Carter Conducts Conference of College Newspaper Editors (Vol. 44, Issue 10)
In a meeting with college newspaper editors and news directors, including a representative from The Commentator, in Washington, D. C. on March 3, President Carter made some major policy statements on issues ranging from the stalled SALT II talks to the possibility of reelection in 1980. Set up as a typical news conference in the plush interior of the Old Executive Mansion, Pres. Carter fielded questions for over 40 minutes. More often than not, he used the questions as points of departure on larger issues. For example, when asked about the possibility of the Soviet Union deploying cruise missiles in Cuba as a direct threat to United States’ sovereignty, President Carter launched into a discussion of the merits of the treaty and the progress being made by his negotiators. “We are now down to about twelve highly technical issues, three or four of which ave quite significant in their nature and will be difficult.” What was significant and naturally picked up at the time by all major wire services was his statement on the necessity for a private meeting with Mr. Brezhnev before any final agreement was reached.
The questions were generally to the point and reflected current issues and trends. For example, the Marston affair was carefully discussed. Mr. Carter stated, “There is nothing about the Marston matter at all that causes any regret to me except the extraordinary publicity that has been brought to it.” He then went on to discuss his merit selection plan, while decrying eight years of Republican administration which appointed not a single Democrat to a United States Attorney's position. Inflation, and the means of combatting it, formed the nucleus of the next question and answer unit. Paul McCracken, former Presidential Economic Advisor has alleged that the Carter Administration has no clearcut policy for fighting inflation. The President attempted to defend his position, discussing his performance but actually hedging on a direct answer. He spoke about how unemployment is down from 81% to 6.8% while inflation has dropped from 10.0% to 4.0%. He neglected to mention external factors aiding the successful attack on these two national ills nor was he able to discuss an in-depth plan for the fighting of inflation. When pushed for specifics, he added, “to put our people back to work, to limit government expenditures as a percentage of total GNP and total income of the people of our country and to hold down inflation ave very tightly knit and coherent government policy on economies.”
Mr. Carter was then asked about apparently contradictory stances on women’s rights and abortion. “Can one oppose governmental funding for abortions and at the same time support ratifications of the Equal Rights Amendments?” he was asked. Mr. Carter noted that he has never supported abortion as a valid extension of contraceptive procedures. “I don’t think that abortion should be encouraged under any circumstance and I think a good education program, the making available of contraceptive devices to those who believe in their use and encouragement of the facility with which unwanted children can be adopted are much better alternatives. Finally, and perhaps as most fitting conclusion, the President was asked about his chances for reelection in 1980; would he be a one term president? Mr. Carter noted that since Eisenhower, no president has served two terms, “because of either tragedy or reluctance to run or because of defeat in the campaign.” He then pointed out that in the public opinion polls, his personal rating is still around 75%, although approval of the job his administration is doing is only around 50%. “I have mixed emotions about it. My personal rating is high; the performance of my administration caused me concern in the polls. But it is because of some of the difficulties of the issues we have tackled and the lack of cooperation of people who don’t see things the same way I do.”
Concluding the press conference, Mr. Carter then launched into a ten minute “pep” talk about American values, his own rise from rags to riches and the importance of democracy as a driving force in the world. “You have an advantage and a certain flexibility of thought and analysis and perspective and a lack of heavy responsibility on your shoulders that constrains your independence of thought. That. won't always be the case. In a few years you will be employed in a major corporation or have your own business assignment or he teaching school. And when that time comes, your freedom of expression and freedom of action and freedom of analysis will be severely restricted. And I really hope that you won't relinquish your right and even responsibility for independent analysis and deep inquisitiveness and expressions of concern and open expressions of criticism when public officials don’t reach the standards that you have set for our country. This is important to me.”