James Earl Carter Jr., the 39th president of the United States, was born on Oct. 1, 1924 in the tiny town of Plains, Ga. His father, James Sr., was a farmer and businessman, and his mother, Lillian Gordy Carter, was a registered nurse.
Jimmy, as he is more popularly known, was educated in the public school of Plains, attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and received a bachelor of science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. On July 7 of that year, he married his childhood sweetheart, Rosalynn Smith of Plains.
In the Navy, he became a submariner, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and rising to the rank of lieutenant. When his father died in 1953, he resigned his naval commission and returned with his family to Georgia. He took over the Carter farms, and he and Rosalynn operated Carter's Warehouse, a general-purpose seed and farm supply company located in Plains.
In 1962 he entered politics, winning election to the Georgia Senate, before becoming Georgia's 76th governor on Jan. 12, 1971. Jimmy Carter was inaugurated president of the United States on Jan. 20, 1977. Significant foreign policy accomplishments of his administration included the Panama Canal treaties, the Camp David Accords, the treaty of peace between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and the establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China.
On the domestic side, the administration's achievements included a comprehensive energy program conducted by a new Department of Energy; deregulation in energy, transportation, communications, and finance; major educational programs under a new Department of Education; and major environmental protection legislation, including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. While in office, he also championed human rights throughout the world.
In 1982, he became university distinguished professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and founded The Carter Center to engage in conflict mediation all over the world. In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." The author of 25 books, here, he talks about his latest, NIV Lessons from Life Bible.
KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you think people will take away from the Lessons from Life Bible?
JC: I think that what people will get out of these comments in the Bible, and also out of my previous book [Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President] is how pertinent, how important and how applicable the ancient texts are to our modern-day life. That’s what I try to emphasize in all my Sunday school lessons when I teach at Maranatha Baptist Church. So, I think the main message to remember is that we must accommodate changing times while clinging to unchanging moral values. That’s why I say the aim is to apply the text to modern-day life.
KW: Leon Marquis says: You have done more good after leaving office than any other United States president, from traveling the world, to certifying free and open elections, to working with Habitat for Humanity, to traveling to North Korea. You have become the "Soul of American Diplomacy." My question is: Why can't the other ex-presidents get it right?
JC: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re wrong, Leon, because each one of us is an individual, just like talk show hosts are different from one another, and newspaper columnists are different from each other. So, former presidents are different from each other, too. Some have gone into relative seclusion. Some have decided to teach. In fact, I’m finishing my 30th year as a professor at Emory University. I’ve found it very enjoyable and very beneficial to me to keep active. But I wouldn’t criticize any president who has chosen to take a different route.
KW: Troy John asks: Do you see any parallels between the lead-up to the 1980 Presidential Election and the 2012 campaign?
JC: Not really. Back in those days, we didn’t have massive sums of money pouring in. We never ran any negative advertisements. I always referred to President Ford during the 1976 campaign as “my distinguished opponent.” That was all. And I behaved the same way as an incumbent, when Ronald Reagan ran against me in 1980. And the amount of money we raised against each other from special interest groups and from lobbyists for the general election was zero. Neither President Ford, nor Governor Reagan nor I ever raised a single dollar from them to run against each other in the general election. Sadly, all of that has changed. What this massive infusion of more money into the political campaign has caused is a mammoth increase in negative ads. That’s a tragedy, in my opinion, and a step backwards for the political system of our country.
KW: Troy also says that he read in the Wall Street Journal that not since Herbert Hoover has a party out of power had such an opportunity to run against everything that troubles the American family—prices, interest rates, unemployment, taxes, fear of the future, etcetera. Do you think the Republican Party will employ that strategy against an Obama administration which seems vulnerable in terms of both foreign and domestic policy?
JC: Well, I’m not a political strategist, and I’m certainly not one for the Republican Party. [Chuckles] I will say that any incumbent president has to run on his record, and President Obama has had a very limited number of accomplishments so far. But he’s been handicapped by the lack of any cooperation on the part of the Republicans who serve in the House and Senate. So, Congress has been an obstacle to President Obama. I think the American people will be able to ascertain as the election approaches who is to blame for the stalemate and who deserves credit for the best proposals for the future.
KW: Lisa Loving asks: How should we as Americans and as voters work to overcome the sometimes hateful tone of our politics today?
JC: Unfortunately, every American citizen takes the same position as you do, Lisa, that we don’t like negative advertisements. But they work! And, as you see, many a candidate has prevailed by tearing down the reputation of an opponent in a more advantageous position. I think that the best approach would be if the American people ever insist that we cut down on the massive amounts of money that moves into the campaigns from special interest groups, and if we resist publicly by saying “No more negative advertisements that destroy the reputations of one’s opponents.” In the meantime, just don’t pay any attention to negative ads, if you can avoid them, and try to focus on the issues.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What words of wisdom might you have for President Obama?
JC: Tell the truth and promote the peace.