Jimmy Carter entered the Oval Office with his retinue and walked to the bulletproof windows at the back. There he pointed out to assistant Hamilton Jordan the route he takes on his morning run. He’s doing five miles now on the South Lawn. “It gets easier and easier,” the President explained. “When I finish I feel I could go two or three more.” He’s lost five pounds as a result. Was he going to recruit Jordan into the ranks of joggers? The aide looked dubious. The effort made, President Carter sat down and talked about the past year with PEOPLE Managing Editor Richard B. Stolley and Washington Bureau Chief Clare Crawford.
What was your darkest moment in 1978, and the brightest?
They happened the same day—when we finally arrived at a Mideast peace agreement at Camp David. Just a few hours before we reached success that Sunday, it was, in my opinion, absolutely hopeless. We thought we had failed. No one can imagine the pinnacles and depths that we experienced during those 13 days. On one occasion Sadat said he was through, and asked for helicopters to bring him and his staff back to Washington.
What was your greatest disappointment this year?
Personally, the most disappointing thing was when Chip’s wife, Caron, and our grandson, James, left the White House. But we’re not giving up on Chip’s marriage. Our strong advice to Chip is to try and bring about a reconciliation. The agreement for Caron to go home was mutual—something they had worked out, not with our approval but with our full knowledge. We hope that the separation will prove to be temporary.
Do you think their problems were exacerbated by publicity?
Obviously, marital problems are always exacerbated by focusing publicly on them. That was certainly true in the case of Chip and Caron. When wild allegations were made about Chip’s conduct, that obviously created tension between husband and wife. As for allegations that I demanded Chip leave the White House, we never thought about such weird things as that.
It has been a controversial year for your administration. How did it affect White House morale?
My staff and I are a fairly harmonious family. We support one another, and there’s a minimal amount of backbiting or backstabbing. When one person is really despondent about adverse press reaction—which comes in floods—or when they have some personal problem, we all kind of rally to them as if we were kinfolk.
How do you feel about drug adviser Peter Bourne and budget director Bert Lance, both of whom had to resign under fire?
Peter and his wife, Mary, are still good friends and we stay in touch. They were at the White House with us last week. Bert Lance’s departure was a bad thing for all of us. He still frequently sends me his inimitable handwritten memos, and I really appreciate his concern. He had decided to stay distant physically to avoid embarrassing me, but I hope and pray Bert’s problems will be resolved beneficially for him.
Could you tell us some of the things you are doing in the White House, on a personal level, to deal with inflation?
I think Rosalynn could probably tell you better than I. She keeps our bank accounts, pays all the bills and makes all the purchases, and has for the last 20 years. One of the things we discussed the last time I met with her on business was cutting down on the expense of White House functions. The entertainment, ordinarily, is voluntary. We don’t serve hard liquor. We’ve cut down on the quality of the food and drinks, and we’ve also been very cautious about not working the regular employees overtime.
Should there be a cost-of-living escalator in the President’s salary?
No. I think I ought to be constrained to accommodate inflation without any increase in salary.
Your campaign on behalf of international human rights has been criticized by former Secretary of State Kissinger, who believes a quieter approach would be more effective. What is your reaction?
Ninety percent of what we do is quiet and unpublicized. But on occasion, when there is a gross violation of human rights by another country, we reserve the right to speak out. I think there’s a general trend toward more democratic government in this hemisphere, and there have been literally thousands of political prisoners released in different parts of the world. It’s embarrassing for some countries to have their civil rights violations publicized, but I think every leader, including myself, is much more sensitive now about avoiding international condemnation. Even though on occasion it creates tension between ourselves and the Soviet Union, or ourselves and Brazil, I think the general arousing of worldwide consciousness has been beneficial.
Now your favorite question. How’s Amy?
She’s getting along fine. She’s got a harmonious family life, to start with. She has a lot of friends. She reads voraciously. Twice a week she goes to a class for advanced children sponsored by George Washington University, and she’s doing well there. She’s also taking violin lessons and played in a duet at the Japanese embassy recently. She’s not at all timid or embarrassed about performing. She leads a pretty normal life for a child who’s the President’s daughter.
What has she meant to you and Mrs. Carter in the White House?
When Amy was born, it kind of made us young again. She’s a good companion, yet she’s independent enough to live the life of a politician’s daughter. Sometimes I get discouraged and concerned about my own performance and about how difficult problems are going to be resolved. Then, even if it’s late at night, I go over to the living quarters and walk in and just stand and look at Amy for a while, even if she’s asleep. It makes me feel better. It’s kind of a humanizing thing to be a father for a few minutes.
What surprises have you encountered in the Presidency?
Some of the achievements that I thought would be easy turned out to be intransigent problems. We expected more immediate success on some of the domestic proposals to Congress. We thought we’d have more rapid movement toward peace in the Mideast, at least at the conclusion of Camp David. We felt we could make more progress in Rhodesia and Namibia and that we would do better in Cyprus. In Nicaragua, at least the bloodshed ceased. There have been partial successes in almost all of those areas, but permanent solutions have been more difficult than we anticipated in our original naiveté.
There has been wide speculation that either Ted Kennedy or Jerry Brown—perhaps both—might challenge you in 1980. What’s your reaction to that?
I certainly think there will be more than one person running for President in 1980, but I have never been fearful about potential opposition in a political race. Even back in 1972, when I decided to run and felt that Senator Kennedy would be one of my major opponents, I had no trepidation about him. So the prospect of opposition wouldn’t affect my decision to run.
Do you think you have changed very much in the White House?
I think I’m basically the same person. But I know a lot more than I did, and I’ve obviously matured. I know more about the world, more about different countries, more about world leaders, more about the structure of government. I know more about how to perform my own duties—of where I should be personally involved, and where others should take over the responsibilities. I think I’ve learned the strengths and weaknesses of the members of my Cabinet, and of other agency heads. So I think I’ve grown in the job. I’m a little bit more sober, a little bit more reconciled to limitations. But still, I hope, idealistic and deeply committed to doing better.
You sound like a man who thinks another four years in the White House would be a good idea.
That might be.