THE STRIKING THING about President Carter's press conference yesterday was the low quality of the questions. Most of the conference was used for stale and narrow questions about foreign affairs. The exceptions were the questions about the B-1 bomber. Being absurd, like the Rev. Lester Kinsolving, is occasionally pardonable. But being merely dull and pompous is not.
"Mr. President, is this emphasis on human rights now central to your foreign policy? . . . Did you consult any qualified, experienced people before undertaking your [human rights] campaign? . . . Mr. President, do you think you are pushing Israel too far? . . . Do you think you are selling Israel down the river?"
As good republicans, in the democratic tradition, reporters ought to make their politicians work a little harder for the air of easy superiority that such questions allowed Mr. Carter yesterday. What should he have been asked? Several examples come to mind.
Since the President feels that everyone at his level of income should pay at least a minimum tax, does he intend to write that salutary principle into the tax-reform bill that the Treasury is now drafting?
In the past Mr. Carter has repeatedly expressed his personal disapproval of abortion, but noted that court decisions required public-health programs to provide funds for them. Last week the Supreme Court changed that, and this week the Senate voted to prohibit Medicaid money for them in all but the most extreme circumstances. How does Mr. Carter feel about the Senate bill? Would he sign it?
If gasoline consumption takes off this summer beyond any previous record - as it already shows strong signs of doing - will Mr. Carter take any action? Remember, American oil imports are now running one-third above last year's, and Congress has just rejected Mr. Carter's proposed tax on gasoline.
The Home Loan Bank Board is immensely important to housing construction, but yesterday was the last day that it could legally do business. Two of its three seats are now vacant.Mr. Carter's nominee for one of those seats, Robert McKinney, is being challenged in Congress on charges of conflict of interest. Does Mr. Carter intend to press the nomination?When does he expect to get the HLBB back into business?
The inflation rate has been running higher since he took office than it was at the end of the Ford administration. Does that suggest to Mr. Carter any need to revise his economic recovery?
Over the years Presidents have occasionally complained that Washington reporters seem to live on a different planet than the rest of the country does. Any citizen watching the press conference yesterday might have come to the same conclusion. Except for the B-1, the main preoccupation there seemed to be American relations with China. The President is currently dealing with a long list of political issues of the first order, directly touching the convictions and the lives of people throughout the country. But you couldn't have guessed it from the questioning at this encounter yesterday with the assembled press.