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If you like Jimmy Carter's story, you might also like:
Norman Borlaug,
George H.W. Bush,
Johnnetta Cole,
Millard Fuller,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
Frank M. Johnson,
Shimon Peres,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
Robert S. Strauss
and Andrew Young

Jimmy Carter's recommended reading: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Jimmy Carter also appears in the video:
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Jimmy Carter in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
What is a Leader
Global Conflicts

Related Links:
Jimmy Carter Library
The White House

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Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
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Jimmy Carter Interview (page: 4 / 5)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Jimmy Carter

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There was one speech that you gave that was also controversial and in some cases misreported. It became known as "The Malaise Speech" even though you never used that word. You talked about a crisis of confidence that struck at the heart and mind and soul of the national will. Do you still see that crisis in confidence?

Jimmy Carter: In some ways, the situation is different now from what is was back when I gave that speech. I think it was the best speech I ever made, and for the first few weeks, it was a very popular speech. But eventually it was attacked by Senator Kennedy, who ran against me. He said I was talking about the malaise of America, not the bright future of America, and then President Reagan adopted the same concept.

What I pointed out was that our nation had been faced in years leading up to that time with severe challenges and blows: the loss of the war in Vietnam, the assassination of President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Watergate scandals, where a president had to resign in disgrace; the revelations that the CIA had deliberately plotted murder. These were blows to our country. But I thought the resilience of our nation was sufficient to overcome that kind of difficulty, and that we needed to look at ourselves and see where is the strength of our country. And the purpose of the speech, I said that we are faced with an energy crisis. We are becoming increasingly dependent on foreign oil; our nation's security is in danger. It's not a politically popular thing to do something about this, to save energy, to conserve. But I believed that our country was strong enough to do it. And that was the purpose and the essence of the speech. But the political opponents just took the negative side, that we had serious problems, and characterized it as it never was, as a "malaise speech." We still suffer malaise in this country, and I'll use the word this time. But what gnaws at the vitals of our nation are the unsolved problems of juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, school dropouts, drug addiction, homelessness, joblessness. We don't know in this country the extent of these problems, and we cover our eyes. It's more convenient not to look at them. I think this country obviously has the ability, as no other nation in the world does, to address those problems successfully. That's going to be a major part of my own work the next four, five or more years. Just to show that in Atlanta, Georgia, we can marshal all the resources in our community and bring about a simultaneous addressing of these human problems and see if we can do something about them. It's a kind of thing that is not only an affliction on a nation or in a community, but a wonderful opportunity to show the strength and idealism and benevolence of American people.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

After all these years, what are your thoughts, views, and reflections on the presidency?

Jimmy Carter: I would say the main thing is that I didn't know the complexity of the global problems.

I'm the only president that's ever visited Africa south of the Sahara Desert. I went to two (African) countries while I was president, and I didn't know the potential of that continent, nor the challenges that faced those people. Now I do. To a much greater extent I didn't understand the [widespread] problems in our own country, from a personal point of view. I was dealing with billions of dollars that would be allocated for education or health or welfare or housing, or whatever. But I didn't know from a personal point of view the people that actually were in need or that were the recipients of those quite often inadequate and ill-designed programs. Another thing was that I didn't really see as clearly as I should have the perspective of the then preeminent Cold War. I think we could have reached out more to try to form some sort of working relationship, perhaps with people that we looked on then as adversaries. That was a potential there that may not have been adequately explored by me as a president. I've also learned since then the wide diversity of characteristics of nations in this hemisphere. We tend to look on South Americans as one kind of people, but I've seen that they are just as varied as are the differences, for instance, between the United States and Mexico. There is a tremendous fear of the United States as a dominant superpower that's always been too ready to send U.S. troops into their nations to act as superior, arrogant oppressors, under the guise of protecting liberty. We invaded Panama recently with what most Americans looked on as a glorious victory. We killed a thousand Panamanians unnecessarily, primarily to arrest the leader of Panama, who had been in bed with our own government, at least the CIA, up until shortly before that. And to us it was a great victory. We defeated Panama. But to the Panamanians, the people who died, it wasn't. So I see now much more clearly that our country can accomplish its goals, not merely through military action, but through the promotion of peace.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

One of the remarkable things about you is that you seem to take the job of former president as seriously as being president itself.

Jimmy Carter: That's true.

People underestimate the potential of a former president. I happen to be one of the youngest ones who ever survived the office. And the access that I have to world leaders is unlimited. I don't mean just political and military leaders, but leaders in the field of education or health or agriculture, food production, environment. And so, this is one aspect of it. Also, the influence we have. We can bring together people who have a common goal, like immunizing children or planting trees or solving the starvation problem in Africa, where they're all working at the same target, but in different ways, and create a team effort that can be enormously more successful than any of them can be working independently. And I have some ability as a former president to dramatize a particular problem, and to reach the news media and therefore reach the consciousness of people.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Another thing I have as a former president is almost total freedom. When I was in office as governor or state senator or as president, I had voluminous responsibilities -- the details of government. But now, as a former president, I can pick and choose the things that have a particular interest to me, where I think that my contribution can be uniquely beneficial. I don't have to worry about the administrative duties of a major job. This makes it not only more fruitful, but also more enjoyable.

It used to be, when I visited the Middle East, for instance, I would fly to Tel Aviv, drive 30 minutes over to Jerusalem, meet with leaders in the afternoon, have a banquet at night and exchange toasts with Prime Minister Begin, or whoever happened to be in office. The next day I was gone to Cairo or Damascus or Amman. Now I go there, I meet with the leaders in all the different parties, and I get immersed in what they think about one another. I meet with the Peace Now people and with the human rights groups, and with the Palestinians in the West Bank, in Gaza, and go to the great universities in Tel Aviv and Haifa and Jerusalem, and learn from scholars who devote their lives to the economic and water aspects, mining aspects, and agricultural aspects of the region. I can immerse myself much more deeply in an individual subject, once I take it on, than I ever could have when I had the multitudinous responsibilities of budgets and dealing with members of Congress, and things in the White House.

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This page last revised on Mar 26, 2011 10:41 EDT
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