Wednesday, July 19, 2006

President Carter Podcasts with Senator John Edwards

President Carter Podcasts with Senator John Edwards

Here's something rare - the first of its kind. A former U.S. President has been interviewed by a potential 2008 Presidential candidate. What makes it rare is that the interview has taken place via podcast. President Jimmy Carter gets into the latest technology along with former Senator John Edwards to talk about the decades since he left office, about his vision, and about the personal characteristics that he thinks America needs in an American President.

You can listen to the podcast here. [Duration: 00:27:18 ]

Here is an excerpt from an e-mail from Senator Edwards about the Bookcast:

Our country's history is full of examples of how books sparked political organizing and massive social change. Think about how Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin provided a compelling -- and widely discussed -- argument against slavery. Or how Rachel Carson's Silent Spring started a national debate about pesticides and gave birth to the environmental movement. That's why book clubs can be so powerful.

In Our Endangered Values, President Carter draws upon his life experience as a president and as a Nobel Peace Prize winner to reflect on what's gone wrong over the past six years. President Carter and I agree that the current administration has made a radical break from the basic values that past presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, embraced as core governing principles -- equality, opportunity and justice. They've been replaced with a rigid fundamentalism, disregard for the truth, contempt for people that disagree, and abandonment of basic human rights.

President Carter is an amazing person, and I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with him. Listen in as we discuss his 20th book.

I hope you will pick up a copy of President Carter's book and join in our blog and discussion for the rest of July. And if you'd like to make a book recommendation for the One America Book Club, we'd love to hear from you.

A Summary of the Podcast Conversation:

After Senator Edwards introduced President Carter, the former President spoke about the personal characteristics that he thinks America needs in a President. The preeminent characteristic he mentioned was integrity; the honesty and ability to tell the truth and to trust the American people, if they have the truth, to support the policies that the President proposes. Next is an element of mental and philosophical flexibility. A President should be capable to accomodate changing times without violating long-standing and unchanging  principles. Other important attributes are: courage, an open mind, the ability to communicate, some degree of charisma and attractiveness, the ability to engender trust in others.

I will put only one part of the conversation in quotes:

President Carter: "I'd like to see a President who tells the truth..."

Senator Edwards: "So would I.."

President Carter:"...and listens to the American people."

Senator Edwards:" would I."

President Carter wished to clarify that his latest book, Our Endangered Values - America's Moral Crisis, is not focusing on the problems between "liberals" and "conservatives", nor has he written a referendum on the policies of George W. Bush. In the last five years, however, there has been a radical departure from the path that past Presidents have chosen to take (including Eisenhower, Nixon, and the elder Bush - George HW) when it comes to policy and procedure. In his latest book - his twentieth - he invites all Americans to renew and restore our values, for he believes (and explains how) they are at risk. Others in this world should be able to look at America and say 'there is a mighty nation that believes in peace.... not preemptive war.' America could be reassuring to the world if we tried to address the conflicts that exist between nations by using our tremendous military and economic power in the service of peace.

Our nation has an earned and long-deserved record and reputation of being a champion of human rights, and we need to restore those values. President Carter is aggravated by the fact that our nation helped to orchestrate the Geneva Convention, yet our nation has lately used torture and we have incarcerated others with no access to legal representation or even the hope that their most basic rights will be given to them. Justice, equality of treatment, and fairness are missing from our present course. It is an attack on human rights.

He has seen an overt and persistent committment to distort our nation's tax structures, openly designed to benefit the richest fringes of American society.

The federal minimum wage has been frozen at $5.15 for a decade and has not been indexed for inflation. The current federal minimum wage is half of what most other industrialized nations are paying.

There have been outright attacks on the environment, with attacks on President Nixon's decades-old legislation on air and water purity and a policy of deforestation.

The abuse of the separation of Church and State has been disturbing to President Carter. As a person of Christian faith, he recalled Jesus' command [Matthew 22:21 KJV] to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." The merging of the American political right wing with Christian fundamentalists is a danger of which Thomas Jefferson had written about over 200 years ago.

