Jody Powell attended his farewell "Sperling breakfast" yesterday, reminiscing about the past, commenting on the state of the presidency and studiously offering nothing but best wishes to the men and women of the Reagan administration who will follow him.
The breakfast -- named after its founder and host, Godfrey Sperling of the Christian Science Monitor -- is a Washington institution at which government and political figures are questioned over eggs and bacon by about two dozen reporters.
Aides to President-elect Ronald Reagan are in the greatest demand these days, but yesterday it was the turn of the outgoing White House press secretary to make a final appearance.
In retrospect, Powell said, it is clear President Carter was handicapped because "he came here without any real established network of people who, because of past political and personal association, were inclined when questions arose immediately to come to his defense."
"If I had it to do over again," he said, "I think I would make a greater effort to give him more opportunity to establish those relationships so people would better understand what he was doing."
Reagan has declared his intention to govern through "Cabinet government," making maximum use of his Cabinet secretaries, something Carter sought unsuccessfully to do. "They deserve a chance to try to make it work," Powell said of this concept. But in the end, he said, "the president is the man," adding that he hoped that whatever form "Cabinet government" took in the next administration it will be aimed at "strengthening the presidency."
Powell also said he hoped that Reagan administration officials "will not make quick decisions" about Carter's human rights policy, which the president-elect has criticized.
"If you are not careful, you can make very bad investments in terms of our national interest if you throw in with regimes that are unpopular and likely to become more unpopular and as a result to require even greater American investment to keep in power," he said.
Asked about reports that Reagan plans to declare a national "economic emergency" upon taking office, the press secretary said: "That sounds useful to me if you want to run in four years and be able to say we had a national economic emergency when we came in and look what we've got now. I'm sure no one over there [at Reagan transition headquarter], like no one with us, would ever think in those term."
Powell said he made mose mistakes as Carter's press secretary and had some bits of advice for his successor, which he would offer in private. But overall he expressed no regrets. Of his admittedly misleading statements to reporters just before last April's unsuccessful attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, when he was trying to protect the secrecy of the mission, he said: "I did what I thought I had to do. If I had it to do over again, I would do exactly the same thing."