TOM PUTNAM: Good afternoon. I'm Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of Tom McNaught, Executive Director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library and Foundation colleagues, I thank you for coming.
Let me begin by acknowledging the generous underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums, including lead sponsor Bank of America, Boston Capital, the Boston Foundation, the Lowell Institute, Raytheon, and our media partners, The Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR. I also want to thank our moderator, award-winning journalist Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for the NewsHour on PBS, and author of several books, including most recently The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America. Signed copies of President Carter's new book are on sale in our bookstore. And we will take written questions from the audience, so please submit them to our staff during the Forum.
This Library will always have a special connection with President Jimmy Carter, as it was during his Presidency, in October 1979, that the Library was dedicated. Let's watch an excerpt from his speech on that historic occasion:
President Kennedy took office understanding that the texture of social and economic life of our nation and our people was changing, and that our nation and our people would have to change with it. "Change is the law of life," he once said. "And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future." He had a vision of how America could meet and master the forces of change that he saw around him.
President Kennedy entered the White House convinced that racial and religious discrimination was morally indefensible. Later, that conviction became a passion for him, a passion that his brother Robert shared and, as his son has so well said, carried forward.
As a southerner, as a Georgian, I saw at first hand how the moral leadership of the Kennedy administration helped to undo the wrongs that grew out of our nation's history. Today the problem of human rights in the United States is shifting from inequality of legal rights to inequality of opportunity. But the question of legal rights is not yet settled.
We are all Americans, we are all children of the same God. Racial violence and racial hatred can have no place among us in the South or in the North.
TOM PUTNAM: Any spare moments I've had over the last couple of weeks have been spent reading President Carter's White House Diary, which is filled with insights into his character and his Presidency, including more than a few surprises. We all recall the breath of fresh air the Carters brought to our nation's capital at a pivotal moment in our history, symbolized by their decision to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue as part of the Inaugural Parade, preceded only by Thomas Jefferson in doing so.
Who knew the suggestion came from Senator William Proxmire? Not for the symbolism that so perfectly captured the country's imagination, and which President Carter anticipated, but because Senator Proxmire hoped that by walking, the President would send a message to the nation about the importance of physical fitness. [Laughter]
Later that night, President and Mrs. Carter enjoyed their first meal in the White House with a diary notation explaining that before moving to Washington, Mrs. Carter spoke with the White House chefs to ask if they could prepare the kind of meals their family had enjoyed in the South. The cook replied, "Yes, ma'am, we've been fixing that kind of food for the servants for a long time." [Laughter]
Well, not exactly what the kitchen staff meant, through his life work, both in and out of the White House, Jimmy Carter has proven himself to be one of our country's most dedicated and tireless public servants, who during his years in our nation's highest office, in the words of Vice President Walter Mondale, "obeyed the law, told the truth and kept the peace."
Lyndon Johnson famously described his Presidential Library as "telling the story of our time, with the bark off, showing all the facts, not just the joys and triumphs, but the sorrow and failures, too." And the same can be said about President Carter's White House Diary, which recounts as many legislative and diplomatic successes, including the Panama Canal Treaty and the Camp David Accords, as well as his bumpy relationship with the press, travails of the 1980 campaign and the long ordeal of the Iranian hostage crisis.
In fact, it is part of the same October 20th, 1979, diary entry in which he discusses his appearance at the dedication of this Library that President Carter describes the decision to allow the Shah of Iran to receive medical treatment in the United States, one of the many factors that will later precipitate the hostage crisis. Through it all, one is struck by President Carter's honesty with himself and with others, his love of his family and country, his sense of decency and firmly held beliefs.
I was reminded of a story told by Mrs. Carter, who spoke from this stage earlier this year. She described feeling calm on the morning of her husband's Inaugural, knowing that the man who was about to take the Presidential Oath that afternoon was the very same person who, the day before, had helped her mop up water in the garage of their home in Georgia after a water pipe burst from the cold. [Laughter] "Though he faced extraordinary responsibilities and lived a life we could have never, ever dreamed of," she states, "we are first and always Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter from Plains, Georgia."
In reading this Diary, I was also struck by this remarkable combination, a man who one day could be on his hands and knees to clear his garage floor of water would the next be standing tall before the world, delivering a clarion call on behalf of energy independence, nuclear non-proliferation, and human rights. Why should we be surprised, then, by his remarkable post- Presidency, the most successful in our nation's history, as he one day constructs Habitat for Humanity homes with his Georgian neighbors, while interacting with world leaders the next, earning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts through the Carter Center to wage peace, fight disease and build democracy throughout the globe.
"Rosalynn and I have deep roots in Plains," he writes in the final sentences of this new book, "but we never forget our profound connection to the millions of others with whom we share this earth. In our hearts, we have made a promise to do all we can to help those who have been less fortunate. And in this way, like so many other private citizens, we are striving to do our part to help the United States fulfill its destiny as a democracy worthy of its founders."
