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Other segments from the episode on October 21, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 21, 2004: Interview with Jimmy Carter; Review of the special episode of "The office."

Transcript

DATE October 21, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Former President Jimmy Carter talks about his latest
novel, "The Hornet's Nest," the Carter Center and events happening
in the world today
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Lawsuits over the upcoming presidential election are already being filed. My
guest, President Jimmy Carter, has monitored elections around the world
through the Carter Center. He told me that if the United States were a
foreign country that asked him to monitor the election, he would have to
decline because we don't fulfill the Carter Center's criteria for fair
elections. We'll talk with President Carter about the US elections in a
moment.

Along with President Ford, he co-chaired the National Commission on Federal
Election Reform, which was established in response to the 2000 election.
President Carter turned 80 this year. Two years ago he won the Nobel Peace
Prize. His Carter Center has worked in more than 65 countries helping to
promote human rights, strengthen democracy and prevent disease. His latest
book, "The Hornet's Nest" is his first novel. It's just come out in
paperback. It's set in the South during the Revolutionary War. The main
character, Ethan Pratt, is a shoemaker's son who moves from Philadelphia to
North Carolina and is at first reluctant to fight in the war.

You know, we think of the Civil War as being a very divisive war because the
country was divided against itself and in some places families were divided,
but you've pointed out that the Revolutionary War was even more divisive.

Former President JIMMY CARTER (Author, "The Hornet's Nest"): It was much
more. If you look back at history, every other war in which we've fought, had
a geographical division. Obviously, Vietnam and Korea and the First and
Second World Wars in Europe, and the Civil War was divided along the
Mason-Dixon line; not absolutely, but if you lived north of there, you were
likely to be a Yankee. If you lived south, you were likely to be a
Confederate. There was no geographical division at all in the Revolutionary
War. The division came inside families where a few--very few at first and
then more and more as time went on, citizens who had been devoutly committed
before God through oath, loyal to their king, one by one decided to take up
weapons against their own government and became revolutionaries. I
would--maybe even they were called terrorists. And when they made that
decision, which was very traumatic for them, the first thing they did was find
themselves on the battlefield fighting against their own fathers or their own
brothers.

GROSS: Have you asked yourself if you were living in the colonies and you
were somebody who had sworn your loyalty to the king of England, but the
Revolutionary War was starting, if you could have--if you would have been
capable of breaking that pledge and siding with the revolutionaries?

Mr. CARTER: What would I do?

GROSS: Yeah, what would you do? Do you think--which side do you think you
would have taken?

Mr. CARTER: In a way, without being deliberate about it, I put myself in the
shoes of Ethan Pratt. I would rather have been by myself on my farm, building
my furniture, taking care of my wife, raising children and stay out of all the
political intrigue. I wouldn't have identified myself as a Whig or a Tory,
but if--as the war progressed, there were more and more people like Ethan
Pratt who changed. I think I would have changed and I think I would have
taken up weapons.

As a matter of fact, when I was a young man, although I've always tried to
avoid war, my chosen profession was a career in the military. I was a
submarine officer. In fact, except for Dwight Eisenhower, I've served more
time in the military than any other president since Civil War generals.

GROSS: Isn't there a new--is it a submarine or a ship that's just been named
for you?

Mr. CARTER: Yes. The USS Jimmy Carter.

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. CARTER: It's been christened by my wife, who's the godmother of the ship
and it'll be brought into the Navy--commissioned, they call it--the first or
second week of January.

GROSS: And how does that compare to what you served on?

Mr. CARTER: Oh, it's like day and night. The one I served on was a tiny,
little anti-submarine submarine with just 50 people onboard. And this is an
enormous ship, the most advanced ship in the world of any type. It'll go
faster and go deeper and is quieter and is a more formidable ship than
anything that's ever been built before, so I'm very proud of it, as a
submariner to have a submarine named for me.

GROSS: President Jimmy Carter is my guest and his novel, "The Hornet's Nest,"
which is a Revolutionary War novel, has just been published in paperback.

One of the things you do with your Carter Center is to monitor elections
around the world, and you've monitored over 50 elections around the world. We
are facing a US presidential election here and I'm wondering if America was a
foreign country and it had asked you to monitor the election, would it meet
your criteria. Could you monitor the American elections if you were asked?

