Washington — The president tells visitors these days that his chief reason for wanting a second term is so that he can enjoy a few years in office without having every act attributed to political motivation.
Certainly Mr. Carter likes to pull the levers of power. And he wants to stay at the controls.
Also, reelection would be some measure of vindication for this first term in which he admits the results have fallen short of his expectations He is known to feel that, if he turns back the Reagan challenge, this will reflect in part public understanding of the immensely difficult problems he has had to face -- plus a public acknowledgement that he has been doing the best he can under these circumstances.
The President remains unbowed by his problems and by the widespread criticism. AT least he continues to appear that way -- to his staff and to those members of the press who have talked to him in recent days.
But Mr. Carter is convinced that, if reelected, he would have a year or two in which his presidency would not be marred by a continual questioning of his motives -- and that in such an atmostphere he would have a much better chance of moving the nation toward solving its more urgent problems -- slowing inflation, reducing unemployment. and cutting back US energy dependency on other nations.
He also believes he would be able to push through programs that would provide a better life for those he calls the "vulnerable" -- the elderly, ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged.
Like many of his predecessors in the White House, the President tends to blame the press for continuing to give the public the impression that everything he does is related to reelection or other personal or political purposes.
But he thinks the media would have to drop this cynicism to a considerable degree should he be returned to the White House. And those first two years would hence be marked by a receptivity for his initiatives on the part of both public and Congress -- by a general feeling that what he was undertaking was genuinely for the good of the country.
Thus, it would be an ideal period, as he sees it, for putting the Carter stamp on the country and on the presidency.
As the fall campaign begins the President really is ambivalent about the political chores that lie ahead. He enjoys campaigning and thinks he is effective in this role. But he is very tired of political distractions and complains that with the Kennedy challenge that began last fall he will soon have had a year of continual political siege.
He concedes that this battle for survival has not made his job in the White House any easier. But he points out he would be free of that kind of political harrassment in a second term.
The President realizes that in the last two years of a second term he would be viewed as a lame duck -- and that his administration would be considerably weakened thereby. But he thinks he could accomplish the big tasks in his first two years.
When Mr. Carter came to the White House he supported the two four-year terms restriction. But now he favors one six-year term. he believes that this would give a president four years before he would be a lame duck, four years in which he could be free of having his administration marred by the press-induced public criticism of and resistance to programs portrayed as politically motivated.
Finally, the President believes that he may he called upon to make as many as five apointments to the US Supreme Court should he have another four years in the White House. He thus could be shaping the court's ideological thrust on vital issues for year to come.
As might be expected, Mr. Carter is convinced that he, not Mr. Reagan, is attuned to the needs of the nation and therefore better able to shape the direction of the court. In fact, Carter sees the Reagan impact by way of such court appointments as potentially disastrous.