The briefing book prepared for President Carter before his 1980 debate with candidate Ronald Reagan was a detailed compilation of strategies, responses and attacks that Carter used and Reagan rebutted in their pivotal encounter one week before the election.
A copy of the Carter book, apparently the same document that Reagan officials admit they acquired secretly before the debate, was made available to The Washington Post yesterday by a former top-level adviser to Carter.
Comparison of the document, entitled "Debate Briefing Materials," and the debate transcript shows instances in which Reagan seemed to have anticipated Carter's attacks successfully and rebutted them ably.
In the section headed "Social Security System," for example, the briefing book noted the predictable Democratic theme that Reagan's policies as president "would hurt the elderly and would weaken the . . . system."
But it went on to turn the Social Security issue into an attack on Reagan for opposing national health insurance and hospital cost containment and for having helped "lead the fight to defeat Medicare when it was being considered by the Congress."
In the debate, when Carter shifted gears from Social Security to health care, Reagan was ready. He said he opposed that Medicare bill only because he favored another bill before Congress that would "be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed." When it was Carter's turn to speak, he had no rebuttal.
Reagan's advisers may well have found the book useful for its section entitled "Rebuttals to Reagan Statements"--especially a part devoted to Reagan's record as California governor.
The book predicted that Reagan would claim in the debate that he had "rebated $5.7 billion to taxpayers," had "almost no growth in government" and "held down government spending" in California. To rebut that, the book suggested that Carter say Reagan had the "largest tax increases 3 in California history," a "126% increase in state budget" and a "20% increase in state employes."
As predicted, Reagan made the claims, but when Carter answered just as his book said he should, Reagan was ready with the final words:
"The figures that the president has just used about California is a distortion of the situation there because, while I was governor of California, our spending . . . increased less per capita than the spending in Georgia while Mr. Carter was governor . . . in the same four years. The size of government increased only one-sixth in California of what it increased in proportion to the population in Georgia."
Occasionally, Reagan rebutted Carter's statistical attacks even before Carter uttered them.
One such instance dealt with energy policy. In the section of his book headed "Rebuttals to Reagan Statements," Carter was told that it could be "reasonably predicted" that Reagan would contend that Carter had advocated "anti-production policies." The book provided Carter with statistics to show that in his administration there had been record increases in U.S. energy production, including "800 million tons of coal . . . 15% above 1976."
But in the debate, Carter had to talk first on energy and, though he spoke at length about oil and gas, he mentioned only briefly that more coal would be produced that year than ever before. Reagan, however, was armed with statistics of his own to dispute Carter on coal.
"The coal that the president mentioned--yes, we have it--and yet one-eighth of our total coal resources is not being utilized at all right now," Reagan responded. "The mines are closed down; there are 22,000 miners out of work."
Not until his rebuttal did Carter cite statistics listed in his briefing book, as he said, " . . . We have this year the opportunity . . . to produce 800 million tons of coal--an unequalled record in the history of our country."
The briefing book made available to The Post resembles that described by various Reagan advisers as the one they reviewed: a loose-leaf binder more than an inch thick and filled with more than 100 pages.
It contains, issue by issue, anticipated Reagan questions and suggested Carter answers, and ammunition to be used against Reagan. It deals primarily with domestic policies and was prepared by David M. Rubenstein, then Carter's deputy chief of domestic policy.
"This was the only briefing book that was prepared for President Carter, and it must be the one the Reagan people wound up with," Rubenstein said yesterday.
A separate set of questions and answers dealing with foreign policy and national security issues also was prepared for Carter and made available to The Post yesterday. But it is not known whether this was part of the papers that wound up in the hands of Reagan campaign advisers.
The book also gave Carter debate pointers, including:
"Present presidential image--make clear there is a difference between you and Reagan in knowledge and experience--and leave no doubt why you are now the president . . . .
"Present your achievements in a positive, forceful--not defensive--tone . . . .
"Make evident the substantive weaknesses and unrealities of Reagan's positions . . . . Throughout the campaign, Reagan's substantive positions have gone largely unexamined by the press . . . .
"Use catch phrases which people can remember (e.g. Kemp-Roth is a 'rich man's tax cut which would flood the country with dollars as fast as the printing presses could print them') (We will provide them to you)."
The Carter statement people remembered most was not provided in the briefing book. It was his revelation that "I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day . . . to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry--and the control of nuclear arms."
Word that the Reagan campaign had secretly received a copy of the Carter book before the debate surfaced a few weeks ago. It was mentioned in a casual way in a book on the Reagan presidency by Time magazine's Laurence I. Barrett, who wrote that the document was "apparently . . . filched" by a "mole" in the Carter White House.
Reagan White House officials acknowledged that they had received the document but played down its content and strategic value. They said they could not remember how they had acquired the book.
Then, White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, responding to a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.) that had begun investigating the matter, said the document had been turned over to him for use in debate preparation by William J. Casey, then Reagan's campaign chairman and now director of the CIA.
Casey wrote the committee that he had no recollection of the briefing book, adding that as campaign chairman, so many papers came across his desk that he could not remember this one.
Yesterday, syndicated columnist George F. Will said he had seen the document but could not remember much about it.
He said he had seen the papers on the kitchen table of Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman, when Stockman was helping Reagan prepare for the debate.
"I don't remember it very well because it was excruciatingly boring," Will said of the Carter documents on "This Week With David Brinkley" (ABC, WJLA). "It was hard to see what use could have been made of it, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't made use of by anyone in the Reagan campaign . . . . I have no idea how it got to David Stockman's kitchen table . . . ."
On Saturday, top administration officials met to discuss how they should deal with questions about how the Reagan campaign obtained the briefing document, the Associated Press reported.
Reagan said last week that he had no knowledge of the briefing book and that he would "like to get at the bottom of it." He said he considers the controversy "much ado about nothing," adding: " . . . Frankly, I don't think there ever was a briefing book as such."