The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Carter's Presidential Style
WALTER CRONKITE: Gerald Anderson of Denver, Colorado, is the next caller. Mr. Anderson?
GERALD ANDERSON: Hello, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT CARTER: Hi, Gerald.
ANDERSON: I`m wondering, what is the justification, with you trying to reduce the federal budget, the justification behind the $12,000 pay increase for Congress.
How can you lower the budget by giving them $12,000 a year and us $50 back?
CARTER: (Laughing.) Gerald, that`s a hard question for me to answer.
ANDERSON: That`s why I thought I`d throw it at you. (Laughing.)
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. Tonight from Philadelphia Jim Lehrer and I look at what`s now being called the style of Jimmy Carter. This is the forty-seventh day of the Carter presidency. In that time the new President has been happily ignoring conventions and making his own rules for presidential behavior. The latest example was his radio phone-in show on Saturday afternoon, the first time a president has ever opened his telephone to questions from any American who had something on his mind. According to the phone company nine million people tried to get him; forty- two succeeded. All this reaching out to touch the people has got traditional observers in Washington very puzzled, but how`s it going over with the voters? Tonight we`d like to find out. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: We`re going to be talking with eleven people from the Philadelphia area, none of then chosen at random. Their faces may be familiar to you, in fact. Ten of them were here with Robin and me the night of the first presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. We talked then about the Carter and Ford candidacies and they gave us their impressions of how the two did in that debate. Now we`re back to see how the Jimmy Carter style is going down. The other person with us, number eleven, is Mrs. Helen Hellez, from nearby Vineland, Neu Jersey. She was one of those forty-two people who got through to President Carter with a question Saturday. Here`s a piece or the conversation she had with the President after being put through by Walter Cronkite.
CRONKIT-. The next call is from Mrs. Helen Heller of Vineland New Jersey.
HELEN HELLER: Good afternoon, Mr. President.
CARTER: Good afternoon, Mrs. Heller.
HELLER: Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you. My question concerns the Medicare program. Does HEW have any plan to re-evaluate this program with the possibility of extending benefits to senior citizens so as to reimburse them for things like needed dental care, eyeglasses and/or medications? The cost of these items is so often beyond our fixed Social Security income, and yet they`re vital necessities to us.
CARTER: Yes, ma`am, those things are all under consideration. We are now in the process of reorganizing the internal structure of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare so that we can put the financing of health care under one administrator. This will help a great deal to cut down on the cost of those items for people like yourself.
LEHRER: Mrs. Heller, of course, is one of those forty-two instant celebrities made Saturday by virtue of the fact that she talked to the President of the United States. Mrs. Heller, why did you choose that particular question, or choose to ask him about Medicaid?
HELLER: This question has been on my mind for a very long time. In my business life and my personal life I know very, very many people who are living on limited income as senior citizens who are finding it very difficult to manage within that income. And I know that they are denying themselves the instruments -- paramedical instruments -- that they need; they cannot afford them.
LEHRER: What did you think of the President`s answer?
HELLER: I thought it was fine. I didn`t expect any miraculous instant cure or solution. I felt that he had this subject on his mind, that it was going to be one of the top priorities and that he was aware of the difficulties.
LEHRER: Had you planned well in advance to call the President on Saturday, or did you say, "Hey, it`s Saturday. I think I`ll call the President"7
HELLER: Almost like that. I had thought about it weeks before, when it was announced that he was going to do this program, forgot about it at that time and then on Saturday morning I thought to myself, "This has been bothering me. Why not?" And so I called.
LEHRER: You didn`t appear to be particularly nervous or anything when you were talking to the President. The fact that you were talking to the President didn`t overawe you?
HELLER: I was scared to death.
HELLER: I was very nervous up until the time that he said, "Good afternoon, Mrs. Heller." At that point I forgot that I was talking to the President.
LEHRER: You had your question down.
HELLER: I had written it, yes.
