PLAINS, Ga. -- Jimmy Carter says he has held off criticizing President Reagan for trying to scuttle his policies and programs because it is too early and his successor is still enjoying a political honeymoon.
As for programs that appear threatened by the new administration, Carter said, 'I think the next few months might start the redemption process in the public mind.'
The former president made the comments in an interview with United Press International in the relaxed setting of his ranch-style home.
'I'm not wishing ill on the new administration,' Carter said. 'I hope they succeed. But I still think some of the departures might prove to be ill-advised. We've made mistakes of our own.'
White House press secretary Jim Brady told reporters Reagan had read the Carter interview and 'he didn't find anything surprising in it.'
Of Carter's observation Reagan's programs emphasize new plants more than human beings, Brady said 'there wasn't any definite response to that point.'
'The best social program is a job,' he added. 'That's the direction' of the Reagan program, he said, adding 'you can spend yourself to prosperity or unleash free enterprise to provide jobs.
Carter, relaxed in blue jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and leather boots, made it clear he was suffering no withdrawal pains over the loss of the presidency. He seemed free of the tensions and pressures that beset him in the Oval Office.
In fact, he seemed to be sitting on top of the world, having just sold the family peanut warehouse for more than $1 million and his memoirs to Bantam Books for between $1 million and $2 million, according to reports from publishing circles.
'Everyone predicted that when I got home, I'd be frustrated and dissatisfied,' Carter said. 'I have to say that we enjoyed the four years we lived in Washington, but since I've been home I have not missed Washington one single minute.
'I say that without bitterness and with a full reminder that I enjoyed it while I was there.'
Rosalynn Carter, slender and smiling in casual pale blue corduroy pants and a striped T-shirt, was equally glowing about their future plans, and the fun they have had returning to their southern Georgia roots. As for the White House, she said 'it's amazing how detached we are from it all.'
Carter said he realized one of the pluses of being out of office when he and his family were vacationing in the Virgin Islands 'and I realized I didn't have to worry about El Salvador and Nicaragua.'
Carter said he doesn't think people are holding Reagan 'quite responsible for details. They might blame (budget director David) Stockman or others. But they don't blame him. We had a honeymoon, too. It's hard to remember, but it's true.'
He predicted Reagan ultimately will face 'inexorable pressures' to address the questions of human rights, nuclear arms control and leadership in protecting the environment.
'I think every administration has to feel its way forward,' Carter said. 'These issues are very important to me still, and to the world. There's no way to avoid them.'
Carter said he believes that 'in recent weeks' the new administration has focused more on investing the nation's resources 'in new plants and new cities rather than human beings.'
'To me, even looked at in cold and callous terms, the investment in life ... in better education and health, protection of the newborn child, a better diet and opportunities for training ... is a good business-paying proposition.'
'I think that is the aspect that has been overlooked in recent weeks,' he said.
He said Reagan's policies are based partly on his political philosophy 'and part of it is an attitude of multimillionaires.' Asked if he had lobbied Congress to protect his programs, he grinned and said, 'Oh, I talked to a few members as a matter of courtesy, just to pay my respects.'
Carter said his memoirs will be narrative, dwelling on the human side so people will know 'this is the way a Southern peanut farmer who's been governor felt when he went into the White House.
'I'm not going to write an apologia. I don't feel apologetic.'
Carter plans to go to Princeton to confer with authors of presidential biographies before proceeding with the 5,000 pages of impressionistic notes he dictated while president.
He also will leave the judgment of history to others. When asked how he would like to be viewed in the future, he said, 'I don't know.'
He conceded his administration failed to come to grips with the problem of inflation.
'The first few months (in office), for example, we were preoccupied with jobs and stimulating the economy, putting people back to work, and we succeeded. But we didn't give adequate attention to inflation, and why we didn't is worthy of a paragraph or two,' he said.
Carter remains loyal to the Georgia team he brought into the White House. Asked whether he ever considered dropping them when they became politically vulnerable, he said 'no, they're tops.'
Responding to questions, he said he believes Iran deliberately held off releasing the 52 American hostages until after Reagan was sworn in on Inauguration Day, but he does not know their motivation.
Asked if the delay was disappointing, Mrs. Carter said, 'I felt it was a triumph for us. I felt we were going out in triumph.'
Besides, she added, Reagan did not deliver a 'good inaugural speech.'
Carter said he thinks the most important single issue of the campaign 'was the hostages, and the exemplification of a powerful nation and innocent Americans being held.'
'To me,' he said, 'it was an indication of the basic power of our country, of the strength of our country, to exalt the importance of those human lives.'
When his presidency was over, Lyndon Johnson expressed his great relief that he no longer had 'the man with the black bag' following him with the secret nuclear codes. Did Carter feel the same way?
Carter said he did not have any sleepless nights and felt the black bag 'was in good hands when it was in my possession.'
The ex-president is having the time of his life getting acquainted with the new computer he installed in his study to work on his memoirs.
He also put in the flooring of his attic and made stilts -- called 'tom walkers' in Plains -- for his daughter Amy, who has said she wishes her father was still president because she misses her friends in Washington.
As for Billy Carter, 'he's doing fine,' said Carter, adding he thinks Billy has 'assuaged' his problems with the Internal Revenue Service and has a job as a traveling salesman selling woodwork and molding in the southeastern states.
The former president says he gets 2,000 letters a day in his Atlanta office. He also is trying to decide on a location for this presidential library. The betting is on Atlanta, where there are some 25 area colleges.
Since he is only 56 years old, there has speculation Carter may seek public office again some day. The question brought a smile to his face, and an emphatic 'No.'