Senator Edwards mentioned a story told to him by a friend in the Atlanta area about an hour-long sermon heard at a Christian church about the reasons why George W. Bush was thought to be a "perfect example" of what a Christian should be. President Carter has taught Bible school at his Baptist church since he was eighteen years old, and both he and Senator Edwards agreed that you never would have heard anything like that in church twenty years ago, nor would a congregation have deemed it an appropriate Holy sermon. There are extreme and radical ideologies springing up all over the world today - in the Islamic world and in the Christian world alike.

Senator Edwards mentioned that he was working on the issue of poverty and that he was campaigning to raise the minimum wage, assisting with state initiatives across the country. Beyond the minimum wage, he and President Carter agreed that there is much more work to be done to help the poor. When referring to Matthew 25 and what we do "unto the least of these," President Carter said that he had read Reverend Jim Wallis' book "God's Politics" and recalled him saying that there are thousands of Biblical references to the spiritual requirement to help the poor. President Carter believes that we have lost sight of this.

Senator Edwards stated that he'd like to see more Americans and their leaders  engaged in moral issues involving global problems such as stopping the spread of AIDS and preventable diseases and focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. He believes that this is where American can began to regain some moral high ground and once again show the world a fine example of our national character. President Carter told a story about an enlightening trip he'd taken to Africa with Bill Gates Sr. in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He'd witnessed pregnant women getting the four-dollar treatments they'd needed to preserve the health of their babies yet to be born. He recalled seeing babies who had already been born to mothers with AIDS - but they were AIDS-free because their mothers had had the $4 vaccine. Note: Most African countries spend no more than $10 a year per citizen on all health care. President Carter is haunted by the fact that the American government has been restricting the use of international aid dollars for what they call "family planning." The goal of stopping the spread of AIDS in Africa is defeated because of a dangerous merger between Christian fundamentalism and the American political right wing. President Carter spoke of our government's stingy nature compared to the generosity of Nordic/European nations and private foundations. Senator Edwards said that he could not believe that Americans aren't interested in issues like these because a look at the record of their private generosity and a view of their common values would prove the opposite.

Senator Edwards commented that Americans are sick and tired of the divisive political atmosphere and the lack of civility in Washington D.C. today. President Carter believes that the influence of money in campaigns has been harmful and that legalized bribery must be taken out of the campaign process. Congress has not been able to work in harmony because of the influence of the special interests and their campaign contributions. The system exists to the detriment of the average American and their democratic voice because they have such small, non-competitive amounts of  money to give. The entire process, the Senator and former President agreed, is making the average citizen apathetic toward voting.

When asked a question from a One America Committee blogger named Suswah about President Carter's view of the current state of our nation, he spoke about a particular chapter in his book in which he gave his own description of what a "superpower" should be, and compared it to where we've fallen short in the last twenty years.

One thing that is particularly wrong with the direction we've taken is that, if our government's leaders do not like what another nation is doing, they refuse to talk to any representative of that nation. There is little to be gained by such an approach. President Carter believes that the political right-wing has been influenced by a religious fundamentalist way of thinking: 'We don't deal with those who don't agree with us'; 'We don't talk with inferiors.' It is clear that a war in Iraq was planned long before George W. Bush was ever elected and that it was a coalition of right wing ideologues who have implemented the strategy that has the underlying premise: "A fundamentalist is never wrong." Religious fundamentalism is characterized by rigidity, domination, and exclusion. They are convinced that they are right and anyone who contradicts them is evil. The fundamentalist feels that they have a unique relationship with God - and that they actually speak for God. When there are serious differences between the U.S. and other nations, we cannot brand those who differ as pariahs or inferiors worthy of despise -  yet fundamentalism in foreign policy tends to do just that. It leaves no room for discussing of ideas or for compromise.

Senator Edwards commented that he believes it it is critical for dissenting voices to be heard in America today and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Senator Edwards told President Carter that he thought he was an amazing human being and he thanked him for his participation, encouraging everyone to buy and read President Carter's book.

A special note: Senator Edwards wished President Carter and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter a very happy 60th wedding anniversary. The couple celebrated their special day on July 7th.

See mbair's Diary at Daily Kos.

*Cross posted at the One America Committee blog