Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Everything to Gain: A Conversation with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

Everything to Gain: A Conversation with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter was a discussion to help support the Jonathan Demme documentary Man From Plains, and to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Carter Center. Allan Gregg, host of Allan Gregg in Conversation With… on TVOntario interviewed on stage former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter. The discussion will appear on Gregg's show at a later date.

This discussion was an interesting contrast to the previous day's Mavericks session with Bill Maher and Larry Charles. While Maher and Carter are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to faith and religion, they seem to end up in the same place on many issues (political and spiritual).

Below is a summary of what was discussed in the session. Note that these are not all exact quotes, and that in some cases I've paraphrased and summarized what was said:

  • The impetus for doing the film Man From Plains was Jeff Skoll, former president eBay and now CEO of Participant Productions (the company behind An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana, and Good Night and Good Luck). Skoll had always wanted to do a film on Carter, and Carter said he would do it if Skoll could get the best director in the world; Skoll came up with Jonathan Demme.
  • Rosalynn Carter said she wasn't crazy about all the cameras following their every move. Demme was using very small cameras so he was able to get very close up, and Rosalynn Carter said partially in jest that she dreaded seeing the film because of that. The Carters have seen an early version of the film, and thought it was great, although they had hoped to get more of the Carter Center in it. They had mentioned that to Demme, so they were hopeful the final cut would have more of the Center.
  • Jimmy Carter said that he hoped people would get an insight into the things they've done since leaving the White House, and he considered it to be a bit of a bio of his adult life.
  • On the topic of his most recent book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, he hopes it will help to precipitate more peace. He considers it to be one of the most important political issues in the world, and is frustrated over the lack of peace talks in the last seven years. He hopes discussion can encourage countries in the region, the UN, the EU, and the US to more aggressively pursue peace.
  • The Carters first travelled to Palestine in 1972, and have been back to the region 3 times since to help monitor elections (when Arafat was elected, then Abbas, and more recent parliamentary elections). This is one of the things the Carter Centre does a lot of, and one of its conditions is unfettered access. He said he was dismayed over Israeli incursion on Palestinian rights, but also said he recognizes and supports need for Israeli security and peace. He thinks the way Palestinians are treated is counter-productive to those goals, and would like to see good-faith talks between the two sides.
  • On the issue of the current Israeli security fence, Carter talked about how a wall was first proposed by Yitzhak Rabin to be built along 1967 borders. After Rabin's assassination, his successors ended up building the wall within Palestine. The International Court of Justice, as does Carter, agreed with the boundaries of the first proposed wall, but not the current one.
  • On the Camp David Accords that led to the peace between Egypt and Israel, Carter talked on the 13 days of intense negotiations to get an agreement. Rosalynn Carter talked about how she was in a room next to the negotiations and could hear people shouting at one another after the first day; after that ,President Carter had to shuttle back and forth between the parties as they wouldn't meet face-to-face. In the end, President Carter gave Begin signed photos for each of Begin's grandchildren, which Rosalynn carter thought was one of the factors that drove him to sign an agreement - he wanted peace for his grandchildren.
  • On the lack of any progress in recent years, Jimmy Carter talked about the current administration not trying, and the Clinton administration putting forward proposals in its last months, but nothing that would be acceptable to either side. With the current International Quartet, Carter feels that with the US dominance in that group, the country needs to take a leading role. Palestinians are now in a more desperate situation.
  • When asked about what would be the key to breaking this deadlock, Jimmy Carter talked about getting an agreement based on the formulas laid out in the 2003 Geneva Accord. He also talked about how most Arab nations would explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist if it returned to its 1967 borders.
  • He does not consider the Palestinian situation to be directly linked to the war in Iraq, but the current animosity towards the US and the recruitment of extremists are linked to the inability to deal with the Palestinian issue. Carter feels that there could be an end to the war in Iraq if the US had the support of other Arab nations, which it has lost.
  • When asked if people should be worried about the potential for the US to next target Iran, Jimmy Carter said that people should be concerned, and that he believes that there is a need to open communication. He talked about how he opened up a dialog with the revolutionary government in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. He feels that the current administration's position is that if a country doesn't agree 100% with the US in advance, then the US won't deal with that country.
  • He feels that there is danger in alienating Iran; the country is currently a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but that a threat of invasion only encourages them to pursue nuclear weapons.
