Former United States (U.S.) President and University Distinguished Professor Jimmy Carter answered questions from freshmen and spoke about his wishes for the U.S., his thoughts on current issues such as the Park 51 Community Center, and his courtship with wife Rosalynn Carter at the 29th annual Carter Town Hall Wednesday evening.
An early question provided the 39th president with the opportunity to dispense advice to the Class of 2014, who made up much of the audience:
“Always try to do something that’s different, exciting, challenging, gratifying, unpredictable as you go through every day of life,” Carter said to the freshman class. “Have a good time. Enjoy what you’re doing.”
As evidenced from his constant joking with the audience and the large smile across his face, Carter speaks from experience.
With forays as naval officer, peanut farmer, businessman, governor of Georgia and president of the U.S., Carter has an admittedly varied resume.
“Now I have the best career of all as distinguished professor of Emory and as the head of the Carter Center,” he added.
One student asked Carter about his thoughts on the Park 51 Community Center project to be built in New York City.
His initial response consisted of two words: “Build it.”
Carter explained further that the group has a constitutional right to build the center, adding that the site is two blocks away from the World Trade Center site. He cited the construction’s proximity to a lower Manhattan strip club as reason to be unconcerned by the project.
“It sends a very bad signal not only to Muslims around the world, but to everyone who expects the U.S. to be the champion of human rights and freedom of religion,” he said of the protests.
When an audience member asked Carter what he would have done differently during his tenure as president, Carter replied that he “would have been re-elected,” to laughter and clapping from the audience.
On a more serious note, Carter explained that he regrets not sending enough helicopters to rescue the 52 hostages who were held in Iran in 1980.
He said that six helicopters were necessary to complete the mission. Eight helicopters were sent, but due to unfortunate circumstances, only five were able to reach the site.
“We had to recall our rescue team, and the hostage rescue failed,” he said, adding that the crisis was a prime reason he was not re-elected.
Asked about his top wishes, Carter said he would like for Israel and its neighbors to be at peace and for the U.S. to be a champion of peace, human rights, environmental policy and generosity.
“I would like to see the United States of America become a superpower in every aspect of human life, not just the greatest military power on earth,” he said.
Carter also commented on the current Tea Party movement, making the case that the group is drawing on a reserve of national discontent that exceeds anything seen since the Civil War. He also called into question the movement’s primary sources of funding, highlighting the role played by Kansas oil magnates and brothers Charles and David Koch.
However, Carter also saw benefits to the movement. “When it takes strength away from the Republican party, I’m all for it,” he said.
Carter, who just celebrated his 86th birthday, reflected on his freshman year.
“When I was a freshman, I had one goal in mind for a career, and that was to qualify for entry into the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis,” he said. “I was also roaming around seeing how many girls I could ... well ... .”
He then proceeded to tell the story of his relationship with his wife Rosalynn whom he met when he was four years old.
During college, he took her on a date to the movies. When his mother asked how the first date went, he replied that he would marry her.
The final question that Carter took from the audience concerned who would play him in a movie.
“I think Jon Stewart,” he replied. “He would be a good one to play my role.”
Moments later, after gauging student reactions, Carter added, “I don’t know why you’re all laughing.”
— Contact Christina White