Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 18, 1976 · Page 58
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July 18, 1976

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 58

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, July 18, 1976
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Page 58
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Jimmy Carter a Willing Student Jimmy Carter can be tough, bold, uncompromising, on issues that count to him. But there's another side - the anxious- to-please achiever, willing to move to correct any imperfection that seems to trouble other people. After being accused of being rigid and unbending as Georgia's governor, he began to say and write that he was a poor compromiser - though to defend high principles, he'd always add. DURING THIS SPRING'S primary campaign, Carter often exaggerated his decent-enough record to the point of embarrassment on the part of his associates. (The prime example: claiming he'd abolished 278 of Georgia's 300 agencies, boards and commissions -- when in fact he'd simply consolidated them into 22.) Friends told Carter the exaggeration was poor tactis and innecessary. For the most part, he's now stopped it. After sufficient lampooning oh his statement, "I'll never tell a lie," Carter finally cut it from his campaign rhetoric. Under staff pressure, he belatedly backed down and apologized for his "ethnic purity" statement. An unbecoming petulance crept into Carter's statements in the later primaries -- accusing his opponents of ganging up on him, making snide comments about them. It was distinctly "nonpresidential" what a President Carter, under pressure, might say of adversaries). But even before the primary season ended, Carter had accept- ed staff advice and stopped the acid rhetoric. FINALLY, there was criticism of Carter that he was "humorless," certainly incapable of the kind of self-deprecating humor that John F. Kennedy brought to a point of perfection in presidential news ] conferences and Rep. Morris Udall used to '· win reporters' hearts during the spring' campaign. . Carter responded with a hail of jokes aimed at himself as he toured around in the preconvention period. The most famous was to recall one of Johnny Carson's jokes in which Carson provides the answer and one has to guess the question. The answer. "Sixty minutes." The question: "How long does it take Jimmy Carter to brush his teeth?" With Style and Thrust A Carter Presidency Would Startle Nation What would a Jimmy Carter presidency be like? Columnist-author Neal R. Peirce probed Carter on that question in two extended personal interviews conducted shortly before the Georgian captured the Democratic presidential nomination. This five-part series is based on those intervietvs, other interviews Peirce has had with Carter over the past five years, and extensive consultations with top Carter aides, with independent observers of his performance as governor of Georgia and with experts on the presidency. Subsequent articles will appear in The Charleston Gazette starting Monday. By Neal R. Peirce ; · The style and thrust of a Jimmy Carter · presidency would startle the nation--and ''; jolt official Washington--as profoundly as the Georgian's meteoric rise from obscur- · ity to capture the Democratic party nomination. ; Whether Carter could succeed in fulfill. ing the bold promises he has made is an open question that only four years of his . presidency could resolve. We could have a time of sound and fury, signifying very little. There can be no question, however, ' about Carter's immense energy and drive-not just to be president, but to use the "bully pulpit," as Theodore Roosevelt · once described it, to gather support for and carry out: ; ' »-Stem-to-stern reorganization of the . federal bureaucracy; ··Historic breakthroughs in making gov- . ernment open, responsive and effective; »-Broad initiatives to meet the needs of the kind of poor and voiceless people, black and white, among whom he spent his south Georgia boyhood.' Carter, the record shows, does not make promises lightly. Once committed, he is a tough, persistent fighter. Thus his bid for national power goes well beyond his immense, and sometimes coldly calculating, personal ambition to an elevated vision of what a president could do to transform the shape of American society. IT MAY BE A grandiosely impractical effort, destined for shipwreck on the Neal Peirce Author-Columist shoals of congressional and bureaucratic resistance, or doomed, in implementation, by Carter's own celebrated stubbornness. In his attempt to fulfill his promises. Carter might well spread himself too thin. His lack of Washington experience could hamper him. But Jimmy Carter would certainly spare no effort to be--as he has promised publicly, and spelled out for me in detail in two exclusive, recent interviews--"a strong, independent and aggressive president." If his record as governor and campaigner is any guide, he would bring to the job rare political acumen and a tenacity infrequently seen among elected officials. He would be strongly goal-oriented, committed to bold programs and ambitious government planning. While campaigning against waste and lethargy in the bureaucracy, he would fit the traditional mold of Democratic presidents by spending more money on social programs. Government 'might be better organized and its budgeting procedures involved. But it would not be smaller. A strong effort could be expected to observe constitutional limits, protect civil liberties and civil rights and assure high ethical standards in government. Carter would seek "harmony" and advance consultation with Congress on new programs--more so, he indicates, than he did as governor with the Georgia legislature. But if he failed to get cooperation, he would not hesitate to attack Congress and its special interest allies, or to appeal over the heads of