets the American people know what the problems are.... But there`s one other thing, too, that`s so important, and that`s the no obligations. There has not been a President who did not have obligations, who didn`t have to give in to certain groups who helped to get him there; this never happened before. And I think we just have a great opportunity to have a President with no obligations.
LEHRER: How could Jimmy Carter not have obligations? I mean, he`s got campaign organizations, he`s got people who worked for him in the primaries, he`s got advisors, just like everybody also who`s run for President. What makes Jimmy Carter`s obligations different than other people`s obligations?
CARTER: Because we went into the country and campaigned. The people that supported us in the primary did it because they wanted good, clean, honest government. They didn`t think Jimmy had a chance in the world to win; they just worked for us because they believed in him. We won our delegates by having people elect them; we did not have to bargain, trade, deal with anybody to get our delegates. That`s different that`s never happened before. There have never been 30 primaries, nobody has ever entered them all, there`s never been a President go to the convention and win the nomination without they`ve always been financed by large contributors, too, in the past. The new campaign late this year prohibited that.- In fact, if it had not been for that new campaign law that prohibited large contributions, Jimmy probably wouldn`t be the nominee, because we would never have gotten the large contributions. Some other candidate would have. But we don`t have any obligations to special interest groups, we don`t have any obligations to large contributors; Jimmy`s obligations are to the people of our county;;, and he can make any of his decisions without referring to strings attached.
MacNEIL: May I just end with one question, coming back to the image question: How do you, yourself, when you`re on the campaign trail, cope with the image problem that you get, and the skepticism that I hear talked about in the Northeast especially, but perhaps in some other parts of the country about his southerness and his particular form of the Christian religion, that people in this part of the country and north of here look a little skeptically at that and wonder if that`s not too foreign to them? How do you deal with that when you`re out there with him?
CARTER: I really have not found it to be as much a problem with people as I have with people who question me.(Laughing.)
MacNEIL: You think it all in the minds of reporters?
CARTER: No, I don`t think it all is, but I don`t get it from people when I talk up and down the streets and shake hands with them and go to factory shift lines, and all. One of the greatest things I have learned in this whole campaign is that people are the same in the whole country.
MacNEIL: Thank you very much, Mrs. Carter. I wish you well in the rest of your campaigning. Thanks very much, Jim. Jim Lehrer and I will be back tomorrow evening. I`m Robert MacNeil, good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
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- National Records and Archives Administration (Washington, District of Columbia)
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- This episode consists of an interview with Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter's wife. The guests are Rosalynn Carter. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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- Politics and Government
- Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode)
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; "Interview with Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter's Wife",” 1976-09-20, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-2f7jq0td0m.
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