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Town Hall Meeting 

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter respond to questions on current affairs

Each year as part of their Winter Weekend in Crested Butte, President and Mrs. Carter have a Town Hall Meeting for the approximately three hundred supporters joining them on a fund-raising trip for The Carter Center. They begin by offering an overview of The Carter Center and its current projects -- including monitoring all 115 of the current conflicts worldwide and promoting freedom, democracy, and health in sixty-five specific nations -- and then spend the rest of the evening fielding questions from their guests.

The following are excerpts from Jimmy Carter's responses to some of the questions focusing on current affairs in the United States and abroad.


On the Florida Recount

"Last year The Carter Center monitored and sometimes orchestrated six elections in the world. We were not involved in Florida. I would like to say that if the United States asked The Carter Center to come in and monitor the election we would not come in, because the United States laws do not contribute to an honest and unbiased election.

"In the first place, nowadays, the ultimate outcome of the election is predicated on how many financial contributions a candidate can obtain very early on in an election year or the year before. Unless you can raise $40 million basically in soft money, you are not considered to be qualified to be the Democratic or Republican nominee to seek the White House. So dependence on massive sums of money, all of which requires some element of a quid pro quo, is something that we would not accept in a foreign country.

"The second thing is, we insist in a foreign country there be a central election commission that's bipartisan or nonpartisan who would shape the processes of the election and before and after election day resolve conflicts so that there can be an accurate determination of the results of an election once it's over. We don't have any such thing in the United States of America.

"And the third thing, we insist that in general terms, specifically as possible, that all the people who vote in a country have the same expectation that their vote will be tabulated and counted with the same degree of error, as minimal as possible. The United States has none of those things. I hope that by the time the next election rolls around that we will have some reforms in our country that will correct some of those problems." [applause]


On Capital Punishment in the United States:

"The Carter Center's human rights program is strongly against capital punishment. [applause]...The big thrust now is to carry out the strong recommendation of the very conservative Bar Association that there be a moratorium on capital punishment, on the death penalty being carried out, until there could some analysis made so that trials of people who get the death penalty be put on an equitable basis. So that they have adequate defense attorneys and that they not be discriminated against because they are poverty stricken, black or mentally ill. Now, it is inconceivable in our country for a rich white man to be executed.

"The Carter Center has a Council on Human Rights with more than 20 members including Amnesty International, the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, America Watch, Middle East Watch, Africa Watch and so forth around the world. We meet and try to consult on how human rights abuses can be addressed by all of us collectively to magnify our own influence and also to try to prevent human rights abuses and not just to react after somebody has already been executed without a trial or been tortured in prison.

"As you may know, in all the time that I served as governor and all the time that I served as president there were no people executed in the United States. This is a recent development; it's not an historical development."


On AIDS in Africa

"[Our grandson] Jason served [in the Peace Corps] in a little village called Lokile, just north of Swaziland, and the last few months Jason made a survey of birth in Lokile, and of the teenage girls who had babies in the hospital, more than 50 percent of the babies were born with AIDS....[Some countries] go all the way up to 35 percent of the total population now with AIDS. There's no easy answer to it, and it's a tragedy what is happening there."


On the Election in Israel and Prospects for Peace in Middle East

"The Carter Center has in the past been involved in an election in the Holy Land. The first election that the Palestinians had, with the full approval of the Palestinians and the Israeli government, The Carter Center was the one that monitored the election. Jason went over as one of our monitors, my daughter Amy went over, Rosalynn and I were there. It was intriguing to hold elections in the Garden of Gethsemane and in Bethlehem. Jason was in Gaza. Amy was in Bethlehem. It was a very honest and fair election.

"The recent election in which Sharon won by almost 25 percent over Barak holds, I would say, uncertain promise. I feel a little bit more optimism about it than most analysts, and I'll tell you why, in just a very few words I hope. When I was elected president, a deep commitment of mine was to bring peace between Israel and Egypt and to lay down a framework where peace could come to Israel. That's why we went to Camp David. At that time, Rabin was the Prime Minister of Israel, and I was looking forward to working with Rabin, who I'd known for many years. He was embarrassed by the disclosure that he and his wife had a secret bank account in New York, and so that May after I became president, he was defeated and a very conservative Prime Minister Menachim Begin was elected. I thought it was all over. But Begin, because he had the confidence of the conservatives, was able to come to Camp David and we negotiated a peace agreement and then six months later a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. That shows that sometimes a leader who has the confidence of the opposition group can do more than someone who is known to be more liberal on the issues, like Nixon going to China, as you know.