Mr. President, you honor us here today with your presence, and on behalf of so many of our fellow citizens, we thank you and Mrs. Carter for your service to our country and for your tireless humanitarian efforts which evoke the best of the American spirit.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Ray Suarez and the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. [Applause]
RAY SUAREZ: Well, sir, it's good to see you again.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, it's nice to be with you, too, Ray. Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's talk about this remarkable and heavy volume. When you were writing it, jotting down notes at the end of a long day, dictating portions of it into a tape recorder, at that moment were you thinking, ―Some day, somebody will read this?‖
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: [Laughter] No, I didn't. I thought it was just a private diary that I would retain for my family, perhaps, and share with Rosalynn. But seven or eight times a day, I had a small tape recorder, and when somebody left my office, or when I made a decision that I knew would not be reported to the public press– every week they get everything that a President says in public. So I didn't include those things, but if I didn't like somebody, if I did like somebody, if I made a difficult decision, or [inaudible] about the future, I just dictated my own personal thoughts into that tape recorder. And when I filled up a tape, I would throw it in the outbox and put a new one in.
And my secretary, Susan Clough, when she had time, would type those up. I never read one of them until I got home and then I found out I had 5,000 pages of diary notes. [Laughter] So you talk about this being heavy, you ought to see the original; it was this long. And it's available, by the way, in the Library later on.
And so, this is a summary, but not a changed sentence. I didn't change anything in it. Even if I didn't approve of what I wrote 30 years ago, I didn't change it. So it's a very frank picture of what a President feels in the Oval Office making the difficult and sometimes delightful decisions that relate to America.
RAY SUAREZ: Some of the frank, as you say, revelations, remembrances of a day probably would have been seen as sour grapes, or a little rough, or not really very Presidential if you had published this in 1984 or 1985 or 1986. Does time take a little of the sting out of some of these reminiscences?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I think so. I think it does for the reader who might have forgotten a lot and need to be reminded of some interesting events, whether they like it or not. But it also makes it possible for me to comment on people, many of whom are not still living with me. And obviously, folks can read this diary and my comments up to date on what I said back in those days and kind of get a perspective on history that you wouldn't get otherwise.
Now, I don't think anybody else has ever done this. Of course, President Lyndon Johnson and Nixon had tape recorders, some secret, some not so secret [laughter], but they were recording what they said to other people. This is my own inner thoughts. So I think it gives kind of a bird's- eye view of what the Presidency is and what it means to an individual person who serves there, than anything that's ever been written.
RAY SUAREZ: The remarkable thing about this time is that, in some ways, World War II is very much with us in the '70s. We're living in the long shadow of World War II. There's still an East and West Germany. There's still a very, very hot Cold War. The embers have barely cooled on Watergate at this time. It is a terrible time. I mean, as I read this again, I thought, what a terrible time to be President. Did you realize this when you were writing this?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: [Laughter] Well, I didn't realize it when I was running much, but I realized it when I got there, obviously. [Laughter] And you're right, the World War was still with me, like it was with John Kennedy who came almost a generation ahead of me. I was a Navy man, like he was. I served in the Navy 12 years. In fact, I served longer in the Navy than anyone except Dwight Eisenhower since the Civil War, in the military.
So I had a military background, and I could see a lot from that perspective. But it's hard for people in the modern day now, particularly young folks, to realize that we were still involved deeply in a Cold War. And every decision that I made, no matter where it was, every decision that the Congress made, every news story from a newspaper or television program was shaped substantially by our competition with the Soviet Union, who was then the dual superpower on earth, not being the only one.
But then, it was an equal competition. They had the same nuclear capability that we did. They had the same economic influence that we did. And in every country in Africa or Latin America or Asia, we were constantly competing with the Soviet Union for access there, who would be our trade partner, who would vote with us in the United Nations. So it was a competition everywhere.
So almost every decision I made was shaped by that competition with the Soviet Union. And the constant threat at that time over my head, like it was John Kennedy, was, ―Let's avoid a nuclear exchange.‖ Because I knew that I might get a notice some day that the Soviet Union has launched intercontinental missiles toward the United States. From the time of launch in Siberia until they landed in Washington or New York was 26 minutes. And I would have had to decide during that 26 minutes how and when to respond.
So that was a constant threat for me that doesn't exist anymore, thank goodness.
RAY SUAREZ: Yet, the personalities in this book, the countries of great interest to the United States during this period, could fill up tomorrow morning's newspaper. When the Soviets invade Afghanistan during your term, the unwinding of that story is going on right at this moment.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Exactly. And the Middle East is still pertinent. And as you said, that whole region of the world. Our competition with China is still there. I was the first one after 35 years to normalize diplomatic relations with China. And at that time, China was a backward country that had zero economic growth and freedom, no free enterprise system, not really a competitor of ours. And those kind of things are in the news today.
So I think a lot of the issues that we faced then are still there – what to do about Israel and the Palestinians, and then about the emerging countries in Africa. When I was President, one of the major threats was from the perpetuation of apartheid and that's where I put my human rights program into the most vivid confrontation with those who insisted on racial discrimination or white supremacy in both Rhodesia, then, and then also in South Africa. So those kinds of things are still going on in the world.
