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America’s absolute worst former president says, “Our country has no reason to be afraid.”

Carter urges Americans to abandon fear, hatred

Former president closes conference with words of peace in age of terror


Staff Writer

ATHENS, Ga. - With the zeal of a Baptist Sunday School teacher, Jimmy Carter ended a conference on his presidency Sunday morning by telling Americans they should not fear and they should not hate.

On a weekend in which Carter celebrated the 30th anniversary of his inauguration and the 25th year since its abrupt conclusion, it was left to the former president to update his peace efforts in the Middle East to today's world by talking about terrorism and about harsh feelings against people of other faiths.

"We are developing an ingrained hatred for people who aren't Christians," said Carter, a Sunday School teacher since he was 18 years old.

Unwarranted fear of terrorism is behind these feelings, he said.

"The distortion that we are about to be destroyed makes us suspicious of those who don't worship the way we do," he said. "And our country has no reason to be afraid."

Years of achievement obscured

Academicians and alumni of the Carter White House spent three days on the University of Georgia campus revisiting his four years as president. There were humorous anecdotes and scholarly reports on a president that people here believe deserves higher marks than he has received.

Tom Johnson, former president of CNN, said Carter should be judged by his body of work, not the disappointments of his final year in the White House.

"That obscured four years of achievement," Johnson said.

In 1980, Americans were held hostage in Iran and Carter was held hostage in the Oval Office. That was also the year that ABC gave birth to "Nightline," a program that counted down the number of days the Americans had been locked up.

"Iran was the drumbeat," said Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball" and a former speechwriter in the Carter administration.

Former Press Secretary Jody Powell said the complexities of what Carter was doing about the economy, the environment and other issues made telling his story a challenge.

"Circuits just didn't have the capacity to deal with all the issues," Powell said.

Jim Wooten, a New York Times reporter in the 1970s and later an ABC correspondent, said it would be interesting to play out 1980 without the hostages.

"I think Carter would probably have won," Wooten said.

As it was, the Georgian was ousted by Ronald Reagan and at the hour that the former California governor was taking the oath of office, the hostages were set free.

Former NBC White House correspondent Judy Woodruff followed Carter the governor in Atlanta before moving to Washington. She remembered the early days of his presidency.

"It was magical," she said. "There was a love affair between the press and this little-known governor."

At the same time, she talked about his term following Watergate when, she said, "a president had lied to the American people." That left a press corps she described as "sometimes skeptical and sometimes cynical."

When the Georgians first came to town, Washington society laughed. These people, particularly campaign guru Hamilton Jordan, were subjects of lengthy articles in the Washington Post. Late-night exploits were reported and stories sometimes portrayed them as bumpkins.

"As long as you weren't the subject, those stories had crackle," Matthews said.

"Yeah, bullfights are great as long as you're not the bull," Powell snapped.

Interrupting the panel, Carter remembered those articles from 30 years ago.

"It was not only Hamilton Jordan," he said. "It was Bert Lance, Peter Bourne and my brother Billy. They were singling out people who were dear to me."

Missionary among mercenaries

This year, the Carter Center in Atlanta celebrates its 25th anniversary. It deals with worldwide issues such as world health, election reform and human rights.

Pollster Peter Hart said Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's works resonate. He cited a survey in 2002 in which 73 percent of Americans gave Carter a favorable ranking -- 10 to 20 percent higher than other former presidents.

"He's a missionary in a world of mercenaries," Hart said.

At 82, Carter's calendar is full. In the coming months, he travels to three African countries.

At the same time, the former president said he hasn't had a White House briefing in 14 years.

"As a country, we are failing to leverage our resources," said Newsweek editor Jon Meecham, lamenting the lack of a role for former presidents.

Noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss said it takes more than 25 years for presidents to be properly judged.

"Presidents must pass from politics into history," he said.

Hart's opinion summarized Carter's administration and the overall conclusion of the conference: "The decisions were right. The politics were not."


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