Mr. CARTER: No. We wouldn't think of it. The American political system
wouldn't measure up to any sort of international standard for several reasons.
One is that there has to be a provision in the countries where we
monitor--we've just finished our 52nd one--that all the qualified candidates
have equal access to the public through the media, through television and
radio, and they don't have to pay for it. Whereas in this country, there's no
way that you can hope to be the nominee of the Democratic or Republican Party
unless you have the proven ability to raise nowadays $100 million,
contributions from special interest groups. Some of the interest groups are
benevolent, I might hasten to add. That's one thing. We wouldn't qualify.

GROSS: Why do you have that as a qualification, as a criteria?

Mr. CARTER: Why?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARTER: Well, because we think that the ability to run for office and be
seriously considered as a candidate should not depend on how much money you
can collect to pay for the right to give your campaign platform explanations
to the public.

GROSS: OK. Other reasons why we would not fulfil your criteria.

Mr. CARTER: The second reason is: We don't go into a country unless there
is a central election commission that is recognized generally as being
non-partisan or bipartisan, and that is a balanced position between or among
the different parties. We have nothing like that. As you know in Florida, in
the year 2000, the secretary of State there who was in charge of the Florida
election was an avowed and fervent and very obvious Republican activist.

GROSS: This is Katherine Harris.

Mr. CARTER: Katherine Harris, and she was later elected to Congress because
of the Republicans appreciated what she did for President Bush. And this
time, the new secretary of State, who replaced Katherine Harris, was not
elected, she was appointed to that very important partisan position by the
governor who happens to be President Bush's brother. So there's no semblance
of a balanced commission that would be objective among the different
candidates. I mean, they don't even deny the fact that they are fervent
Republican activists.

Another facet of requirements is that all the people in a country or certainly
a state should vote in exactly the same way, either punch cards or touch
screens or whatever. Whereas in Florida and many other states, it depends on
which preferences the county officials have. So you might have like in
Florida in 2000, multiple ways to vote. And quite often, the more affluent
districts or precincts are the most certain to have the votes counted
accurately because the rich people insist on it. Whereas the poor people
don't really have the political influence to insist that their votes be
handled properly. That's another very important facet.

And the third thing is that--a fourth thing I think now, is that if there is a
technological advanced way to vote, there must be some way for a physical
recount if it's very close. We just finished an election not too long ago in
a Third World country that had a touch-screen technique, the system was
developed in the United States, previously in Spain, but in addition to
casting their vote, after they punched the touch screen final button, out
comes a paper ballot showing you exactly how you voted. So you look at the
paper ballot and you make sure that that is the way I wanted my vote to be
cast and then you fold the ballot and put it in a box. So afterwards, if
there is a doubt about the technology or the touch-screen techniques, since
it's all secret and you can't see it and you can recount by using the paper
ballot.

With only less than two weeks left to go now in Florida, that is a matter of
major concern in the federal courts. Is there going to be a way in Florida to
have a recount with paper ballots or some other certifiable way if there is a
very close election as we had four years ago?

GROSS: And I know that's an issue in New Jersey, also. There's electronic
voting machines that don't have paper ballots and that can't be recounted that
way.

Mr. CARTER: Exactly. And it happens in most places. After the 2000
embarrassment or debacle, whatever you want to call it, there was a nationwide
blue-ribbon commission formed with about 40 to 50 people--I think 40. Twenty
were Democrats--prominent Democrats, 20 were Republicans. I was the--one
chairperson and Gerald Ford, former Republican president, was the other. And
we worked on that for months with the finest possible staff, highly qualified
people. And we made a whole series of recommendations about the very facets
of things that I just described to you, and very few of them have been
implemented.

GROSS: What do we do now with the electronic voting machines that don't have
any kind of way of recounting? We're just, you know, days away from the
election.

Mr. CARTER: I think now it's just too late. You can't change a whole
technology. But when we have gone into countries, as I say, we have insisted
whenever possible that there be a paper trail and the technology is completely
available. In fact, the same companies that prepare these machines with the
printed affirmation are the ones that we've used in other countries.

GROSS: What's your best guess about why we're not using the ones with the
paper trail?

Mr. CARTER: Part of it, I think, is the pride of America. You know, we don't
need other people to tell us how to run our elections. We are the greatest
democracy on Earth. We are above any outside criticism. That's part of it is
pride, and I would say sovereignty of our country or our state. Another one
is that there are people who are very deeply interested in maintaining the
outcome of the election under partial control. Our country favors incumbents
strongly.

