Former President Jimmy Carter displayed his humor early, his
emotions late and his candor throughout his 21st Town Hall meeting
with the Emory community, Sept. 26.
“When the former president speaks,” Student Government
Association President Christopher Richardson told the nearly 1,000
members of the primarily freshman audience gathered in the P.E.
Center, “the nation listens.”
Well, if President George W. Bush was listening, he would’ve
heard a hefty dose of criticism of his policies.
On Iraq: “If the U.S. should decide to attack unilaterally,”
Carter said, “it would be a devastating mistake.”
On the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: “The ultimate solution
is for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories of the West
Bank and Gaza, and Arab countries must recognize Israel’s
right to exist.” Carter continued by saying the Bush administration
has “abandoned” the commitment of previous administrations
to balance their Israeli/
Palestinian policies and completely supported the Israelis.
And on the economy: “The gross giveaway of the tax cut should
be repealed and certainly should not be expanded.”
Carter’s answer to the first question of the evening wasn’t
a criticism of a Bush policy, but rather of the 2000 election that
placed him in the White House.
“[The Carter Center was] not responsible for the Florida election,”
Carter said jokingly, after he explained the center’s important
work in overseeing elections in troublespots throughout the world.
The question concerned Carter’s thoughts about a possible
change to the Electoral College system. Carter said he doubted the
system would ever be totally eliminated but added that some states
allocate electors not by party, but by percentage of votes the candidate
received. If Florida used that system, Carter said, Bush would’ve
received 13 electoral votes, and Gore 12, which would’ve put
Gore in the White House.
“Or, if they would’ve counted the votes accurately,
Gore would’ve gotten 13, and Bush 12,” the Democratic
former president quipped, followed by applause.
Following the election question, Carter’s thoughts on world
conflict took center stage. While he commented on Kashmir and Israel,
Carter’s most sobering thoughts—warnings, actually—concerned
He spoke of the dangers of acting unilaterally and listed several:
It would be a violation of the United Nations (UN) charter signed
by the United States; it would alienate potential allies and irritate
friends; it would be a “radical departure” from the
policies of every president since World War II; and it would encourage
Arab nations, many of whom support the war on terror, to back Saddam
Carter showed no love for Hussein, calling him an “obnoxious
dictator” whose condemnation is deserved, but added that the
best way to deal with him is through a UN resolution allowing weapons
inspectors to search for chemical, biological and nuclear arms.
The former president, who has never backed down from a question
posed to him at Emory, talked about more than the struggles between
nations. For instance, he said the country where he would choose
to study abroad would be Spain. Carter also talked in depth about
his recent visit to Cuba, complimenting the country’s health
care and education systems, but lamenting its prohibition on freedom
of speech and lack of democracy.
Carter’s Castro story was his final one of the hour-long town
hall, but the most emotional moment came on the penultimate question,
which asked him about his similarities to his father.
They were both stern disciplinarians, Carter said. Carter’s
children woke him up to this fact, but the former president’s
father died relatively young and remained distant from his offspring.
“He was not as attentive to my sensitivities as he should’ve
been,” said Carter, who was a naval officer when his father
died. “He would never have thought about saying, ‘You
did a good job.’” Carter hungered for words of congratulations
from his father.
The story reminded Carter of an answer he gave the previous year
to a question asking what he would say to his father if he could:
“I would have told him that I wanted to grow up and be just