  • Rosalynn Carter talked about one advantage of being a former First Lady is that she can call on nearly an expert in the world for help with their causes. Her own passion is mental health, since her husband's time as governor of Georgia.
  • Jimmy Carter talked about how instead of just speaking on the lecture circuit, he wanted to help others have a better life, and to deal with the most neglected and intransigent problems, and not to duplicate effort on problems already being addressed by other governments and organizations.
  • On the founding of the Carter Center, Rosalynn Carter described how they didn't get the chance to do everything they wanted before leaving the White House, through, as Jimmy Carter described it, his "involuntary retirement". Rosalynn Carter was angry that incoming President Ronald Reagan had abandoned mental health legislation that she had worked to get through Congress shortly before the end of her husband's term.
  • Jimmy Carter talked about how the Carter Center was envisioned to be a mini Camp David, where parties could come to get assistance in resolving their conflicts. Its mandate expanded to address health care. He talked on the Center's work with dracunculiasis, or guinea worm, a parasite that can grow up to 2 to 3 feet long in the body and is absorbed by drinking contaminated water. A program funded by the Carter Center (and other groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) has succeeded in reducing guinea worm from 3.5 million reported cases in 1986 down to about 16,000 cases worldwide in 2004.
  • The Carter Center is also active with agricultural programs, teaching farmers how to increase their crop yields. Since the Center is active in many countries, people there often ask them to tackle other issues, rather than going to the US or the UN for help. One task upcoming for the Center is to help Nepal draft its constitution.
  • Rosalynn Carter talked about how over the last 23 years she has become quite the carpenter through their work with Habitat for Humanity. The Carters reserve out a week a year in their busy schedule to devote to helping build houses around the world with the group.
  • She talked about how working with the people who will live in the house allows them to get to know and love them, and how owning a home changes people immensely.
  • Jimmy Carter talked about how the organization desperately needs help to build homes, especially in areas like New Orleans.
  • Last year, they worked with Habitat for Humanity in Mumbai. It was supposed to take 5 days to build the homes they wanted, but it only took 4 when Brad Pitt showed up, generating a lot more interest and volunteers.
  • Jimmy Carter said his faith informs what he does. He talked on how everyone bases their life on faith, be it faith in family, parents, or nations. He believes in Jesus Christ as a foundation for his life, but he's never found a conflict between his faith and his political life.
    Carter said that he'd like to think that even without religion he would still pattern his life on the same principles of peace and love.
  • He is opposed to fundamentalism in religion; he talked about how fundamentalism always involves a dominant man considering himself superior, and generally the first group that man considers himself to be superior to is women. That man believes he has a direct relationship to god, and therefore those who disagree are wrong, even subhuman. Carter talked on how fundamentalism has intruded into US politics as well as into terrorism around the world.
  • Carter said he doesn't believe that the left has abandoned religious moral stances to the conservative right in the US. He does believe that moderates, including himself, believe in a separation between church and state, and that the trend is being reversed with people being more concerned about the intrusion of religion into politics.
  • Rosalynn Carter talked about the difficulty in writing their book Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life. Jimmy Carter has written 20+ books, and can write a chapter in an afternoon. Rosalynn Carter takes much longer, and that discrepancy was very stressful to their marriage. She said that her husband would write a chapter so quickly that she would consider it a draft, but because she would spend so much time and effort on writing hers, that she didn't want a single word changed.
  • Jimmy Carter talked about how the US is so politically, economically, militarily, and culturally dominant in the world. When the US loses its influence, the world loses an inspiration to turn to for higher ideals, like human rights. With such things as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, other nations searching for guidance no longer look to the US, and Carter thinks that's a loss for both sides.
  • Jimmy Carter talked about how the Carter Center's relationship with Canada is one of the most helpful. When asked if he had any advice for Canada, Carter did encourage people to be more outspoken, aggressive, and independent about promoting Canadian values, and to not be afraid of expressing disagreement with US policies.
  • When prompted for a prediction on the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Rosalynn Carter diplomatically deferred, as she has a policy of not endorsing anyone in the primaries. She thinks the Democrats will win the presidential election, but that she'll support whichever of the candidates takes the Democratic nomination.
  • When asked about their family, especially daughter Amy who was so prominent during their time in the White House, the Carters said their 4 children, 11 grandchildren, and now 1 great-grandchild were all doing great.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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