If you look at the record of elections or re-elections in the US Congress,
overwhelmingly if you are an incumbent Congress member, you can get re-elected
because you have access to special interest groups who want to buy, legally,
your help in the Congress and they will give you enormous sums of money, and
the way you win an election in this country now is through television
advertising primarily. And you depend not on telling your own story, but
destroying the integrity and the reputation of your opponent with negative
advertising.

And that's a fairly new development. It existed not at all when I ran for
president against Gerald Ford and then later against Governor Reagan. We only
referred to each other as `my distinguished opponent.' And we would not have
dreamed of having a negative campaign commercial that would have insinuated
that our opponent was a liar or had had any defects in his character. It
would have been suicidal for us. But in the last 20 years or less, that has
become the prevalent way to win an election is negative advertising,
destroying the reputation of your opponent.

GROSS: Now let me ask you, though, some of the electronic voting machines
being used in the country are manufactured by the Diebold Company.

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: The head of that company is a very partisan, very pro-Republican.
Some people think that that means that those machines might be tampered with,
that there might be partisan interference. Other people see that as a really
silly conspiratorial point of view. From your point of view, is that
something we should be concerned about?

Mr. CARTER: I think it is. I would like to see there be a uniform standard
around this nation before the next presidential election, at least, that any
machine used of a touch-screen type had to have a paper trail so that you
could subsequently monitor or confirm the accuracy of the vote as just. And
in most touch-screen systems, including those of the Diebold Company, I
understand, there's no way to recount. You have to trust the manufacturer of
the machine and you have to trust the people who set the machine up, who
program it, and you have to trust the people who get the decipherment of the
vote out of the machine when the election's over.

GROSS: I realize here, you know, in other countries you are a non-partisan.
In our country, you would be perceived as a partisan because you're a
Democrat, you're a former Democratic president, you support the Democratic
candidates. I feel like we should acknowledge that in this conversation that
you are not as neutral within our country as you are when you go to other
countries.

Mr. CARTER: That's perfectly true. I don't deny that.

GROSS: Right. But you are trying to apply the same principles in your
analysis now that you use in other countries.

Mr. CARTER: Well, the principles that I try to apply were formed by me and
President Gerald Ford on an equal basis and with 40 other highly motivated and
very knowledge Republicans and Democrats, and the decisions and
recommendations were unanimous, I might say.

GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Carter. His novel, "The Hornet's Nest," set during
the Revolutionary War has just been published in paperback. We'll talk more
about fairness in US elections after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Pledge request)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: President Jimmy Carter is my guest and the occasion for his visit is
the (technical difficulties) of his Revolutionary War novel "The Hornet's
Nest." As you probably know, the Carter Center has monitored elections around
the world, over 50 of them, and he al--President Carter also co-chaired with
President Ford a commission on voting reform and this was created after the
2000 elections. So we're talking about the upcoming election now.

Let's go back to 2000. If you were asked in 2000 what to do after the
election was contested in Florida, what solution would you have offered?

Mr. CARTER: Well, the ones that Al Gore put forward--I was not involved in
it, but the ones that the Democrats put forward was, `Let's recount the votes
all over Florida.'

GROSS: Didn't they just ask for some--several counties?

Mr. CARTER: Eventually, they did, but what they wanted was all counties and
they finally settled under various kinds of pressure of time and that sort
of--just a few counties. But you asked me what I would have done. I think if
we had insisted that there be a recount throughout Florida, that would have
been good. At that time, you could recount the ballots because they were
punch cards and ostensibly they were still retained and not destroyed. This
time, there won't be any punch cards in most counties and there'll be some
kind of an electronic machine sitting there that people have touched the
screen on. There won't be any follow-up paper ballots. So I don't know
what's going to be done this year, but I think that's one of the things that
could have been done.

In retrospect, there would have been a possibility of conducting the whole
election over again in Florida. If the courts had ruled there is no way to
tell accurately what the result of the election were, then the state and
federal courts could have ruled, `We'll have another vote in Florida.' That's
another thing that could have been done.

GROSS: The Florida election and therefore the final tally in 2000 was settled
in the courts.

Mr. CARTER: That's exactly right.

GROSS: Do you think that the courts in our country are a fair and neutral
place to settle such decisions?