LEHRER: Did you watch the rest of the call-in?
HELLER: No, I couldn`t get my set up to watch it. I heard what was going on before.
LEHRER: Generally speaking, did you think it was a fruitful exercise?
HELLER: Yes, I did.
LEHRER: All right, thank you. Robin?
MacNEIL: As we said, the phone-in was the latest of the unusual things the President`s been doing apparently with two aims in mind. One is clearly to kill some of the more blatant signs of the imperial presidency -- trumpeters playing "Hail to the Chief" at his every appearance, large limousines crowding the White House driveway. The second aim is equally clearly to make more direct contact with the voters -- the fireside chats, frequent press conferences, the radio phone-in itself, and soon the first of a series of town meetings.
The Carter touch began to be apparent from tie moment of his inauguration.
CARTER: I, Jimmy Carter, do solemnly swear ... that I will faithfully execute...the office of President of the United States...
This inauguration ceremony marks a Anew beginning.... You have given me a great responsibility to stay lose to you, to be worthy of you and to exemplify what you are.... Your strength can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help to minimize my mistakes....
Tomorrow will e two :seeks since I Became President. I`ve spent a lot of time deciding how I can be a good President.... When I was running for President I made number of commitments. I take them very seriously. I believe that they were the reason that I was elected, and want you to know that I intend to carry them cut....
I think it`s: very important that all of us in government not forget that no matter how dedicated we might be and how eager to perform well that we need a able family life to make us better servants of the people.... So those of you who are living in sin, I hope you`ll get married... (general laughter)...
We can`t expect overnight success. It requires long, tedious, labored, very carefully considered progress. And I`m not looking for magic answers, but my determination is very deep.
MEMBERS OF THE PRESS: Thank you, Mr. President.
CARTER: Thank you.
(From inauguration) ... so help me God.
MacNEIL: Well, "Hail to the Chief" is music to the ears of most presidents, but it`s something that hasn`t been heard very much around the White House recently. But that and the phone in are just one of the things that we`ve added up and been calling the Carter style. And I`d like to begin by asking you, Jim Black, you voted for President Ford in this election. You were all for him when we talked to you back here in the fall, during the debate. What do you make of all this so far, the President`s style? What`s your opinion?
JIM BLACK: Number one, Jimmy`s only been in forty-seven days, is that correct?
BLACK: So I`m going to wait and see. That`s my policy right now. However, the way I feel about it right now, I think it`s a lot of imagery. I think he must have some advisor that`s been experienced in TV productions, because as far as I`m concerned the fireside chat and the comfortable sweater, the phone-in where forty people get through out of nine million people -- I think it`s all imagery. I think number one, he`s putting the emphasis on his image; and I think I`ll just sit back and see what he does for the people, forgetting about imagery.
MacNEIL: Elizabeth Erfle, you also voted for President Ford. What do you make of the Carter approach so far?
ELIZABETH ERFLE: The same as Mr. Black. He`s only been in office a few days, really, and if he feels at ease with his style and he will perform his job as an administrator without having to worry about superficiality, then I want him to do a good job. I voted for President Ford, but I want President Carter to do the best job he knows how, at least for the next three and a half years.
MacNEIL: Mike Russi, what do you think of the way the President`s been going on?
MIKE RUSSI: Essentially what Mr. Black and Elizabeth said. I feel he`s overly concerned with image at this time; and I guess with some people it`s fine. From the remarks I hear, he`s almost becoming predictable -- you know, with the sweater, the fireside chat, and so forth and so on.
MacNEIL: Do you think this imagery is empty?
RUSSI: Right now I do, I`ll be honest with you. It seems a little too well- planned. He`s trying to be folksy, get across to the people, open up the doors to the White House, let all the Americans in. I don`t think all us Americans expect that; we want our president to be president. But if this is his natural style, fine.
MacNEIL: John Cullen, you voted for Ford as well; what do you think?