RAY SUAREZ: You saved Chrysler. It needed saving again, as it happened. The emanations from this time played out over the next several decades, and you were out of office to see most of it. Could you even pick up a newspaper in the 1990s and say, "Oh, this again. Here we go again." It must have been, to have that vantage point and shake your head some days, "We're still dealing with this."
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Exactly. And of course, the energy crisis then was my preeminent domestic issue. And when I came into office, we were importing 8.6 million barrels of oil per day, and I set about to cut that in half. And I did. In five years, it was down to 4.3 million barrels per day. And now it's back up to about 10 million barrels per day that we import from foreign countries. So the energy crisis is still right in front of us as a major issue.
I not only bailed out Chrysler. I bailed out one other thing and that was New York City. Because the headline there was, "Gerald Ford to New York City: Drop Dead." I carried New York, and that's part of what put me in the White House was saving New York City.
But anyway, I like that retrospective look in some areas, but sometimes it's still a little bit painful. I think the most painful for me was to know that I negotiated assiduously between Israel and Egypt to give full rights to the Palestinians and a peace between Israel and Egypt because they had four wars in 25 years. And when I left office, I thought everything was on track for permanent peace in the Middle East. And then it was basically abandoned by my successors, and now we're back looking at the Mid East as another threat.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let's talk about the Camp David Accords. The Six-Day War was barely a decade in the world's rearview mirror when the Camp David Accords were negotiated. What was said in those negotiations about the future of Gaza and the West Bank?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, Sadat, when he came to Camp David, and we spent 13 days there with him and Begin, the only thing Sadat wanted was that Israel had to leave Egyptian territory, which was the Sinai Desert, and the other thing was that the Palestinians had to be given their full rights. And those were the only two guidelines I had from Sadat. And he was the most forthcoming member of the Egyptian delegation there.
On the other hand, Menachem Begin was the least forthcoming Israeli in their 50-person delegation. All of his cabinet members were ahead him saying "Let's go ahead and do it." And it was the last day at Camp David that we finally got an agreement between Begin and Sadat. But the Israelis agreed at that time to withdraw their military and political forces from the entire West Bank, to stop building settlements, and to let the Palestinians have what Begin called full autonomy to run their own affairs, basically.
Well, that's what existed when I left office. But that hasn't happened, as you know. But the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that came six months after that, in April of '79, not a word has ever been violated in 30-something years. So Israel and Egypt are still at peace. And although Egypt now has a new government, I don't believe that any violation will be contemplated by the new Egyptian leaders to throw away any of that peace agreement, peace treaty that has kept them at peace now for 30-some years.
RAY SUAREZ: But during that intervening 30-plus years, it's sometimes been a pretty chilly peace.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's true.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a danger to that bilateral relation from the overthrow and departure of Hosni Mubarak?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Mubarak was a personal ally of Israel in, for instance, keeping the Gaza, one-and-a-half-million people in a complete prison. He wouldn't let them go out into the Sinai Desert and have communication with the outside world. Of course, they can't go northward into the West Bank and Israel either. But I think that's one thing that would be changed under the new Egyptian leadership. They've already committed themselves to opening up Gaza and let the Gaza people have some degree of freedom.
That will change. But the treaty between Israel and Egypt not to go to war– although it's a cold peace, yes, but that warm peace only lasted two or three years with the assassination of Sadat, and then with the death of Menachem Begin and others. There's been very little travel of
Egyptians into, say, Jerusalem. There are ambassadors there, they have embassies there, and there's still a good many Israelis that go to Egypt as tourists. But not from Egypt into Israel.
And it's primarily because the Egyptian people disagree strongly with what the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians and what Mubarak has supported that they interpret to be persecution of the Palestinians. So Mubarak has been kind of an anachronism, or anomaly is a better word, compared to the other Egyptian people. And I think the new leaders of Egypt will now mirror real accurately that the Egyptians want to be friendly with the Palestinian people.
RAY SUAREZ: The West Bank has been in constant motion since the 1970s. And at various points things have happened where people have said, "Ah, this helps clear the way." Whether it's Jordan giving up its claims to what was Jordanian territory before the 1967 war. Whether it's the PLO saying, ―Yes, yes, we recognize that Israel is an established fact and we know that the country is not going anywhere.‖ And yet, there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens living in the West Bank, harder and harder and more and more extensive infrastructure built out from Israel across the old '67 border.
Is unraveling that world that's grown up there since 1967 getting harder and harder by the day, from your view?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I would say it was getting harder and harder every day until the so-called Arab Spring began. But in my opinion, that is a first step toward unraveling the trend that you just described as getting harder and harder. I think there's much more likelihood now than there was, say, six or eight months ago that we'll see a peace agreement in the Middle East with Israel withdrawing basically from the West Bank.
There are now about 500,000 Israelis in Palestine, if you include the pre-'67 line. And the basic proposal endorsed by all 23 Arab countries is, ―Let's have peace. Let Israel withdraw to the '67 borders.‖ But let those borders be modified by exchange of territory, which would leave about half of the Israeli settlers in what was previously Palestine, near Jerusalem, and then swap an equivalent amount of land to the Palestinians.
