Leslie H.








INT: Can you conclude with your answer, and also if you could just tell me very briefly why, as a matter of personal integrity to a principled man, human rights was so important.

MK: Coming from the Deep South and having been exposed to the Civil Rights movement - he was not in the Civil Rights movement, but he was profoundly touched by the Civil Rights movement, and it was everywhere around him - given his own family background, given his religious principles, given his own personal convictions and his character, his profound conviction was that the United States needed to stand for human rights, and this is something that came from very deep within him, this was not a position that was adopted for expediency, there was no pragmatism in it - although there were pragmatic outcomes, there were tactical advantages, but it came from inside. And he made a series of speeches in which he made this clear, laying it out, and the response of the American people was very good, so that he got a great deal of reinforcement. In May 1976, prior to the general election, he gave a speech in which talked about human rights as being central to the United States. In the autumn, Stu Eisenstadt set up a speech for him with B'nai B'rth. Stu's main concern was the emigration of Jews from Russia, but Dick Holbrooke wrote the speech and he widened the focus. Carter then, in March 1977, once he was in office, in Clinton, Massachusetts, said, "The United States must set a new morality." He talked about "The United States must stand up against torture, against administrative detention of people everywhere in the world." He talked about a homeland for the Palestinians; he talked about human rights around the world, and the fact that the United States couldn't compromise in its stand on human rights. And then, in May 1977, he went back to Notre Dame, where he had been a year earlier, and again he talked about human rights. Well, there were those in the State Department who thought this was folly, and there were those in the Congress who thought this was bizarre, but basically the American people liked this: they wanted the country to stand for something, they wanted it to mean something, and not just be throwing its weight around or reacting defensively to other pressures in the world. And so human rights really was an unusual wedding of Carter the man, the person, everything that he brought, with the situation at the time, which cried out for the United States to reassert itself ethically and principally in the world.

INT: That's a wonderful answer - thank you. Can you tell me, do you think he succeeded in restoring confidence to the country?

MK: There is no question that he succeeded in restoring confidence to the country. Within the first three or four months of his presidency, he had higher approval ratings than any other American president in recent history. He had restored integrity, respect, honesty to the Oval Office. We had a clean government for the first time in years, a completely clean and corruption-free government, and the American people liked it very much.

INT: Great. How did you feel when Carter made his big emotional s- it was the 15th of July in '79 - calling for America to have confidence in itself? What do you remember, how did you feel about that?

MK: Despite the fact that Carter had achieved enormous approval ratings and had been able to restore the luster and the confidence ithe Oval office, the esteem in which people held the presidency, the cleanliness of government, despite that, by the...

(Interruption - cut)

INT: So how did you feel when Carter made his emotional speech in July '79, calling for the country to have confidence in itself?

MK: Well, despite the fact that he had been able to restore confidence in the Oval Office very quickly, within the first few months of his presidency, and despite his enormous approval ratings, by the end of 1979 many things were going wrong, most of them completely outside his control. The oil prices were rising, worldwide inflation, interest rates were up, the overthrow of Somoza in Nicaragua, the Mariel boat-lift from Cuba, the meltdown at Three Mile Island - there were many things that were going wrong, almost as if he were, um, jinxed or hexed or something had happened. And so, he had also compounded the problems for himself because he had laid an extremely ambitious agenda upon coming into office. The American people liked that; it was a very aggressive program that he had. He talked about a balanced budget, for example. Today, people talk about a balanced budget, but he was among the first, and he had a lot of opposition coming from his own party - the liberals in the Democratic Party were opposed to it. He was getting opposition from the Congress, from many sides, from the media, from business, all sorts of people who didn't like his legislative agenda. And so he had raised the expectations of the American people; they liked his ambitious agenda, but they were disappointed because he was unable to get the packages through the Congress. For example, on energy, we had the first attempt at a coherent energy policy.. that we'd ever had, and in fact the only one we've ever had. The Congress took two years and tore it to shreds, tore it to smithereens, but at least we had a policy for the first time. But Carter had two huge problems: he had no natural constituency in Washington, and he didn't realize the extent of the special interest groups and the impact of money flowing through the American system, and so he was unable to get the legislative program through. All of this came together in the summer of 1979, and that is when he talked about restoring confidence to the American people, because more than anything he was sensing their disappointment at his inability to get his own ambitious legislative program passed. And that was when he called upon the American people for the restoration of confidence, and it was a great speech. It was later called the "malaise speech", but he never used the word "malaise" - there was nothing in it about malaise; he was just responding to the sense of disappointment that was abreast in the land.

INT: And how did you feel?