"I have known Ariel Sharon for 25 years, and I found out two years after Camp David that when Begin refused to accept the final proposition that I put forward, everyone else in the Israeli delegation said yes; Begin said no. I found out two years later that he called Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem and Sharon said go ahead and accept it.

"Six months later I went to Israel and Egypt to conclude the peace treaty between the two. Everyone in the Israeli cabinet agreed with my proposal on the peace treaty except the prime minister. Ariel Sharon was one of the main ones who convinced Begin to sign the peace treaty with Egypt.

"So I don't look upon Ariel Sharon, who is looked upon as the most conservative man in Israel maybe, as being a hopeless case. He has been deeply embarrassed in the past, as you know, by ordering an unauthorized invasion of Lebanon and also by being blamed for the massacres in the two refugee camps. But now he's come to the forefront, and I have some hope, at least, that Sharon, as tough as he is -- he's a dirt farmer like I started out -- but he's a guy that if he tells you something you can pretty well count on him doing it. So I have some hope that there'll be some peace there.

"The thing that does give me hope and keeps me praying for peace is that I don't have any doubt that the Israeli mothers and the Palestine mothers and the Lebanese mothers and the Jordanese mothers want peace. The obstacle has always been the politicians. And maybe some day with prayers and with hope and optimism and courage, we might have peace. But I wouldn't give up on Sharon, even though he has a bad reputation."


On his Post-Presidential Popularity

[Carter was asked how he felt about the post-presidential adulation and reverence he currently receives.] "I'm strongly in favor of it. [laughter and applause] When you get out of the political arena and people think that you might not run again and you build a Habitat house and some people hear that you settled an election or immunized a child in Africa or prevented Guinea worm or when you have a circle of friends like this, it kind of gives you a good reputation.

I had an interview about two or three hours ago now, the only one I've had this afternoon, and the fellow asked me 'you've been in the navy, you were in the submarine force under Admiral Rickover, you were a very successful businessman, you were governor of Georgia, you were President of the United States, and so forth, what's the best time you've ever had in your life?' And I said without any hesitation 'now.' This is the best time of our lives."


On Recent Developments in Russia

"I think the most troubling place in the world is probably Russia now. Their economic structure is gone, their political system is now intact, for which I'm very grateful, their health problems have deteriorated dramatically, people have lost hope, and Russia still has an enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons. They are very proud people. They are deeply embarrassed about having gone from the pinnacle of authority and influence in the world--one of the two almost equal superpowers--to a country that's been scorned and basically neglected now in international affairs. I'm very concerned about Russia's present existence and it's immediate future....

"The people of the United States ought to treat Russia with great sensitivity. We should not do anything to embarrass them any further and we should help them when we can and realize that the government is shot through with corruption and has been a massive failure.

"The average life expectancy of a man in Russia has gone down six years in the last 12 years. This is typical of a country that's basically in despair."


On Presidential Pardons

"The president has two unrestricted rights under the Constitution of the United States. The president has very few levels of authority that cannot be disputed by anyone. One is to recognize a foreign government. And the other one is a pardon.

"I don't think we need to change any laws concerning the pardons rights of a president. I pardoned more people than Bill Clinton did. I had more pardons in my first three years than I did in my last year, and I didn't make any pardons the night before I left the White House, and so forth. I'm not being particularly critical, but I also never considered a pardon unless it was thoroughly considered and analyzed by the Justice Department. All of them were recommended to me to be put into effect. I think that's a right that a president almost inevitably should retain and will retain. It would be inconceivable to change the Constitution, so a president's going to keep it.

"I think what President Clinton did the last day or so that he was in the White House brought discredit on the presidency and the White House and on the pardon principle. But my guess is that the adverse reaction to what he did is going to pretty well guarantee for the rest of our lifetime that it won't be repeated. So I wouldn't change the pardon situation. There's no way to change the Constitution or to take away any right of the president to pardon.

"There is a concern in this country, though, about the way criminals are treated. When I was governor there was a hot competition among us [the southern governors] about which one of us could reduce the populations of our prisons the most. We were so eager to see any person convicted given a complete psychological and aptitude test when they first were admitted to prison so that while they were in prison they could be trained so that when they were released they could live a productive life.....Nowadays that is all gone. If you get governors together what they brag on most is how many new jail cells they built. This is something that I think is a problem in our country that is not adequately addressed."


On George W. Bush and the Bush Family

"I would say that my closest friend who's ever served in the White House has been Gerald Ford. Historians have written that in the history of our nation, no two former presidents have been closer personal friends than me and Jerry Ford, and also Rosalynn and Betty Ford.

