Jimmy Carter: President Obama Leaves Too Much to Congress

U.S. News interviews former president Jimmy Carter.

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Well, that's one thing I pretty much ignored to my political sorrow when I was in office—election-year politics and things like that. I think that the best political approach for him even now would be to let the people know that he was bold and knowledgeable and politically courageous in order to put forward things that would result in some decrease in services, including Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, but also increase revenue. The combination of those would then meet the goal of bringing our finances back into proper condition. And I think if he did that and took it directly to the people without equivocation, that it would be well received.

Are there major differences between your approach to running the country and that of the current administration?

What I did when I was president, and I'm not preaching to President Obama, but whenever we got a major issue, we developed legislation that I proposed inside the White House in its entirety. And we brought in congressional leaders—chairmen of committees and their staff members—into the White House to help us draft those bills in detail, and then we submitted it to Congress for amendments. That was just my way of governing, which seems to be different from the present administration. President Obama has a policy, which may very well be the right one for now, of letting the Congress evolve multiple bills and then ultimately negotiating to get a final decision, or even no decisions. I think a much stronger approach by the White House would be my own personal belief, as a political philosophy.

The biography highlights your religious faith. What is your view on how religion factors into political campaigns today?

I always kept strict separation of my religious faith from anything that I did in my official capacity. I think [the invocation of religion in political campaigns] in some cases is quite excessive. You know, they're just espousing their own religious faith as a preferable religion, both involving theoretical and theological things and also political things. This merger of politics and religion started taking place while I was president, but independently of me. The Republican Party has been aligned with it ever since. Now many of the candidates make no apology for the fact that they are injecting religion directly into politics. It's bad for government and bad for the country, and I think the advantages that might occur to a candidate that does it might be transient in nature.

Looking back at your time in office, is there anything you would have done differently?

There are some things I could do tactically, like send one more helicopter to rescue the hostages [during the Iran hostage crisis]. If I'd gotten the hostages out in April 1980, I probably would have been re-elected. I sent more helicopters than we needed, but if I had just sent one more, we would have been more successful. Things like that. But as far as general principles are concerned? We espoused peace, we never deviated from that. We espoused human rights, we espoused justice, and we always told the truth. So those general moral principles I think are ones that I would not have equivocated in a do-over.

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