Mr. CARTER: It's the only place. You couldn't let the executives decide:
the governor, who's the brother of the president, or you couldn't let the
president decide in the White House, you couldn't let the Congress decide,
although that is a possibility. So I think in a case of a disputed election,
the legitimate place to go is to the highest court. And we do that sometimes
in foreign countries. We've just--I think I told you earlier, just finished
our 52nd election and the laws and constitutional provisions in those
countries almost invariably say that if the election commission cannot make a
legitimate decision on the outcome of a disputed election, then the ultimate
authority would be that national supreme court. I think that's the proper
way.

GROSS: Are you concerned that this year's election will end up in the courts
again?

Mr. CARTER: I don't predict it and I certainly hope it won't. But it's a
possibility, yes. There's some other states, as you know, that have already
massive filing of lawsuits. Ohio is one. Ohio is a case where the top
official has been a highly partisan Republican and he's put forward provisos
on legitimate registrations for voting. And at one time he said that the
paper on which the application was made had to be a certain weight, for
instance. Well, those issues have been detected in advance, which is very
good. This was not done in Florida before. And those cases have gone to
court. And so in that particular instance, which is kind of interesting, he
was required to back down.

GROSS: There's so much concern about whether the election will be fair and
whether the votes will be fairly counted and there are so many lawsuits in the
works now, do you think that elections have become more problematic than
they've ever been before? Do you think that's just a question of the fact
that the election was so close in 2000 that we're more sensitive to
inaccuracies that have actually always existed?

Mr. CARTER: I don't have any sound evidence on which to base my answer. But
my own opinion is that there have always been improprieties and distorted
results promulgated by powerful local and state election officials. And it
was only the Florida debacle that was going to result in the choice of a
president that became so highly visible for the first time. My guess is that
in the state of Georgia and in the state of Florida and maybe in the state of
Pennsylvania and obviously there have been allegations about Illinois--when
John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, there were claims that 120 votes were
transferred to Kennedy by Mayor Daley and others. So I think that in the
past, there have been those improprieties and a distortion of accuracy. I
think now it may be a healthy thing that because of the year 2000 in Florida,
that people are more aware of a threat and maybe there'll be some more
cleansing.

I still haven't given up on a hope that the recommendations of our Fair
Election Commission after the year 2000 will still be implemented by the
Congress, and I think there's a likelihood there, there might be more pressure
present if we have another problem in the year 2004.

GROSS: Jimmy Carter will talk more about elections in the second half of the
show. His Revolutionary War novel, "The Hornet's Nest," has just been
published in paperback.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with President Jimmy Carter
about how to make US elections more fair and accurate. The Carter Center
monitors elections around the world. Carter co-chaired the National
Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was established in response to
the 2000 election.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with President Jimmy Carter.
We're talking about the relative fairness and accuracy of the US election
process. Carter has monitored elections around the world through the Carter
Center. Along with President Ford, Carter co-chaired the National Commission
on Federal Election Reform, which was established in response to the 2000
election. The occasion for his visit to FRESH AIR is the paperback
publication of his Revolutionary War novel "The Hornet's Nest."

Now let me ask you about something that has also proved to be controversial.
Help me out here. I'm not sure whether this is state by state or whether it's
a national law that if you're a convicted felon, you can't vote.

Mr. CARTER: No, that's state by state.

GROSS: That's state by state. And Florida is one of the states that doesn't
allow convicted felons to vote, and that has run into a lot of controversy
because...

Mr. CARTER: Well...

GROSS: Go ahead.

Mr. CARTER: ...that's true. And what happened in Florida was that the
secretary of State got caught promulgating a list of so-called Florida felons
who were not eligible to vote. When this decision of hers was questioned and
investigated by, I think, news media, it was found that many of the people on
her list were, indeed, not felons, and they should not have been prohibited
from being on the voters list. And it so happened that there were several
tens of thousands of African-Americans on the list, more likely to vote
Democratic, I think, in general, and I think less than 70 Hispanic-Americans
who are more likely, in Florida at least, to vote for Republicans. So you've
got maybe 226,000 African-Americans and 68 Hispanics. That doesn't seem right
because if you look at the prison system, you don't have that kind of a
disparity. So when this was questioned, she and Governor Jeb Bush had to back
down because their attempt was found to be fallacious.

GROSS: Now the commission that you co-chaired with President Ford recommended
that felons be allowed to vote.

Mr. CARTER: That's correct.

GROSS: Convicted felons.

Mr. CARTER: Yeah. Well, once they serve their sentence.

GROSS: Exactly, right.

Mr. CARTER: Exactly.

GROSS: Why do you recommend that?

