President Carter will go on national television tonight to tell the American people how he intends to fulfill the promises he made during his election campaign.
The talk, scheduled for 10 p.m. (EST), is the first major element in Carter's overall plan "to stay close to the people." Other devices for the same purpose are also being studied by presidential aides.
Carter is expected to speak tonight for about 25 minutes from the library of the White House - the place where Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered many of his famous "fireside chats" on national radio.
White House officials declined yesterday to discuss the specifics of what the President will say. But they emphasized that the talk - they do not ccall it a speech - is viewed as a vehicle more to set a general tone and direction for the new administration than to set out specific policy proposals.
The central message Carter hopes to convey, they said, is his determination and plans to fulfill his campaign promises.
Tonight's broadcast from the residential quarters of the White House will deal largely with domestic questions, officials said. A second, similar talk may be held in a few months, with the emphasis on foreign policy. But that also will depend on the reaction to tonight's first talk, which White House aides call "an experiment" in direct communication between a President and the nation.
Nationally televised addressed by a President are not new, but usually have occurred at a time of national crisis, such as the Cuban missile crisis, or because of a single, overriding issue, such as the Watergate scandal. What sets apart Carter's first talk is that it was deliberately planned for a time of non-crisis, so the President could speak in broad terms about his hopes.
Since the talk was arranged, much of the eastern half of the country has been suffering from a brutally cold winter and a severe shortage of natural gas.As a result, energy policy has been given more prominence in the talk than originally planned, an official said, "but it's not a crisis speech."
White House officials have also discussed among themselves how Congress is likely to react to this experiment in direct presidential communication with the people. The President has decided not to deliver a State of the Union message to Congress early in the administration, and there was fear that congressional leaders may consider the talk an attempt to bypass them.
"That point has been considered extensively," one official said. "It seemed worth doing this, and extensive measures have been taken to make sure that Congress is not overlooked. I think, for example, that he will place heavy emphasis on how closely Congress is a part of what he wants to accomplish."
When Carter appears on television tonight he will attempt to convey as informal and "conversational" a tone as possible. But however informal he may appear, this first address to the people was preceded by careful planning by some key figures in the Carter campaign.
The President's remarks, informal or not, will have gone through a least four drafts by White House speech writers by the time of the television appearance.
In addition to suggestions on content from Cabinet members and White House domestic policy chief Stuart E. Eizenstat, Carter has not had advice on the format and tone of the talk from his press secretary, Jody Powell; Barry Jagoda, his television adviser; Gerald M. Rafshoon, his television consultant during the campaign, and campaign pollster Patrick Caddell.
White House officials still have not come up with a term or title for the talk and have shied away from the term "fireside chat" of the Roosevelt area. As of yesterday afternoon, they were still trying to decide whether the fireplace in the White House library should be in use and on camera. The latest decision appeared to be that it should.
In addition to the radio talk show Carter is planning, officials said devices being considered to keep the President in touch with people in town meetings around the country include having him attend a series of and issuing invitations to "ordinary citizens" to have dinner with the First Family.