So that is the formula that is also approved officially by the United States government and by the international Quartet, which is the US government and the United Nations and European Union and Russia. They all approve that as well. So the Arab countries and the United States and the international community basically approves that formula. But now the next step comes, how do you induce Israelis to withdraw from their confiscation of, their occupation of, their settling of the West Bank in almost its entirety.
And I think that will have to come if Israel is going to have peace, which has been my prayer for the last 30 years, for Israel to have peace. Which means that you have to have peace for their neighbors as well.
RAY SUAREZ: As the so-called Arab Spring has continued, we've seen that there's more than one way that this could go. Tunisia was over fairly quickly, the leader leaving the country to a well-funded exile. But then in Yemen, there's been resistance from the clique at the top. In Libya, there's been out and out civil war. In Syria, there's been brutal repression of public demonstrations and a secret police that's so dug into the population that you're not even sure you can express your opinion to your neighbor.
Could this be snuffed out in the next several months?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: No. You certainly can't snuff out what's already happened in Tunisia or Egypt. The Carter Center will probably be monitoring both of those elections. That's one of our practices, is to monitor troubled elections, and we've been invited into both of those.
That'll be our 84th and 85th election, by the way, that we've monitored.
So think that that's pretty well under way. We don't know what's going to happen in the other countries yet. It's still doubtful about whether Basher Assad will be successful in stamping out or controlling the uprising in Syria. I think Yemen is-- We're more likely to see their leader go. Bahrain has been stabilized by the influx of Saudi Arabian troops and support. I think Bahrain is likely to be stable. Saudi Arabia has not been threatened yet.
So I think that the major countries still are as I've just described them. Libya is going to be a dicey thing. I think Libya might wind up maybe divided, unless NATO troops and air force are fully successful.
So what has happened in the ancillary parts of the Mid East is very important. I've already described what I think will happen to the Palestinian issue in the future. They now will have much more support from Egypt than they have had in the past, and that's a result of the so-called Arab Spring.
And Lebanon is still a divided country. We monitored the election in Lebanon April before last. It was an honest and fair election. It was quite safe. But Hezbollah is still playing a major role as part of the government in Lebanon.
I think one of the good things that happened in the last few days, in which the Carter Center was deeply involved, has been the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. And I've never, ever seen a way for Israel to negotiate a peace agreement with half the Palestinians. And now getting them together will mean that they'll have a better chance to have successful negotiations.
Hamas is willing to step back and let PLO, in which they don't have a membership, do all the negotiations with Israel under Mahmoud Abbas. And Mahmoud Abbas, if he reaches any kind of peace agreement with Israel, Hamas has pledged to me and publicly that they will accept the agreement, provided the Palestinians approve it in a referendum.
So I think there are some chances now to see peace in the Mid East that I thought was pretty well dormant and very discouraging for last year.
RAY SUAREZ: Hasn't the Hamas PLO concordat created a difficult situation for the United States, which has declared Hamas a terrorist organization?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, yes. Of course, there are a lot of ways to look at this. As you probably know, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist in our country until last June, because he was part of the ANC in the past. As a matter of fact, we monitored the election, all three elections in Palestine. One of the most interesting ones was in January 2006, when the United States and Israel supported Hamas having candidates running for office, as you may remember.
And all the Hamas candidates pledged non-violent attitude if they got into the government in the future. To the surprise of most people, Hamas won the election. And after they won the election, then Israel and the United States declared that they were terrorists and couldn't take office. And not only were they forbidden from taking office, but all the Hamas candidates, who were engineers and college professors and farmers, and so forth, who were elected and lived in the West Bank, were put in prison by Israel for three years or more. And now most of them are released; some of them are still in prison.
So Hamas was basically declared a terrorist because of some bad things they've done, there's no doubt about that, but also because they won the election.
So I think now that Hamas, in order to be accepted, will have to basically agree, first of all to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, certainly within the '67 borders. Secondly, to pledge ceasefire. And they call it a hudna, which they have said it can last 40 years. No violence in Gaza and in the West Bank. And third, to accept as many of the previous agreements as Israel will do.
So those three things are basically what I believe can happen under the best circumstances, and might very well happen in the future.
RAY SUAREZ: You've been pretty outspoken about the trajectory of that part of the world and how it looks to you and what the possibilities for peace are. Have you been surprised from time to time about the hurt feelings, the backlash, the criticism that's been directed at you for what you've had to say about the Middle East?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Yes, to some degree. I've written two books about it recently; one was Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. And the other one was We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land. And both of those describe my views about it, which I think are acceptable to most Americans, and I think to most Americans who happen to be Jewish Americans, and the world. I think it's a balanced approach. But as you know, it's not a very popular thing in our country to say anything that criticizes the policies of the incumbent government of Israel.
The Carter Center monitors this very closely. We have a full-time office in Jerusalem. We have a full-time office in Ramallah in the West Bank. We have a full-time office in Gaza, as well. So we have ability, which very few Western organizations have, constantly to understand what's going on within those three entities of the future West Bank. And of course, part of the Hamas delegation in Syria, so we have been going to Syria in the past as well.
So that's one of the things that we do. Recently, I've been in the Mid East – our people have been there now, just got back the day before yesterday – for three weeks, helping with the Palestinian unity agreement. Rosalynn and I just got back from Cuba. I just got back from North Korea. So when there's some problems in the world, sometimes we feel free to go there and try to work out peace and understanding.