Mr. CARTER: I think that when you are convicted of something--and, of
course, most of the felonies in this country now are related directly or
indirectly to drugs. You had some marijuana, maybe a few ounces and you were
caught selling it to a friend who might be a college classmate. And if you're
black, at least, you'll probably go to prison and you're convicted of a
felony. And you serve maybe five years in prison. When you are released from
prison, having served your time, then I see no reason why that person for the
rest of their lives--and they're probably young--should be excluded from
evoking their citizenship rights.

So I think that the states who, as you know, are surprisingly autonomous,
surprisingly, to foreigners, the states have a lot of individual rights to
those kinds of decisions. I think there should be some uniformity to it. Now
if you're convicted of, say, a serious crime against another person, say,
murder, and you serve for 20 years and you finally are, you know, put on
parole, parolees during the rest of their first sentence term may be excluded
from voting. I wouldn't have any objection to that much, but, in general, if
you're convicted of a felony, say, robbery and you are breaking into a house,
and you serve out your full term and then you want to be a good citizen and
you want to live a fruitful life, I think you ought to have the right and
responsibility of voting.

GROSS: Is there a particular election-related dispute that you're keeping
your eyes on now, that you think has particular importance either for its
symbolic value or for its, you know, numerical vote value?

Mr. CARTER: I think Florida is the only one. And I'd like to hasten to say
I'm not predicting that there's going to be any improprieties in Florida, but
I do know from some experience there that a large number of lawsuits are
already in the federal and state courts expressing the concerns that have been
expressed by Florida citizens. So I think that's kind of a premonition at
least on people who live there, which I don't, that there might be some
problem.

GROSS: President Jimmy Carter is my guest, and the occasion for his visit is
the paperback publication of his first and only novel which is called "The
Hornet's Nest." And it's set during the Revolutionary War in the South.

Let me ask you about another upcoming election. The election in Iraq is...

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: ...scheduled for January. The insurgency is still going strong in
parts of Iraq, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said, `Well, the
election will proceed and it's possible it won't be held throughout Iraq.
There might be places that won't be able to vote.' But basically he said, `So
be it. You know, it'll be imperfect, but it will happen.' From your
experiences monitoring elections around the world, what would you think of an
election in which only part of the country, not all of the country, was
actually able to vote?

Mr. CARTER: I would think it had to be delayed until everybody could vote and
until you could have election workers go in every part of a country to conduct
the process and until every qualified candidate could campaign without fear of
losing his or her life and where you could have international monitors who
could go in and observe the process without fear of being attacked physically.
So I don't see any way in the world that there can be the proper preparations
for an election of that kind.

When we conduct an election overseas in a large constituency, for instance, in
Indonesia, a very complex place, or Venezuela, we have to be there with our
permanent staff I would say six or eight months in advance so we can make sure
that all the preparations are made carefully and fairly, so we can get
acquainted with the campaign issues and make sure that the campaign is open
and free and safe, and so we can get acquainted with all the rules and
regulations and complicated constitutional provisions. And then at the last
week, we send in a large entourage of observers, usually including me and my
wife Rosalynn and others from the Carter Center. And then we stay there, I
do, sometimes two or three days or longer afterwards to make sure that the
winners and losers accept the results graciously and without conflict.

I don't see that any of that can be done under present circumstances in Iraq
unless there's an immediate and almost inconceivable termination of the
violence.

GROSS: So you would not recommend proceeding with the election in January?

Mr. CARTER: No, I think they ought to still try, but unless the United
Nations is willing to accept the responsibility of going into Iraq with
adequate numbers of observers or monitors who can permeate that entire
country's political system and assure that the voters can vote without
intimidation, that all qualified people can run and that the rules and
regulations and the constitutional provisions and laws are fair and adequate.
We don't even know what they are. We don't know who's going to run or what
parties will be permitted to run or what kind of people can meet the criteria.

GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Carter. His Carter Center monitors elections around
the world. His latest book is a novel set during the Revolutionary War called
"The Hornet's Nest." It's just been published in paperback. We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: President Jimmy Carter is my guest, and the occasion for his visit is
the paperback publication of his novel "The Hornet's Nest" which is set in the
South during the Revolutionary War.

Now that the debates are over, I have a question for you. One of the most
kind of like famous lines from a presidential debate is, you know, Ronald
Reagan saying to you, `There you go again.' Did you think, when he said that,
there's a classic line that will be repeated every four years when they do
recaps of the debates? Did it register on you as being a significant
comeback?