Congress to the American people for support. Political scientist James David Barber, author of "Presidential Character," suggests four major tests of a prospective president--a healthy confidence in self, ability to communicate with the public, capacity to negotiate closeup with other politicans and, finally, mastery of the details of his office and public policy. On all four counts Carter does well- though there are some ambiguous areas. He does have self-confidence, indeed a rare degree of it. Few who know him would disagree with the judgment of his close associate and Washington office head, psychiatrist Peter Bourne: "Carter is secure. He knows who he is, what his capabilities are. He has an immense inner security." INDEED, CARTER'S personality seems to come close to the model of "active-positive" presidents identified by Barber--men of high self-esteem, invigorated by other people, lovers of bold executive leadership. Barber puts Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy in this mold-as opposed to Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, for example, whose insecurities and misdirected inner drives brought woe to their presidencies. "I would be active and positive in approach as president," Carter told me. "I don't feel ill at ease. I don't feel afraid of the job. I think I would be able to admit a mistake publicly when one was made." Carter can talk quietly and intimately, even to large audiences; of values and national purpose, with profound effect. It's a skill he could use effectively as president. |J But on negotiating with other politicians, the Carter record is spottier. When he makes an effort, as he did to line up some of the power brokers to clinch his own nomination this spring, he can be brilliantly effective. Yet there were occasions, as governor, when he acted in a ·high-handed manner which frustrated negotiations with legislators and others. As chief executive of Georgia, Carter evidenced total mastery of his job. "No one ever slipped up on Carter with a proposition requiring executive attention that he hadn't thought out already," his general counsel as governor, William Harper, said. Behind that mastery lie two factors- hard work and sheer intelligence. All agree that Carter is an indefatigable worker. And he does have a first-class mind--probably one of the more impressive intellects in the history of presidential politics. He reads avariciously: three or four books a week, he claims, when not campaigning. He may be as close to the "Renaissance man" as anyone in American public life today. The sheer complexity of the federal government might make it impossible for Carter to master detail and maintain control as he did in Georgia. But his motivation and inherent capacity to do so could easily surpass that of recent presidents. Can Jimmy Carter Succeed in Fulfilling the Bold Promises He Has Made? Only Four Years With Him in the White House Could Answer the Question THE PROCESS by which Carter arrives at decisions on a major issue tells much of the man. During the "input" stage he is extremely open and flexible--reading widely, calling in experts, discussing alternatives with staff or task forces he may have set up. The exact procedure, he says, "is derived to some degree from my scientific or engineering background. I like to study first all the efforts that have been made historically... to bring together advice or ideas from as wide or divergent points of view as possible, to assimilate them personally or with a small staff." When the time for decision comes, however, it is usually made by Carter alone. Rarely, Georgia associates said, was a decision thrashed out "among the boys" in a collegia! atmosphere. Carter has an amazing capacity, they say, to assimilate all aspects of a complex situation, and then to establish priorities for both the policy decision and the strategy to implement it. Once decisions were made in Georgia, it took heaven and earth to make Carter change his mind or compromise in any way. Carter agrees that stubborness is one of his characteristics: "I've always been inclined on a matter of principle or importance not to compromise until it's absolutely necessary." Critics translate that into pure intransigence. According to state Sen. Julian Bond: "I have never seen a man so rigid . . . Carter just won't give in." The sure root of Carter's stubbornness is his self-confident belief he has the right position. That raises the question of whether a President Carter might be so stubborn and brittle that he could reach an impasse of the sort that Woodrow Wilson faced with the Senate over the League of Nations. His response: . "I've been through profound changes in Georgia government that involved prison reformjfcducation reform, government re- organization, judicial reform, mental health programs. I can't remember any instance, minor or major, where an adamant position on my part doomed a desirable goal." Carter's Georgia record bears out that contention. But could a Jimmy Carter, ambitious and intent on being a strong chief executive, avoid the perils and pitfalls of the "imperial presidency"? I pressed Carter on the point: How would he avoid the dangerous sense of invincibility and infallability that often pervades the White House, especially after a successful campaign and the leader and his winning team are in office? Could there be a Bay of Pigs, a Vietnam, a Watergate in his presidency? Who would dare say no to President Carter? Carter's responses indicated he had clearly been thinking about the problems of abuse in the presidency, had read most of the recent books on the subject and had several antidotes in mind. SPECIFICALLY, Carter pledged that as president he would seek an historic breakthrough in making the executive branch more open, its members and the president himself more accessible to the press, Congress and the people. "I'll open up as much as I can," he