What would Jimmy Carter do if he became president of the United States again?
Pretty much the opposite of what the current Oval Office occupant is doing.
“If I were foolish enough to feel I could be president again, I think the first thing I would do would be to change all of the policies that President Trump has initiated,” Carter, 93, said Wednesday night at Emory University. “I pray for him fairly regularly. If he answered my prayers, he’d have to change a lot of things.”
Carter’s comments, which came midway through his 37th annual Town Hall for first-year Emory students, sparked a standing ovation among about half the youthful crowd packed onto the bleachers in the Woodruff P.E. Center. Nor was it his only popular response during a nearly hourlong Q&A with some 1700 students who were young enough to be his grandchildren.
What do you consider the greatest threat facing our generation, asked one member of the class of 2022?
“I would say global warming,” Carter responded, summoning the image of Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Southeast and dominating news coverage. “I don’t have any doubt that the hurricane now on its way to the Carolinas and North Georgia is exaggerated in its power and devastating capabilities because the oceans are getting much warmer.”
Are you a feminist, another freshman wanted to know?
“All of my life, I have been dominated by women. And it’s been a voluntary thing on my part,” Carter smiled, explaining that his mother had been a registered nurse and that his wife, Rosalynn, has been his equal, valued partner throughout their 72 -year marriage. “When I got to be governor and president, I was pretty well trained on how to treat women with equality. (And) when I left office, I had appointed more women federal judges than all of my predecessors in history combined.”
So yes, Carter told the lustily cheering audience, “I am a feminist. And very proud of it.”
The annual town hall has become a cherished fall ritual at Emory, where Carter has been University Distinguished Professor since leaving the White House in January 1981. It’s a title he greatly cherishes, the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner made clear to the students. Albeit with one nagging complaint:
"Even though I have been here for 37 years and written 32 books, I'm still not a tenured professor," Carter quipped.
The town hall wasn’t open to the public and the questions -- which were submitted ahead of time, including on Twitter (the event even had its own hashtag, #AskCTH) -- were chosen at random to be politely hurled Carter’s way.
It all had a rather freewheeling, "Ask Me Anything" feel -- even without the presence this year of Rosalynn Carter, who had other commitments, or of Dooley, the top-hat-wearing skeletal creature who serves as Emory's de facto mascot.
"This is the first time in 37 years my wife hasn't been here and the first time in 37 years that Dooley hasn't been here," Carter said in his opening remarks, pausing for a beat and breaking into a big grin. "And I miss my wife!"
Still, he didn’t duck any of the questions. And that included a particularly dicey one that might have tripped up a less skilled peanut farmer-turned-politician.
What’s your peanut butter preference, Mr. President?
“For sandwiches I prefer creamy peanut butter,” Carter said as about half the crowd whooped and applauded. Then, playing to the other half of the room: “And for munching during the day, (like) on a cracker, I prefer crunchy.”