Mr. CARTER: Well, you know, everybody has their own subjective analysis of
circumstances, and I felt and my own supporters felt after that debate that I
had won. And there was never a nationwide opinion poll that showed otherwise.
It was an uncertain kind of thing.

I wanted to have three debates, but Ronald Reagan's key political advisers
encouraged him to have only one and to have it at the last minute, as late as
possible. And that's the way we had to finally decide.

We found out later that one of Ronald Reagan's supporters inside the White
House had stolen my briefing book, my top-secret briefing book that prepared
me for the debate. And a very prominent news reporter was the one who took
the briefing book to Ronald Reagan and helped drill him on the things that I
might say if he said certain things.

GROSS: And what prominent reporter was that?

Mr. CARTER: It was George Will, and it was later known that he did that.

GROSS: When Ronald Reagan said, `There you go again,' did you think like,
`What an incredible comeback, this is going to be remembered for years'?

Mr. CARTER: No, it wasn't my attitude then to heap accolades, even privately,
on my adversaries, as I said. I was highly subjective then and am right now,
as you can probably tell from this interview. But I don't recall that that
made any particular importance, but it was the kind of thing that you find
later that the news media quote. So you never do know what's going to come
out of it, a debate like that.

My first experience with debates was when I was just a peanut farmer, having
held public office in Georgia. And I was debating the president of the United
States, Gerald Ford, and we had three separate debates, one on foreign policy
and one on domestic policy and then one in general. And everybody--most
people, I wouldn't say everyone--said Gerald Ford insisted that the Soviet
Union did not have domination over Eastern Europe. Well, I was not even
involved in that altercation. It was a news reporter asking him, and Ford
insisted that under his watch, the Russian Soviets wouldn't dare have
domination over Poland and Hungary and other countries. And when the reporter
tried to give Gerald Ford an opportunity to reverse himself, he insisted on
his position. And that became a memorable event, but those kinds of things
kind of carry over.

GROSS: Now correct me if I'm wrong, you're the first Evangelical president.
You spoke a bit about your faith at the time.

Mr. CARTER: Very little. The only time I really ever spoke about it--never
in a speech--but I was in a fund-raising event in the back yard of a couple in
North Carolina. And I had known them in Southern Baptist Convention affairs.
I was a very active leader. And in that episode, which was toward the end of
my campaign when the news reporters were paying some attention to me, a
question came up about our being born-again Christians. And this is common
rhetoric among Baptists then and now. And so when I made that comment in the
back yard, some of the news reporters began to insinuate that I saw visions at
night from heaven and that my campaign was being ordained from God and things
of that kind which I tried very seriously to stamp out. But never while I was
president did I make any overt reference to my preference for a religion.
And, of course, at that time, before the more conservative members of the
Evangelical faith adopted the Republican Party, there was no melding of the
church on the one hand and government or the state on the other. That's a
recent development, I'd say in the last 20 years almost exclusively, since
1979.

GROSS: What are some of the things you think about when you see the role that
religion is playing in this current presidential election?

Mr. CARTER: It violates a basic tenet under which I have built my life. My
father was a Sunday school teacher, a Bible teacher and I used to listen to
him. And back in those days, the Southern Baptist Convention, in fact,
Baptists, in general, had predicated their origin of faith, and certainly in
modern times, on not being dominated by government and not having anything to
do with government because then, as you know, in some countries, the Catholic
Church was profoundly important. And my novel "The Church of England(ph)" was
very dominant up and down the coastal areas of America.

And so the Baptists were founded in Rhode Island, as a matter of fact, and we
forewent--I guess that's a word, in connection with forego--any sort of
intermixing of religious faith and government. And that's the way I was
raised, and that's the way I acted when I was president.

But then came along in the late '70s two things that happened. One was the
origin of the so-called moral majority, and the other one was the takeover of
the Southern Baptist Convention by arch conservatives. And I say that without
stigma attached. And the moderate members of the Southern Baptist Convention
have been excluded. And so that right wing or conservative or fundamentalist
group of Evangelicals have formed an intimate alliance with the Republican
Party. And there is an overt effort made by individual pastors in the church
pulpits and that sort of thing to endorse the Republican candidates.

GROSS: If you were running for president today, do you think you would speak
about your religion any more or any differently than you did when you were
elected?