"We have not had that kind of relationship with George Bush [the elder], because we just have different interests. As you probably noticed, we went to the inauguration. Rosalynn and I were the only two voluntary Democrats there. [laughter] Well, the rest of the Democrats had to be there, President Clinton, Vice-President Gore. But we went because of my respect for George Bush and his wife, senior, and also because I felt that it was time in our country after the Florida debacle for us to go and show that our country was united. I have to say that I never have seen any more deep and sincere and repetitive appreciation than what the whole Bush family showed to me and Rosalynn for being there. So I'm glad I went. And we are now working on a time for us to go to Washington to meet with Colin Powell and the State Department, to meet with Condaleeza Rice, the National Security Advisor, and to meet with George W. Bush, just to explain to them in a little more detail, maybe in an hour and a half or so, what work The Carter Center is doing and offer our help to them. So I look forward to working very closely with George W. Bush.

"Although I personally think that Al Gore got more votes in Florida--at least more people thought they voted for Al Gore--George W. Bush is just as legitimate a president as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or I. Because in our system of government, when the Supreme Court makes a ruling, that, by definition is the law and is therefore legitimate. So there's no doubt about his legitimacy as a president, because the Supreme Court said in effect that that was the way it should come out in court. So I feel that now is the time to look to the future and to cooperate with and support him as much as possible. My only admonition to George W. Bush is to remember that although his election was under something of a cloud, that almost all thinking Americans want him to succeed. Because if a president does succeed, the whole country is better off.

[Rosalynn] "Even if you didn't agree with what the Supreme Court said, you've got to accept it."

[Jimmy] "There were two very proud men on the inaugural platform. One was George Bush, Sr., and the other was Chief Justice Reinquist." [laughter]


On the Electoral Process and the Electoral College

"As I said earlier, the United States would not qualify like other foreign countries do for us to go in and monitor elections, because there's no central authority, there's no uniformity among all the states, there's no uniformity within a state. The poorest neighborhoods have the most backward voting procedures, the richer precincts have the electronic tabulation, they don't want to make any errors. Money means too much.

"As far as the electoral college is concerned, it will never be changed. Two hundred years from now, we'll still have the electoral college in our country because so many small states benefit from having one vote for every member of Congress and one vote for both Senators. This gives them a magnified vote in the electoral college if it's very close. Three fourths of the states would never vote to do away with the electoral college, even if 2/3s of the House and 2/3s of the Senate did, and that's what it takes.

"But there may be two changes made. One change that could be made that would not violate the Constitution is for electoral votes in each state to be apportioned in proportion to the vote that people got and not all or nothing. This means that in Florida, if the Supreme Court had ruled, George W. Bush would have gotten thirteen votes and Al Gore would have gotten twelve votes. Two states do this now. This may be a change that would take place over the next decade or two.

"The other small change that could be made is to make it mandatory that the electoral college members have to cast their ballot the way their state voted. There's no law now that requires that people, once they're designated, go to the electoral college and vote the way their state voted. In one election in 1948, fifteen of the electoral members voted differently from the way their state voted.

"That's a very minor thing, but I think to apportion the votes in proportion to the votes that people got in the popular election is something that would hold promise for the future."


On Ways to be Involved with The Carter Center if Outside Atlanta

"This is a very difficult thing for The Carter Center, because more than half of our total budget, more than half of our total work, is in health care in thirty-five nations in Africa and six countries in Latin America. It costs so much money for someone to pay their transportation over there, and their accommodations and food and so forth, that a volunteer just can't do it. Those people that go over there need to be full-time interns with us or they need to be medically competent to carry out those kind of provisions.

"When we go and monitor an election, quite often we take anywhere between thirty and seventy monitors to go with us. These are volunteers that go to those countries. We're going to Guyana, we're going to Peru, we're going to Nicaragua this year, just in this hemisphere. So that's something else that some people want to volunteer to do.

"This is a very difficult thing for us. Rosalynn and I spend one week a year, and just one week, on Habitat for Humanity. We get more publicity for that than we get for The Carter Center's work, because you can take a picture of somebody building a house. Any time somebody wants to volunteer for Habitat, we just tell them to look in your local phone book. We have Habitat organizations in 1500 American cities and you don't have any trouble actually going and working a half a day on a Habitat house. But The Carter Center's work, unfortunately, is so deeply implanted in the jungles and the small villages all over the world that it's very difficult to get volunteers who just want to work a few days for us."

For more information on The Carter Center, log on to www.cartercenter.org.

  • Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter respond to questions on current affairs.

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