RAY SUAREZ: In this book, it seems like you hardly sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. When the man in his 80s looks at this book and confronts the man in his 50s, did you wear well?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I must be tired. [Laughter] I think so. One of the things that I emphasize, I think accurately, is that I haven't changed. I think I'm still basically the same person with the same commitments that I made in my Inaugural speech and when I got the Democratic nomination in 1980, and so forth.
I don't think I've changed as a person. We still promote peace and human rights around the world. And sometimes we do some things that are not very popular. But I've made a policy in the last 30 years, since I left the White House. I don't ever go to a foreign place without notifying in advance the White House and the State Department. And if the President ever decides he'd rather my not go there, if he says "Don't go," I don't go. And that's happened a number of times, for different reasons.
And I always do a trip report meticulously on the way home and the day after I get back home, I send a trip report in its entirety to the White House and State Department, and sometimes to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Just explaining what the Carter Center is doing. And so, we try not to ever get crossed up with the US government.
But the US government, they won't talk to Hamas. They won't talk to the Cubans. They won't talk to the North Koreans. They won't talk to the number one party in Nepal, for instance. And the Carter Center talks to them and then we relay what they say to the White House and State Department, and sometimes the White House and State Department are very glad to get the report. I can't say 100%. [Laughter]
RAY SUAREZ: You say you're still the same man.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I hope so.
RAY SUAREZ: And I'm willing to take that at face value. Were there passages that when you look back it, you thought, ―Oh, I know better than that today, better in 2010 when this was being edited, than I understood this in 1978, when I wrote it.‖
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, there are a good many like that. When people ask me what would I change most, if I had one change to make when I was in the White House, I always say I would send one more helicopter to rescue the hostages.
RAY SUAREZ: Apparently somebody heard you say that.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Yeah, I think so, yeah! [Laughter] So that happened, as you know, just a week or two ago when the first helicopter crashed and then they had to stand by to go in. Well, we knew we had to have six helicopters, and we expanded that to eight, but three helicopters failed and we had left with five. And we couldn't rescue all of our hostages and bring back the people who were trying to rescue them. So we had to cancel.
That was a very sad occasion for me, of course, not getting the hostages out. So that's one of the things that I would certainly have changed if I knew now what I know then. I would have sent one more helicopter. Nobody knows what would have happened. I think I would have started the Carter Center four years later. But nobody knows. [Laughter]
But I think the thing that I've learned most in the last 30 years is to understand the poverty- stricken and suffering and forgotten and neglected poor people on earth. I had a hazy view of that when I was in the White House. We tried to have foreign aid as much as we could, using the argument that we were competing with the Soviet Union in Burkina Faso and in Mali, and so forth. If we don't go there and help them, then the Soviet Union is going to go there and be their friends, instead of us.
So we had a very strong foreign aid program. But now, Rosalynn and I have programs in 73 countries in the world. Thirty-five of them are in Africa, and we go to Africa often. And we've gotten to know those people and help them primarily with tropical diseases, what the World Health Organization calls neglected tropical diseases. They're not even known anymore in this country – dracunculiasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis. Those are diseases. But they afflict hundreds of millions of Africans.
And so, we work with pharmaceutical companies who give us free medicine and we deal with the diseases in that way. But in the process, we've gotten to know those people very well. And I have learned that they're just as intelligent as I am. And just as hard-working as I am. And just as ambitious. And their family values are just as good as mine. They just need a chance in life. And this is what I've learned much more vividly and much more personally than when I was fortunate enough to be President.
RAY SUAREZ: So sometimes you're making policy in a kind of abstract way.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Sure.
RAY SUAREZ: Even when you're a well-informed, well-briefed leader.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Absolutely. I think one of the things that benefited me when I was in the White House was I had a wife who had campaigned independently all the time I campaigned. I had three sons who had campaigned independently of me and Rosalynn all the time I was campaigning. And I had a mother who also campaigned independently. We had seven campaigns running every day, to the surprise of our opponents when we came in first.
And so, they still shared with me every day what they learned about the nation as they continued to travel around. So I had some insight from my own family members into what Americans were thinking and what their ambitions were that I wouldn't have gotten from State Department briefings and that sort of thing.
But yes, no matter who is in the White House, there is a vast area of things that need to be comprehended more deeply that are absent from a President's busy mind. And that would be particularly true, say, in the depths of all the villages in the African jungles or African desert. Those kinds of things you just don't know.
RAY SUAREZ: I'm glad you mentioned Rosalynn, because I think by the lights of 2011, many of the things that she was doing as a matter of course, day to day, week to week, don't seem all that remarkable. But by the lights of 1977 and 1978, they were. You depended on her a great deal for intelligence from the field, didn't you?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Yeah, not only from the United States, from the 50 states, where she had campaigned, as I said, independently of me all during the '76 campaign, and '80 as well, but I would send Rosalynn to foreign countries when I couldn't go myself. And they soon learned that she could speak more accurately for me than the Secretary of State could, or the National Security Advisor.