MK: I felt very good about the speech. I thought it was remarkable that an American president would give that kind of speech and in effect speak with such clarity and such openness. It was not canned. And then, of course, he went to Camp David, he had a retreat; he invited 150 Americans from all walks of life to come and essentially criticize him for several days. This is unheard of; I have never seen anything like this before or since in my life, where a head of government says: "You come and attack me, come and tell me what I'm doing wrong." But it's really a measure of his character and his strength that he was willing to submit himself to that kind of criticism. And he came out of the session in Camp David imbued with new strength, because he had learned a great deal. It's almost inevitable that you lose contact with people in the Oval Office. When he first went in, he wanted to have an arrangement where ordinary people could come and sit with him for a few minutes and tell him whatever was on their mind. He had done something like that as Governor of Georgia. But the secret service vetoed it, and so he didn't have the interaction with people that he had had as governor, or the interaction with people that he had had on the campaign trail, and there's tremendous learning that goes on in those small sessions with ordinary people who are not officials. Lacking that, setting up the Camp David retreat, it made him [sic] possible then to interact with people and get feedback and hear what people thought and felt without it being processed by the staff, without it being homogenized and mish-mashed with all the positions and re-written and so on. And when he came back from Camp David, he was filled with new strength and new energy and new vision, and new self-criticism, part of which was deserved: there were ways in which he was politically inept, and his dealings with the Congress were one. He came back with new insight. But then he turned around and he asked for the resignation of the Cabinet and the White House staff, and so what had in a sense been a triumphal recovery from the disappointment at the failures of his legislative agenda, suddenly became a crisis and people had a feeling that the Government was out of control, that he was out of control. But his speech of July 1979 was a marvelous speech, and what he did at Camp David was an outstanding example of a president being open to criticism, of which we do not see enough, I believe.

INT: Great. I'm going to ask you to keep your answers a little shorter - I'm worried the fire alarm is going to go off in the middle of (unclear).

MK: (Laughs) OK.

INT: My next question: did you believe in Carter's policies on arms control?

MK: President Carter's policies on arms control came again from his own personal convictions. He was well exposed to nuclear science: he was a graduate of the Naval Academy, he had been on a nuclear submarine. He wanted a nuclear-free world, as a matter of personal conviction and as a matter of religious belief. With this I agreed completely. He also wanted to go beyond what had essentially been negotiated positions by the United States in the past. These positions were largely dictated by pragmatism. He wanted the American position on arms control to be based on principle, the principle of a nuclear-free world. He was also tremendously concerned about the spread of nuclear weapons into the Third World, the developing countries, and understood that there were no adequate controls. So, yes, I agreed completely with his policies on arms control.

INT: Great. How did you feel when you heard about the invasion of Afghanistan?

MK: When I heard about the invasion of Afghanistan, I was convinced that the Soviets were trying deliberately to provoke Carter. I thought that this was a gesture of extreme contempt on their part. I felt as if they were betraying him in every way that they could, that this was a gesture of extreme provocation, designed to create some kind of counter-response from him.

INT: And undermining American security?

MK: No, I do not remember feeling that the purpose of the invasion in Afghanistan was to undermine American security. I felt at the time - and I continue to believe - that it was a tactical decision by the Soviet Union. Of course, we've later found out that there were other things going on: power struggles and the hard-liners trying to reassert themselves and so on; but I felt at the time it was a tactical maneuver, and I continue to believe that they were trying to provoke him.

INT: Great. To what extent really did you think Reagan was responsible for building up a strong America to deal with the Soviets? How much of that credit should go to Reagan?

MK: I think that Ronald Reagan has taken a great deal of credit for policies that were in fact set in motion by Carter. Carter's increase of the defense de.. budget, for which he was roundly assailed by liberals in his own party, his pressure on human rights, his normalization of relatiowith China, all of these were forces that were set in train by Jimmy Carter, that Reagan inherited and took credit for. But in fact, the fundamental turn in policy, the United States going on the offensive against the Soviet Union, the United States pressuring the Soviet Union to go beyond the discussed, agreed-upon reductions, to go beyond what had been agreed before, to acknowledge the deficienin human rights, all of these things were Carter's doing, they were policies that were set in motion by him, and Reagan was the beneficiary.

INT: That's a wonderful answer again. Can you tell me, how do you view Carter as a president?

MK: I think that as a president, he will be much more highly regarded than he has been in the past. I think there's a tendency on the part of some people automatically to look at failure to be reelected as failure. And I suppose, if you judge the success of a precedence on whether or not someone is reelected, then you would have to say he was not a success. But he was elected to do certain things, I believe: he was elected to clean up the government, he was elected to restore America's sense of equilibrium, he was elected to heal the rifts and divisions and chasms in the American psyche, he was elected to overcome the traumas of the past. All of that he did, and he did well, and he did quickly. And he also was able to accomplish many historically notable. Can we do that again? (Laughs)

(A bit of discussion)

MK: I believe that in the future, he will be very highly regarded for a number of accomplishments, but he paid a high price for them at the time. For example, the Panama Canal treaties: he probably permanently lost 15% of the vote as a result of his pursuit of the Panama Canal treaty, but he believed that this was the right thing to do. The Camp David accords gave Israel more than Israel had ever had before, and yet he was the first Democratic president to lose the Jewish vote. So he paid dearly for the steps that he took. The Democrats were always attacking him on the defense increase, and yet this is the very defense increase that was later claimed by Ronald Reagan as the reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union. So historically, I think he will be regarded much more significantly than he was at the time. And for those who judge reelection as the criterion of success may never be convinced, but I think that historically, in the 21st century, he will be seen as a major turning point.

INT: Great.