September 27, 1999
Volume 52, No. 6
Carter reveals he's kin to the King in 1999 Town Hall
Election 2000, tumult in East Timor and family ties to Elvis Presley were just a few of the topics President Jimmy Carter touched upon in his annual Town Hall meeting Sept. 16 in the P.E. Center.
"I'm probably the last person Elvis called on the telephone," Carter said. Presley was addicted to drugs and "barely comprehensible," Carter recalled, asking if the president could do him a favor and pardon a sheriff in Tennessee who had not yet been convicted or even indicted. But Carter added that a genealogy expert researched his family tree and discovered a curious relation: "Elvis is my sixth cousin. So if you hear nothing else tonight, you will have heard speak ... Elvis' cousin."
Looking around the gymnasium at the students packed tight both on floor chairs and bleachers, Carter said, "This is the last time I will hold a Town Hall meeting in this century or in this millenium." Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is in his 18th year as a Distinguished Professor at Emory.
As always, the event was a tremendous success, as President Bill Chace, Dean of Campus Life Frances Lucas-Tauchar and Student Government Association President Matt Maron accompanied Carter onto the dais. They were joined shortly thereafter by the Spirit of Emory, William M. Dooley, who delivered a few words through one of his entourage before creeping away into the night.
In his brief address before taking students' questions, Carter said the greatest challenge facing the world in the 21st century is poverty. "There is a growing chasm between the richest people and the poorest people on Earth," he said. In 1900, Carter said, the richest nations on the planet were nine times more wealthy than the poorest; by 1960 that figure had changed to 30 times richer, and in 1999 it is 65 times richer.
"Poverty is the blight that causes aggression, causes trees to be cut down, land to be bulldozed-it causes death," Carter said. "That's where you come in, if in no other way than through The Carter Center because we address those questions."
Addressing questions is one thing Carter does well at this Town Hall, and he reminded students that never once has he failed to answer a question asked of him at one. The first question asked Carter's stance on affirmative action, especially relating to admissions in higher education. The former president talked of his years growing up in the segregated South, adding, "The ravages of that system can't be overcome in just a few years. I feel deeply that we should continue affirmative action programs."
Next was a question on who Carter would support in next year's presidential election. He smiled and looked straight ahead before deadpanning, "I will support the Democratic candidate." Carter added that he won't make a public choice between Al Gore and Bill Bradley before one is nominated because "I respect them both too much."
Things didn't get any easier for Carter with the next question: should George W. Bush come clean on his alleged past cocaine use? "I promised Bill Chace he could answer a few questions tonight," Carter said, turning to Chace sitting behind him. "I think George Bush should answer the question. I think he should answer all questions put to him, but he also has a right not to."
Carter kept to his word and answered every query, ranging from Habitat for Humanity to his hobbies, from the future role of The Carter Center to his position on President Bill Clinton's release of Puerto Rican terrorists who signed a nonviolence pledge. Carter said he supported the use of 500-600 U.S. troops for a United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor, but "most troops in the UN force should come from Asian countries."
Of recent gun violence and what could be done to reduce it, Carter said, "There are a lot of things that could be done, but nobody has a complete answer. One is a voluntary reduction of the heroism ascribed to those who kill other human beings on television and in movies, videogames."
Campaign finance reform will be the primary issue in Campaign 2000, Carter said, unless a wildcard like Pat Buchanan enters the race on the Reform Party ticket. Buchanan feels strongly enough about issues like abortion, on which Democrats and Republicans have mostly converged in the center, to raise them in the campaign, Carter said.
The evening ended on a touching note as a student asked Carter to recite a line from his favorite poem. The former president politely declined, saying he had too many favorites to pick one, but he did talk about a poem he wrote about the first time he met his wife Rosalynn 54 years ago. When she smiled at him, Carter recalled, he thought he heard birdsong. "And I still hear birds singing when Rosalynn smiles at me."