And she was a very strong-willed person. For instance, I sent her once on a seven-nation tour in Latin America. And she was able to confront the dictator in Brazil and demand that he stop purifying uranium to make nuclear weapons. And she was able to go into Colombia and tell the president that his secretary of defense, the minister of defense was taking bribes from the drug dealers.
RAY SUAREZ: Were people ready for that?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I don’t know if they were ready or not—
RAY SUAREZ: I mean, both in the protocol office of the State Department and in those foreign capitals, were they ready for a wife of a leader to carry your proxy in that full way?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I don't know if they were ready or not. But I was the President. [Laughter/applause] And I thought it was important. And of course, the State Department was fully aware of what was going on because they, plus the National Security Advisor staff, briefed Rosalynn before she went. And on the trip that I just described to you, my Secretary of State's wife actually accompanied Rosalynn on the trip, Cy Vance's wife did.
So it was not a secret. But I think some of the foreign leaders were astonished when Rosalynn would refuse to spend her full time going to orphanages and hospitals and things of that kind and say, "I want to talk to you about your nuclear program. I want to talk to you about the drug production in your country. I want to talk to you about your violations of human rights." She was very willing to do it, to put it mildly. [Laughter]
And she used to get multiple briefings, which she wanted, and which I wanted her to have. And finally one day I said, "Rosalynn, why don't you just come in and sit in on the Cabinet meetings, in the background, and then I don't have to spend half the week telling you what happened [laughter] in the Cabinet meeting." So she sat in the background. And as you may remember from those days, she got a lot of criticism from some of news media.
RAY SUAREZ: I'm glad you brought it up instead of me bringing it up. [Laughter] But it was true that there were a lot of people in the United States who saw that and thought, ―Wait a minute, we elected him, yeah, but not her.‖
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: But, you know, since then, I'm not saying that Rosalynn broke the ice, but she– because Eleanor Roosevelt, long before, was a very prominent figure [applause] most active– But I think that other Presidents' wives, including the current one, now plays a much more dynamic role in international and domestic affairs than ever would before. So I was very proud of her.
RAY SUAREZ: Because we were still in the era of debate over the ERA. We were just a few administrations removed from far more ceremonial, far more symbolic activities on the part of the First Lady. Yes, there was Eleanor Roosevelt, but there was also Pat Nixon just a few years before, much more likely to land in Ghana and go to the state dinner in native dress and that kind of thing than to real–
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: And Mrs. Truman and others that didn't want to have anything to do with public life, that's true. One of my proudest moments in the Presidency was when Rosalynn was chosen as having among the ten most beautiful legs on earth. [Laughter]
RAY SUAREZ: Did she represent one of the ten women, or were her two legs 20% of the most– two of the ten most beautiful legs?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's right, that's right. Two of the 20 most beautiful legs. [Laughter] Well, you see, there was a lot of laughter and closeness, too, with me and Rosalynn.
RAY SUAREZ: That's good. She was recognized for all her talents.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's true, she was. And she still concentrates on mental health, which she did then, including when I was Governor eight years before I was elected President.
RAY SUAREZ: We got to see your legs more than most other Presidents, too. And there was comment at the time as well. Because Eisenhower, for better or worse, wasn't photographed jogging. And the Secret Service agents who followed him around could probably smoke more because they knew they wouldn't have to run after the boss. And I had a laugh at one point, where you were freezing out on the C&O Canal trail because your Secret Service detail couldn't pick you up because they were caught in traffic. And then you admit that it's kind of your fault because you didn't want anybody to know where you were.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's right. Yeah, we never told anybody ahead of time. And we were never discovered while we were jogging, except once when I happened to intercept a CBS cameraman on the way out the C&O Canal. He went immediately and by the time I came back, we saw all the cameras up on the bridge, waiting for me to come underneath.
But we wanted to keep it secret. I was running-- I was a fanatic runner back in those days. I was running about 40 miles a week, which is a lot of running. But I was keeping in pretty good shape. [Laughter]
RAY SUAREZ: Well, that's why we're able to be here today, I think. Because many of the leaders you mentioned in this book aren't able to run anywhere. [Laughter]
As a reminder of what a pivotal time the '70s were, for the world, for the country, a lot of legacy, unhandled questions from previous decades, and also pitching forward to the problems that would still plague us all these many years later.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's true.
RAY SUAREZ: When you see, for instance, the Reagan staff dismantling the solar collectors on the top of the White House, when one of the first things the new President did was end the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, which allowed a lot of poor kids to go to colleges they never would have been able to attend, did that make real in a way that simply the numbers and the Electoral College didn't what it meant to lose, how things could be undone in just a very short time.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I think so. I don't want to be too personal about it, but obviously when you work on the Middle East peace and you think you've got a comprehensive agreement there, and then you leave office and there's hardly a word said about Middle East peace for the next eight years, or when you work for four years and get an energy policy that is reducing dramatically energy consumption in this country and building up alternative sources of energy and conservation, particularly, and see it totally – not only abandoned – but derided within a few days after President Reagan comes in office, those things do hurt.
