Arts & Culture

Last Night: President Carter

By Erica C. Barnett February 1, 2012

Bill Clinton was the first president I was able to vote for, and I was barely alive in the '70s. To me, President Jimmy Carter evokes three images: Cardigan sweaters, the blindfolded hostages in Iran, and peanuts. Oh, and Habitat for Humanity, too.

So it was an honor to attend Carter's talk and Q&A at the Paramount Theatre last night and catch up on what the 87-year-old 39th President has been up to lately. Carter was in town for the Seattle-based World Affairs Council's 60th anniversary celebration.

After a few surprisingly hilarious anecdotes (one involved an audience in Japan to whom Carter told a lengthy, and seemingly successful, joke; when he asked his translator later what he had told the audience, the translator responded, "The President just told a funy story and you all must laugh"), Carter briefly recounted his four years in office, noting that his administration "never dropped a bomb" and "never lost a missile," brokered peace between Israel and Egypt, and "created more jobs per year than in the last 40 years."

Carter's primary theme was that America should "wage peace" in the world by becoming a "superpower," in the (somewhat comic-book-hero-like) sense of a country that's "strong and respectable and understanding," and one that doesn't use its military power unless it has to. With regard to China, the country many believe will overtake the US as a global economic power, Carter said we should be "aggressive" and "competitive" but not combative---China, he said, "wants a strong US so they can build up their own economy."

If both sides simply sat down and talked things out, Carter continued, we might figure out how to coexist peacefully---a solution he also proposed for dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. "Egypt will have the first chance to prove to the world that a militant Muslim party can govern effectively," Carter said.

Continuing to focus on foreign policy, Carter argued forcefully against an attack on Iran, saying that if he were president, he would "do everything I could to prevent going to war with Iran," because a US attack on Iran would unite the Arab world against us.

In response to an audience question, Carter attacked the current political system---including the prevalence of negative advertising, and the "stupid" Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

"When Governor Reagan and I were running against each other [in 1980], there was no negative advertising. There were no private contributions. There was no mass infusion of money. We spent the two dollars per person that you check of on your tax returns, and we called each other 'my distinguished opponent."

Carter is the only US President since 1869 who did not appoint a single justice to the Supreme Court.

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