said, "the deliberations of the executive branch of government to public scrutiny. I favor strong sunshine legislation . . . Also, I intend to restore frequent press conferences. I would say every two weeks, at least 20 times a year. And also restore the format of the fireside chat." Carter stressed that he was committed to those reforms "on my word of .honor to the American people." Open presentations by the president to the people on matters of controversy or potential seriousness, Carter said, would be "very self-disciplinary" because they would require him to re-examine his positions before they were made public. He would institute frequent discussions with congressional leaders on major foreign and domestic policy changes, he said, predicting that these would have the same beneficial effect. And, if Congress were willing, Carter would dispatch his Cabinet members to go before joint sessions of Congress to be examined about foreign affairs, defense and other topics. "Anything I can devise that would maintain a feeling of open access to me by the American people--I would try it," Carter said. There are limits to the "sunshine" Carter would allow. Cabinet meetings and his own discussions with staff, for instance, would remain private. There's a question whether his fireside chats would be designed to sell policies he'd already decided on, or 'to explain candidly the pros and cons of public policy alternatives--the sort of balanced perspective the public rarely gets fromjBresidents. Sum/ny c iirrent A ffairs Charleston, I'ir na IF --July 18, 1976 Carter does believe that a minimum of secrecy and a maximum of telling the truth and letting the people play a major part in policy development would be "a safety net under an incompetent or distorted president" and prevent a recurrence of Cambodias, Vietnams or Water- gates, "when the president hid behind a veil of secrecy and the people of this country were misled about what was going on." WOULD CARTER be an autocrat who presumed to speak for the people when he really didn't, or would he speak only after touching base with them in the "intimate" style he talks of? He cited one case from his gubernatorial campaign, when a man who'd heard Carter's promise to do more for retarded children approached the candidate and said he was voting for Carter because he had a retarded child at home. "I stood there shocked," Carter said, "to realize that the kind of political statements I'd been making . . . glibly, just to get votes. . . were actually such a deep, personal thing for a lot of Georgians. So I marshalled then an effort to revise completely the mental retardation system in Georgia." The humanitarian aspect of Carter's example is typical. Those most in need of government services, he constantly reminds listeners, are not the privileged but the hungry, the aged, imprisoned, alcoholic, unemployed, drug-dependent or illiterate: In a famous 1974 Law Day address at the University of Georgia, he jolted the assembled legal establishment by saying he didn't know whether "poor people are the only ones that commit crimes, but I do know they are the only ones who serve prison seances." What are the roots of Carter's concern for the poor and disadvantaged? It maybe the poverty he saw first-hand in rural Georgia as a boy, or perhaps old-style Southern populism, his religion, or the influence of his mother, Lillian Carter, a sensitive, caring woman, longtime friend of black people, who joined the Peace Corps at 68 and served among the destitute and ill in India. Another safeguard. Carter said, would be "to maintain a staff with free access to me and encouragement of an almost unrestricted debate within White House circles." He said he permits and even encourages staff members to tell him, when they think so, that he's wrong on an issue. He said he'd try to preserve that, even in the more "awe-inspiring" atmosphere of the White House. Was it correct. I asked Carter, that his wife Rosalynn "also performs this function at times?" His reply: "She does--well, if you could leave off'at times.'." Carter's real political security, unless his every political utterance is hypocritical, comes from that same amorphous public--"the people"--he expects to save him from presidential misadventures. As governor, he frequently told staff members that in four years of campaigning in barber shops and on shift lines across the state he'd learred what Georgia's people wanted, their concerns and needs, because he'd talked to them--and that he didn't need a whole bunch of staff people or politicians to tell him the answers. »· THERE ARE THOSE who are offended by Jimmy Carter's occasionally mechanical smile, his icy blue eyes in anger, his lashing out at opponents, his exaggerating his own public record while promising never to tell a lie. But he can also be warm, and the compassion he expresses for poor and voiceless people appears again and again. In a recent Public Television interview with Bill Moyers, Carter acknowledged that he had been seeking power for 10 years in politics. It was his reason for wanting power that I found fascinating: "to correct the inequities as I discern them, and to be a strong spokesman for those that are not strong." Given that motivation, one can trace direct lines to Carter's campaign planks: far-reaching tax reform (for economic justice), reorganized and simplified government (better to provide the "not strong" with services), national health insurance (again chiefly for the underprivileged), and a chief executive who believes he stands for "the truth" and can check back with "the people" to avoid excesses in the use of presidential power. It is heady medicine, a direct threat to privileged groups, good cause for the discomfort of the power brokers along the Potomac. But if Carter is elected, it is precisely what they must expect,fo;. Jl w

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