And the most controversial thing that I ever did, the most difficult political challenge I ever had in my life was the Panama Canal Treaties. And signing those with President Reagan, then- Governor Reagan constantly sniping at me for giving away our canal, and then having to get 67 votes in the Senate was the most difficult challenge I ever had, much more difficult than running for office or being elected.
But I think in the long run, some of those things have panned out okay. For instance, the Panamanians, who were derided then as drug addicts who couldn't manage their own affairs, now have five times as much revenue from the Panama Canal Treaty as we did when we turned it over to them. And now they're building a second channel there, which will double the traffic going through.
So some of the things we did have turned out quite well. And I think our human rights policy is another one. You have to remember how controversial some of those things were, because before I became President, the United States presidents were habitually in bed with the dictators, particularly, say, in Latin America; all over the world. That's been showing up lately in the so- called Arab Spring, how we've been in bed with all of those dictators that have now been overthrown.
But before I came in office, this was the case in almost country in Latin America. Almost without exception, South America was dictatorships, and we would trade with the dictators to make sure we got first crack at bauxite and tin and steel and copper and pineapples and bananas, and so the American corporation would harvest great benefits from our being cozy with the dictators.
So if anybody challenged them, if, say, native Indian Americans down in those countries wanted to have freedom of speech or human rights, or if the poor people wanted to rise up and have better things, then we just automatically branded them as communists. And so, we stamped out the communists. And we would send in US Marines or Army troops, sometimes to spend several years, to protect the dictators.
So we changed all that. And it was very unpopular. It's hard now to remember how unpopular some of those things were.
RAY SUAREZ: And yet, there's a certain stylish admiration of hard-headed, unsentimental leadership that would just say, ―Look, we need the tin, we need the bauxite to make the aluminum. I don't care who's running the show in Santiago, in Bogota, in Sao Paulo.‖
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I heard that from everywhere. The US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, all them would come forward and say, "Look, you're destroying, damaging the American economic system." But it turned out to be good, because shortly after I left office, every country in South America had become a democracy.
RAY SUAREZ: We have time for a couple of questions.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Okay, very good.
RAY SUAREZ: And they're good ones.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Okay, I'm sure.
RAY SUAREZ: How can the immobilizing partisan politics of today's Washington be overcome?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Oh, oh.
RAY SUAREZ: I thought I'd start with an easy one.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Yeah. [Laughter] To be simple about it, to try to get out of politics the unwarranted infusion of money. When I – [Applause] That's a simple answer, but it's hard to do.
When I ran for office, all we had was the $2-per-person check-off that President Ford and I divided, and then we had the same thing four years later when then-Governor Reagan and I
divided. And we didn't get any other contributions for our general election. It all came from the taxpayers. And we didn't have enough money to spend it on negative advertising.
Now there's a tremendous influx of money that pours in, in the hundreds of millions of dollars per Presidential candidate. And the Supreme Court made the most stupid decision they've ever made eighteen months ago [applause] by ruling that corporations were people. So now American corporations, some of them owned, partially at least, by foreigners, can give an unlimited amount of money to candidates, and you don't ever know where the money came from.
So this is going to greatly exacerbate an already bad situation. Now, as you know, in almost every campaign, for Governor, for Congress, for President, a large part of the advertising budget, which is almost unlimited, is spent to tear down the reputation of your opponent, to destroy his character in the public mind. And both of them do it. And the American people say, "We don't like negative advertisements," but it works.
So by the time the election is over, the general public feels that both of those guys weren't really qualified to hold office. And when the winner gets to Washington, he's so highly polarized in animosity for the other party, they don't even talk to each other anymore.
I got just as much support from Republicans as I did Democrats the last two years in office, because a lot of my things were required a very conservative support and that sort of thing. I won't go into detail about that here.
RAY SUAREZ: But you had a better relationship with Howard Baker in the Senate and Bob Michel in the House than Presidents normally have to the opposite party leadership in the legislature.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I did. I'll go ahead and mention it, even in the Kennedy Library. When I was in office two years, Ted Kennedy decided to run against me. And he was very popular here. And obviously he was popular with the very liberal Democrats. So the last two years, I had to go to the more moderate or conservative Democrats and to the Republicans to get support for my programs. And that was one of the problems.
But the point is that there was a harmony then between Democrats and Republicans in Washington that doesn't exist anymore. And I don't think there's any easy way to do away with it unless the Congress ultimately sees that this is so bad that they would make public financing of the campaigns a part of the American political system. That's done in almost every other country in the world, so it's not an impossibility. It's an easy thing to do.
The Carter Center monitors, I've said we've already monitored 83 elections. We wouldn't monitor an election if it was based on the same principle that America has, that the richest candidates are the only ones that can find an ability to be candidates. So we don't do that anymore. So I think that's very important to remember.
RAY SUAREZ: What do you feel was the most positive thing you did as President?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, I think, generically speaking, it was probably to promote human rights. Even when, as we mentioned earlier, it was not a popular thing to do. We did that inside Russia, the Soviet Union. We did it all over Latin America. We did it throughout the world. And we stuck with it, although it was sometimes not popular.