JOHN CULLEN: I think he had to do this type of thing. I think Nixon left the country very bad. And whether it`s Ford or Carter that won they had to have a PR campaign, and I think it`s good. I`m glad people feel comfortable calling the President.
MacNEIL: But you think it`s a PR campaign.
CULLEN: Whether it`s PR or whether it`s Carter`s style... certainly a lot of it is PR.
LEHRER: Do you not believe that it`s a legitimate Jimmy Carter style? Do you think it`s something he`s put on?
CULLEN: I think it`s a legitimate Jimmy Carter style, but I think this style is one of public relations. The guy likes to be warm, he likes to project himself, as a warm person.
LEHRER: Mrs. Nash, what do you think of that?
TONI NASH: I think that even if there is perhaps a little bit of imagery involved, I think that it reflects his personality, first of all. And secondly I think it`s something that the country needed; I think that they needed to gain a sense of identification again with our President, and then we get down to business, which will surely come and is already happening.
LEHRER: Do you have a feeling that this is the real Jimmy Carter who walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and who talked to Mrs. Heller and the others Saturday or it`s a put on Jimmy Carter?
NASH: No, I think it reflects his attitude, because I think each president does set a tone; and his personality has a great deal to do with how the country is run and what the feeling and the tone of the government is. And I think that this does reflect Jimmy`s attitude, and I think that we`ll be better off for it because we`ve started with a healthy feeling, a bit of happiness.
LEHRER: You supported Jimmy Carter, of course, in the election and voted for him, right?
NASH: Yes, I did.
LEHRER: You did too Mrs. Shannon. What do you think of Jimmy Carter`s style in his first forty-five days?
DELORES SHANNON: I think the style sometimes tends to be dichotomous inasmuch as I get a feeling like he`s really relating to the people so that the average American can identify with him. I think that other times it becomes a little too familiar. For instance, being sworn in as Jimmy Carter -- I think that we would want a real name...
LEHRER: You wanted James Earl Carter?
SHANNON: Yes, because somehow the name is supposed to give some legality to most of what we are about in this society. However, I`m afraid that this is alienating some of the persons who have control; Congress, for instance. If they don`t agree or go along with the style I think that that might hamper the chances of the good that he really wants to do -- and I feel as though he really would like to do that. But because many of them are traditionalists I think that this will impede whatever progress he may be able to make unless they share the same kind of warmth, genuineness and authenticity.
LEHRER: Anthony Lewis in the New York Times wrote this morning, in fact, that if members of Congress were watching that thing Saturday they ought to be scared to death. That`s really what you are saying; but you`re saying that it could work against Carter in the long run rather than help him, right?
SHANNON: I think that`s the dichotomy there; he can go either way. If he`s really able to pull it off -- and I think it takes a certain kind of person to pull it off, whether it`s the image or not. I think that Carter would have to be a certain kind of person to create that kind` of image, whether it`s superficial or real; but unless the others are going along with him it could hamper chances. If they do go along with him then I think that he would be able to implement some of the things that he`s suggesting doing.
MacNEIL: Let`s ask another Carter voter, Barbara Bishop. What did you make of the phone-in and all these things we`re lumping together as style?
BARBARA BISHOP: I think it is style. I think, too, that to be a politician you have to have a certain amount of ego to even decide to go into politics, and certainly to decide to run for president there`s a certain amount of ego in that as well. I have the feeling that Jimmy Carter thinks he`s still on the campaign trail, and I wonder when he`s going to stop.
MacNEIL: He`s still campaigning for your approval, you mean.
BISHOP: Yeah, or something like that, or maybe trying to still get the undecided voter or something. It just seems as though everything he does is so carefully orchestrated.
MacNEIL: You voted for him, and you still have that doubt in your mind, do you? BISHOP: Yes; I guess I`m still an undecided voter. Even little things -- the day that Amy Carter went to school, the idea that he wanted her to go to public school; I think that`s fantastic, but again, that is a `statement about something and the way he went about it.