Mr. CARTER: Well, to be honest, I think I would be forced to do so. I'm
sure that I would get numerous questions from the news media about my own
religious faith. I hope that I would say what I just said to you in the last
few minutes, but I don't think it would be possible now for any candidate to
avoid the aspects of one's religious faith. The only previous time that ever
arose before I ran for president was when John Kennedy ran, and he was accused
of being subservient to the pope or to the Vatican in Rome. And he made it
clear that his premises were the same as the ones I just described to you as
my own, that there should be complete separation of the church and state, that
church leaders should not try to ordain the way voters cast their ballot or
interfere in the affairs of government or that the government should not
insinuate in any way a preference of one religious faith to the disparity or
detriment of another.

GROSS: You spoke of the Democratic Convention. Your fellow Democrat from
Georgia, Zell Miller, spoke at the Republican Convention on behalf of the
Republicans even though he's a Democrat. In a letter to Zell Miller that I
think you might have intended as a personal letter but was, nevertheless,
published in the press, you described his speech as `rabid and mean-spirited'
and you said that `he used every effective Republican campaign technique for
destroying the character of opponents by wild and false allegations.' And you
describe him in this letter as being a long-term friend of yours. Do you
think that he has changed personally as well as politically?

Mr. CARTER: I think so. I consider that letter to be very constructive, and
although I don't think Zell Miller agreed.

Zell Miller and I went to the state Senate in 1962. It was a new Senate. And
he and I were friends and still are, I hope, personal friends. When I
campaigned for president, he and his wife went to New Hampshire and campaigned
for me. And I've known him--later he ran for Congress three times in the
northeast part of Georgia unsuccessfully. And then Lester Maddox, the
segregationist governor of Georgia, kind of adopted Zell Miller and brought
him into state government. And it was out of that that Zell eventually ran
for governor with my support, by the way, because I liked Zell.

In his first term as governor, I would say he was very moderate, the person
that I had always known. At the end of his first term, he tried to change the
Georgia flag, to do away with the confederate emblem. And it was sadly
defeated, and he almost lost re-election. And after that, it seems to
me--this is my own personal opinion from now on--I think he shifted pretty
hard right wing. When California passed a law that said three strikes and
you're out, Zell Miller had a law passed, two strikes and you're out. And he
eliminated things like exercise equipment for prisoners and so--I don't want
to go down the whole gamut of things, but there was no doubt that Zell
shifted to an extremely conservative position in his second term as our
governor.

And then we had a very delightful and moderate and progressive and good
governor named Roy Barnes who, when there was a vacancy in the Senate,
appointed Zell Miller to fill that vacancy. And to Roy Barnes' amazement,
Zell Miller went and instead of acting like a Democrat, from the very first
few weeks he was in the Senate, he adopted all the policies of the Republicans
in a very vociferous way. And so when you say, `Has he changed?' all of us
change. And I guess I've changed as well, but compared to the Zell Miller I
knew in my early experience with him, up through his first term as governor,
yes, he's had a dramatic change.

GROSS: President Carter, before you go, I'm wondering how Rosalynn Carter is
doing?

Mr. CARTER: Rosalynn is getting on just great. Rosalynn has three major
commitments in her life and has for the last 30 years. One is mental health.
Rosalynn is the world leader in promoting the concept of mental health and
removing the stigma from those who suffer from any kind of mental illness.
That's one thing.

The second thing that Rosalynn does is to work on caregiving. There's a
Rosalynn Carter Institute at a university near us, and they promote the
concept of caregiving. About one out of every five families in America have
someone within the family that another member of the family has to take care
of, either a retarded child or a spouse or mother with Alzheimer's or
something of that kind. So Rosalynn promotes the concept of caregiving.

And Betty Bumpers, the wife of the former senator from Arkansas, are in charge
of immunizing children. So those are her three commitments, and she devotes
her full time to those, along with her work at the Carter Center.

GROSS: President Carter, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CARTER: I've enjoyed being with you this time. Again, it's particularly
nice to be with you in person.

GROSS: Thank you. Oh, it's great to be with you in person. Thank you.

Jimmy Carter's Carter Center monitors elections around the world. President
Carter's latest book is the Revolutionary War novel "The Hornet's Nest." It's
just been published in paperback. This is FRESH AIR.