And the other thing was to concentrate on peace. We maintained peace for our country despite some very difficult times, as you already pointed out. We never dropped a bomb. We never lost a missile. We never fired a bullet while I was in office, in war. [Applause] And still, I had a military background; I was prepared to do it if I had to.
And we reached out to people that had been our adversaries, like in China. President Nixon went to China in 1972, had the Shanghai Declaration. There's only one China, but he wouldn't say which one. And neither would his successors. But I finally normalized relations with China. We had peace with China and peace within the Middle East and peace with others. So I think human rights and peace.
RAY SUAREZ: What insight did you find upon compiling the book version of your entries?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, I think the complexity of things, and how they are interrelated. You can't deal with Helmut Schmidt in Germany without directly or indirectly touching your relationship with France and with Great Britain, and particularly then with the Soviet Union. Versus Helmut Schmidt who was, in a way, my friend; we were kind of competitors.
RAY SUAREZ: You won't think that he was his friend when you read the book. [Laughter] But I digress. Go ahead.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: You'll see what I'm talking about. But those kind of complexities that show how people, things are intertwined really make it surprising to read over when you get through and see. I didn't quite know how those tied together, but now after 25 or 30 years of history, I can see how they were related.
RAY SUAREZ: As you've thought about it, to the degree that you've thought about it, were there style things that you might have done differently as President that would have showed yourself to the people in a slightly different way? It made the papers when you carried your own luggage. It made the papers and obviously the image was beamed around the world when you walked the Inaugural route. There seemed to be, after the imperial presidency of Richard Nixon, an idea that you could be First Citizen of the United States, rather than a quasi-monarch.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I found out quick that the American people want kind of a monarch. Two of the most unpopular things I ever did was doing away with Hail to the Chief every time I walked in the room. At state banquets, I didn't try to do away with it. But when I did away with Hail to the Chief, there was almost unanimous condemnation of me that I was derogating the importance of the White House.
And the other one was when I sold the Sequoia, which was the Presidential yacht. [Laughter] People thought I was not being reverent enough to the office I was holding, that I was too much of a peanut farmer, not enough of an aristocrat, or something like that.
So I think that shows that the American people want something of, an element of, image of monarchy in the White House.
RAY SUAREZ: Maybe because we have a head of state who's also the head of government, or head of government who's also the head of state. The President embodies the state in a way that where those jobs are divided, that doesn't happen.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's sort of true. I can understand that.
RAY SUAREZ: Maybe you shouldn't be a regular guy.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, you're asking me whether I made a mistake. That was a mistake I made. I think I would have been more, not criticized so much if I had just maintained the trappings of the President and let the people know I really enjoy occupying this exalted place that you revere so much. [Laughter]
RAY SUAREZ: I mean, getting rid of the trumpets was probably a good idea. That was always a little off-putting, the trumpets. But as I was reading this again, and thinking about that, that may be what bothers people or takes some adjustment from people about having Barack and Michelle Obama living in the White House. Because the President embodies the state, we have to think about that embodiment in a slightly different way now.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Yeah, we do. I found that out when I started campaigning because I really didn't realize when I decided to run for President what a stigma my part of the country had, because of the race issue. I think I was the first one since 1840 who was elected President from the Deep South. Lyndon Johnson was from the west and he didn't even campaign in the Deep South when he was running for election, as you know, in '64.
But I came to Boston, I remember, and I went to one of the historic sites out here. Later I wrote about it in a novel called The Hornet's Nest, still on sale. [Laughter] And I had a TV cameraman; he came out where I was. I called a press conference, only one TV camera came, and they said, "How do you think a Georgian is going to get any votes in Massachusetts?" And I said, "Well, when John Kennedy ran for President, he got a higher percentage of votes in Georgia than he did in Massachusetts. And I'm expecting the Massachusetts folks to pay me back." And they did, by the way. [Laughter] And they did.
RAY SUAREZ: But you know, in the way the country's changed, a lot of those Democrats that voted for Kennedy are now Republicans, or their children are.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: You don't have to tell me. They certainly are.
RAY SUAREZ: So Lyndon Johnson's prophecy about the future–
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Even in Massachusetts.
RAY SUAREZ: Even in Massachusetts. About the future trajectory of the South has turned out to be true, but is it permanently true?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: No, I don't think so. My impression is that the Republicans are overstepping themselves. There's a radicalism about the Republican Party now [applause] that I don't think is going to be permanently endearing to the American people. I think there's going to be a reversion of what happened two years ago. And I think that reversion will start in 2012.
RAY SUAREZ: That soon.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I think so. I feel very confident now that we'll have a Democrat re-elected in 2012. [Applause]
RAY SUAREZ: But in the midterms, the House and Senate swung–
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I know.
RAY SUAREZ: –hard in the other direction.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I know. I saw that. [Laughter] My grandson was elected, by the way. He's a Democrat. And he's in the State Senate now. So maybe he's kind of an omen of the future. He's very young, but he won overwhelmingly. And so, I don't think the tide has changed permanently. It never has in the past. That's one thing you could depend on in America, is the tide is going to change.
RAY SUAREZ: The book is White House Diary. The author is Jimmy Carter. Please thank him. [Applause]
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Thank you. Thank you all very much.