LEHRER: You didn`t like the way he did it?
BISHOP: No, I think that it`s great that he decided to send his child to public school, and I think it`s important for public officials to make statements like that; but I think that it was just phonied up so much. He could have just decided to send her to school.
LEHRER: Mr. Szulinski, you also voted for Carter. One of the things that President Carter has said -- in fact, he said it in his inaugural address that we saw a clip of a moment ago - that he wants the American people to feel closer to the government and closer to the presidency, and that`s one of the reasons, obviously, for this style. Is it working with you? Do you feel closer to Washington?
HENRY SZULINSKI: I think that the presidency a long time has been neglected as far as the common man is concerned. think that everybody goes in there and tries to take advantage of the office and uses all the facilities that are available. And I think it`s like Ms. rash said, that the tone has to be set, and I think the person. to set it is the President of the United States because in all four state, local. government everybody wants service and they want the taxpayer to pay for it; and I think there comes a time when the taxpayer is fed up with all the limousines, the Air Force One, the...
MacNEIL: So you don`t think that`s gimmickry.
SZULINSKY: No, I really believe that he wants to relate to the people and he wants to do what the people want him to do, because like in the paper not too long ago they had where the State of Pennsylvania has one car for every thirty-two employees -- now that`s ridiculous -- or you go outside City Hall; maybe if they see Washington cutting down on cars and limousines and service maybe your local governments and state governments will take note and try and give the people more service, what they deserve ;he amount of taxes that waive paying.
LEHRER: Mr. Schmidt, row do you feel? You ended up voting for Gene McCarthy in the general election, right?
TERRY SCHMIDT: Yeah; I decided teat that was one person I could believe.
LEHRER: What`s your belief factor on Jimmy Carter right now?
SCHMIDT: I truly belie that Jimmy Carter is a person that wants to reach out to the people and wants to be just a normal person. I think he admits that he`d a human even if he`s not president, and he`s not a king or a God; and I think that`s an important step for a president. I don`t think that it`s a sham, and to the extent that it`s a public relations campaign I think that`s only because it has to be if it`s going to go through all the reaches of government, if it`s going to filter down to the thirty-odd thousand members of the executive branch. If Jimmy Carter walks around in blue jeans or sends his daughter to public school, not everybody`s going to do that unless the image is set and it`s hammered.
LEHRER: Did you watch the fireside chat?
SCHMIDT: No, I didn`t.
LEHRER: Well, you saw a piece of it a while ago.
LEHRER: A lot of people were turned off just by the fact that he was sitting there in his sweater.
SCHMIDT: I like sweaters.
LEHRER: You like that, huh? I mean, a lot of people say that was a gimmick. Does that bother you?
SCHMIDT: No, it doesn`t bother me at all. I think Jimmy Carter said, "Hey, I don`t have to wear a three-piece suit every time I appear in front of the United States people. I can be a person."
That`s fine. The question is whether this is going to be important enough or substantive enough to get to every level of government.
MacNEIL: Could I ask Helen Williams; the other aim the President clearly has -- they`ve said so -- is to dismantle the imperial presidency, what we came to call the imperial presidency. Do you think he`s succeeding in doing that?
HELEN WILLIAMS: You`ll have to break that down for me. I don`t fully understand what you mean.
MacNEIL: The impression grew up, starting under the Kennedy presidency, and then the Johnson one and the Nixon one, that more and more power was accruing to the presidency and that he was surrounding himself with more and more sort of symbols of that power: helicopters, limousines...
LEHRER: Bugles blowing.
MacNEIL: ...bugles blowing; President Nixon even had the White House guard dressed in kind of Ruritanian uniforms, and the whole idea was that the presidency began to look more and more monarchical and kingly. And Carter is at some pains, clearly, to try and change that image, at least. What do you feel about that?