In these days leading up to the election, you're probably tuning in frequently
to NPR News shows to find out the latest on the campaigns and in the ongoing
controversies over Election Day and how the votes will be counted. This
fund-raiser is your chance to vote for the future of your public radio station
by calling with a pledge of support. Thank you so much.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: BBC's comedy series "The Office Special"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Three years ago the BBC comedy series "The Office" presented a mock
documentary look at the fictional employees of a paper sales company in a
dreary industrial town in England. There were only a dozen episodes made, but
the creators and stars have reunited for one last special, a finale that will
be shown tonight on BBC America. TV critic David Bianculli has a review.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

When "The Office" was televised in England on BBC Two, it became a major
hit. When it was imported to BBC America and shown here, it registered only
as a minor blip. But to its fans, it was a cult show of major proportions.

The co-creators of "The Office," Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, closed up
shop after 12 episodes. Then, as a combination reunion and finale, they came
up with an idea for one final program shown last year in England as "The
Office Christmas Special." Minus the holiday mention in the title, that's the
program finally shown in the US tonight on BBC America.

The premise of the special really is brilliant because it found a natural way
to reunite all the characters. In the original series, the central figure was
middle manager David Brent, played by Gervais. He's the one who allowed the
documentary cameras into his workplace, fully expecting the reality TV
exposure to make him a star. Instead, as we learn as this follow-up special
opens two years later, the reality for David Brent was a lot more harsh.

(Soundbite from "The Office Special")

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS (As David Brent): I filmed hours of material, and most of
it is a good bloak doing a good job at work. And the one time I accidentally
head-butt an interviewee makes it to the program. You're gonna look a prat.
You head-butt a girl on telly and you're labeled a prat, and that's the game.
And the BBC must have taken over eight hours of footage a day. And they got
it back and most of it was like, you know, `Oh, look, he's a good guy, he's
getting on, he's their friend as well as their boss. He's a motivator, an
entertainer, lots of good stuff. Oh, he's made one mistake, like any human
would. Should we just cut that out? No. What? Put that bit in, cut the
other stuff out. We want a scapegoat, we want a dumb-down, we want to give
them the biggest plunker of the year,' you know. I'm not a plunker.

BIANCULLI: You don't have to know what a plunker is--at least, I don't--to
laugh at that line. David Brent didn't cash in on his 15 minutes of fame.
Instead, he cashed out and spent all his money on a vanity rock video, a
horrendous remake of a very ironic selection, "If You Don't Know Me By Now."

So now, in "The Office Special," the purpose of this fake documentary is to
catch up with David Brent and the rest of the gang from "The Office." In the
12-part series, the other key players were Martin Freeman as Tim, a sort of
bored but bright every man. Most of his time was spent either torturing
office lackey Gareth, played by Mackenzie Crook, or pining for office
receptionist Dawn, played by Lucy Davis. When the series ended, Dawn rejected
Tim and moved with another co-worker to Florida, and David Brent was fired.

"The Office Special" gets them all back simply by paying them to reunite at
the company Christmas party. David returns to an office full of people who
don't know how to relate to him, including Garith, who's now occupying David's
old office and job. And Dawn flies in from Florida, making Tim uncomfortable
and lovesick all over again. There's a lot of liquor and a secret Santa gift
exchange and a lot, lot more.

These characters are so real and so well acted that they'll tug at your heart
strings almost as much as they'll tap at your funny bones. "The Office
Special" is the perfect ending to a perfect comedy series. And it's worth
noting, if you watch tonight for the first time and love it, that the entire
run of "The Office," all 12 episodes plus tonight's special, will be available
in a DVD box set next month on BBC Home Video. For the right person, it would
make the ultimate secret Santa gift.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.

(Soundbite from "The Office Special")

Mr. GERVAIS (As David Brent): (Singing) Hi, how are you? Come on in. I've
poured you a glass or your favorite wine, Cabernet Sauvignon. I really know
you, but I've been lying awake at night wondering if you really know me
because if you don't know me by now...

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from "The Office Special")

Mr. GERVAIS (As David Brent): (Singing) Well, all the things that we've
been through, you should understand me like I understand you. Now, girl, I
know the difference between right and wrong. I ain't gonna do nothing to
break up our happy home. Don't get so excited if I get home a little late at
night...

GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

For almost 80 years, many Americans have pretended to read The New Yorker
while really only looking at the cartoons. On the next FRESH AIR, we hear
from the magazine's cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, and artist Bruce Eric
Kaplan who signs his cartoons BEK. A new 80th anniversary collection of New
Yorker cartoons has just been published. I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the
next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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