September 28, 1998
Volume 51, No. 6
Carter breaks silence on Clinton, says nation will heal
It's hard not to talk about it--even if you don't want to. Former President Jimmy Carter said in his annual Town Hall Meeting for Emory freshman that he had conferred with his predecessor, Gerald Ford, and agreed not to comment publicly about the controversy surrounding President Bill Clinton.
"You've put me in a difficult position," Carter told sophomore Neil Konn, who asked him about his position on the White House crisis. "For the past 16 years I've never failed to answer a question from an Emory student."
With apologies to Ford, whom Carter promised to call "tomorrow morning if it's not already in the paper," he proceeded to answer the question. Carter said that in his opinion the president had not been truthful in his Paula Jones deposition or in his testimony before the grand jury. "As one of the very few leaders who served in the White House, I have deplored and been deeply embarrassed about what has occurred there," he said. "I've also deplored and been embarrassed by the reaction to it, the overemphasis of it [and] the manner in which a very serious political and legal issue has been addressed."
Carter predicted the House Judiciary Committee will vote to impeach the president--"because of highly partisan alignment and the Republicans there have a majority." There's more than a "50-50 chance the House will vote impeachment," he said, and present the matter to the Senate for a decision.
"You can all comprehend how serious this is," he told the students. "My prediction is that the Senate will not marshal the two-thirds vote that will be required to remove Clinton from office."
A lot of damage has been done to the nation and to the presidency by the scandal, Carter said, but it's not fatal or permanent. "Our nation is the finest democracy on earth--these problems are self-healing, self-correcting." The majority of people don't want the president removed, Carter said, but Clinton's actions have damaged his moral reputation and his influence with Congress and maybe with the American people.
"Our nation is really the people," Carter said. "Although damage has been done, I believe that decency, morality and commitment to truth, freedom, democracy and human rights still exists, and that makes me just as proud of the nation and of the office as when I served there."
In other questions, Blair Schlecter, a California sophomore, asked Carter why he wrote a condolence letter to the family of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace--"a racist and a segregationist."
"George Wallace, like many other Southerners, came to realize that his commitment to segregation was wrong and had been unfair to the African American citizens of his state," Carter answered. "He spent the last 15 years of his life apologizing." The condolences, Carter said, were "sent from the bottom of my heart."
Wallace stood in strong contrast to Carter's mother, "Miss Lillian," who was "never afflicted with a commitment to segregation," Carter said. His mother "exemplified the finest aspects of life," he said. "My mama was filled with a sense of humor--totally unrestrained." Carter told student Lanla Conteh that his mother, along with former President Harry Truman, were two people he admired most.
Asked by Oxford freshman Jennifer Pharris of Doraville what he considered his biggest accomplishment, Carter answered, "No. 1, getting Rosalynn to marry me." The couple have been married 52 years. As for public accomplishments, he chose the Camp David Peace Accord. "Not a word has been altered in the peace treaty I negotiated between Egypt and Israel," Carter said. "There's not been much progress since then, but it stands as a beacon." Carter also said he was proud of the Alaska land bills ratified during his administration, which in effect doubled the size of national parks and protected wilderness in that state.
One of his most gratifying decisions was deciding to become affiliated with Emory, Carter said. Before launching The Carter Center, he fielded offers for the presidencies of two large universities and from the Georgia Board of Regents to "do anything," Carter said, confiding that he struggled with the decision. "I'm so proud of my relationship with this great university," he said. "It helps me realize my own potential and represents the highest aspirations--learning, freedom and moral values."
--Stacey Jones, reporting by Jan Gleason