WILLIAMS: I think that he has certainly shown that he`s trying to change that image and that he doesn`t want to be associated with that kind of an image. You didn`t ask me the same question, but I`d like to throw it in that I happen to believe that it is necessary, what he`s doing. He projected-himself as a folksy kind of a person when he was campaigning...
MacNEIL: You told us you thought it was a bit too folksy; it bothered you a little bit.
WILLIAMS: Well, at that time. You know, I change from time to time...
MacNEIL: I see.
WILLIAMS: ...and that`s a woman`s prerogative.
WILLIAMS: But you know, I happen to believe -- I feel that we finally have a president that is relating to the common people, to the everyday kind of people and I think it`s necessary. I also think that every president has a PR -- public relations-- going for him, whatever it may be and that hasn`t been any guarantee that they`ve made good presidents. So let`s give him the same opportunity.
LEHRER: Mrs. Heller, what are your thoughts, listening to your fellow Philadelphia-areans at this point?
HOLLER: I think the fact that some of you are a little concerned about the PR situation, the imagery, the folksiness -- I think you`ve got to expect that kind, I also think -- it`s my idea -- that here is a man of integrity. I really think he is an honest man. I think he is really going to try. I expect the public relations...
MacNEIL: Are you sorry you voted for president Ford now?
HELLER: I did not.
MacNEIL: You did not; I beg your pardon. I misunderstood. I`m sorry.
HELLER: Oh, no. I think that the man is also astute enough to know how to accomplish, or how he plans to accomplish, some of the goals he sets for himself. And I`ll accept the imagery and I will accept the public relations and I`ll accept the coverage by the news media. I think that all goes with it.
MacNEIL: What do you fee:. now, having heard what all these pro-Carter people are talking about, Mr. Black? How do you feel?
BLACK: I hope I`m not coming across as a cynic, because anybody who knows me knows I`m no cynic; but I. am a realist, and there`s no question about it -- some of the pro-Carter people admitted it themselves -- that there`s imagery. So let`s all of us, pro-Ford and pro-Carter, take a position of wait and see what he really does.
MacNEIL: But is it the kind of imagery you like? Do you approve of it?
BLACK: If it`s sincere.
LEHRER: But do you like the image that he is trying to create, or has created thus far?
BLACK: Let`s put it this way: if what he is doing is sincere, then I`m all for it.
LEHRER: But only you can make that decision, Mr. Black.
BLACK: And only results, only his own actions can prove right? -- whether it`s sincere or not.
MacNEIL: You know, the pollsters -- finally; we have a few seconds -- the pollsters often, at period times, get approval ratings on presidents. Just hands up right now, how many would give a generally favorable rating to President Carter right now? Do you generally favor his approach to the presidency? Are there more positives or negatives? You do. But there are two of you. who wouldn`t, is that it, at the moment who would generally give a more unfavorable and negative vote?
RUSSI: No, his actions as the President have only been forty days; his actions as a PR campaign have teen since June, and really since November.
MacNEIL: And our actions as a TV show have to end there. We`d like to come back later on and explore this further. Thank you very much, all of you. Jim Lehrer and I will be back tomorrow night. I`m Robert MacKneil. Goodnight.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
- Carter's Presidential Style
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- NewsHour Productions
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- National Records and Archives Administration (Washington, District of Columbia)
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- Episode Description
- This episode features a discussion on Jimmy Carter's Presidential Style The guests are Helen Heller, Jim Black, Elizabeth Erfle, Mike Russi, John Cullen, Toni Nash, Delores Shannon, Barbara Bishop, Henry Szulinski, Terry Schmidt, Helen Williams, Jim Wesley. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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Identifier: 96364 (NARA catalog identifier)
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Carter's Presidential Style,” 1977-03-07, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 1, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-ks6j09ww93.
- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Carter's Presidential Style.” 1977-03-07. National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 1, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-ks6j09ww93>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Carter's Presidential Style. Boston, MA: National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-ks6j09ww93