An unrepentant Billy Carter told reporters today he is a recovering alcoholic who will "probably be just as crazy as ever sober."
After nearly seven weeks in the alcoholic rehabilitation center at Long Beach Naval Hospital, the president's brother summed up his treatment in these words: "I found out water can be drank straight."
Carter, noticeably lighter and sporting a trim brown mustache, made his comments at a hospital news conference in which he freely acknowledged a 20-year dependence on alcohol and said he would be cured "as long as I don't take a drink."
The 41-year-old Georgian, who once described himself as a redneck with an insatiable taste for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, said he now prefers soft drinks and milk. But there was no sign that the change in beverages has altered any of the attitudes that have made him controversial.
As he has before, Carter blamed many of his troubles on misquotations in the press, at one point referring to various unnamed reporters scatologically. He denied that his dealings with the militant anti-Semitic government of Libya went beyond personal friendship. And he said he had no apology to make to his brother the president for any discomfiture he may have caused.
Asked if he had embarrassed the president, he replied: "No more than some of his foreign policy positions caused me embarrassment."
Carter said his relationships with the Libyan government did not go beyond personal friendship with Ahmed Shihiti, head of Libya's foreign liaison office.
"I have never represented Libya in any way, shape or form," Carter said.
The president's brother also insisted he had been misquoted about a remark that was widely interpreted as anti-Semitic. He told a Jewish reporter questioning him about the Libyan to "kiss my ass" and the reporter interpreted this as applying to all Jews, Carter said.
"I don't give a damn about anybody's politics or religion or race or color," Carter said. "I like people. I dislike a lot of people too"
Carter gave only brief answers to a few questions about a federal investigation of the Carter Warehouse. He said that all of the Warehouse books were in the possession of the Justice Department but that he had not been contacted by special prosecutor Paul Curran or subpoenaed. He said he would return to Georgia after his discharge from the hospital this weekend and concern himself with the investigation.
Carter conducted his 30-minute news conference in the auditorium where other famous patients of the hospital, among them Betty Ford and Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-Ga), have described struggles with alcoholism or drug abuse.
The president's brother said his most difficult moment was admitting, early in the treatment, that he was in fact an alcoholic and needed help. He gave credit to his wife, Sybil, who stayed with him for four weeks of the treatment and attended therapy sessions with him.
Carter said he would pay the $12,100 bill for the treatment out of his own pocket.
In a presentation that was generally controlled and amiable, Carter seemed to have lost none of the outspoken, homespun wit that made him a delight to reporters and a caution to campaign managers when his brother was first seeking the presidency.
In his new role as recovering alcoholic, said Carter, he went to a party and found that "it's almost as much fun to watch the drunks as it is to get drunk with them."
And there was a trace of pride in his voice when Carter said that he would be concluding his first news conference without taking a drink. It was quite a change for a man who once said that what he liked best about New Orleans was that the bars opened at 8 on Sunday morning. CAPTION: Picture 1, President's brother, newly mustached, meets the press. AP; Picture 2, Billy Carter, approching reporters, is accompanied by Capt. Joseph Pursch, chief of alcoholic rehabilitation unit at Long Beach, Calif., Navy hospital.