On Today: Jimmy Carter Defends Record, Hopes Tea Party Fades in 2012

NBC's Matt Lauer invited on Jimmy Carter, on Monday's Today, to defend his record and comment on the Tea Party movement as the former President claimed if "all my reforms" had "taken effect" the United States wouldn't be having any energy problems right now and hoped that by 2012 any influence of the Tea Party would be "dissipated." On to promote his new book, White House Diary, Carter also praised the passage of Obamacare but claimed its opponents had "cast it in a very negative light, which it does not deserve." For the most part, Lauer tossed softballs at Carter and since he'll be interviewing another former president, George W. Bush, when his memoir comes out in November, it'll be interesting to see if the Today co-anchor handles that interview in a similar friendly fashion.

The following excerpt of Lauer's interview with Carter is from the September 20 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Reading some of the entries from your diary that you made during your years in the White House what strikes me is, is that as much things, as things stay the change, the more they stay the same. You talk about the political climate in this country when you were president. It's similar to what we're facing now. You talk, you had to deal with the economy and jobs and health and energy. Fast forward, President Obama dealing with the very same things, have we just not learned any lessons? Have, have we not changed enough in that, in these years?

JIMMY CARTER: Well I enumerated about 40 things that I had to deal with that were troubling, in some way, that Obama is now facing in the White House. And some of them are different but similar. For instance, my biggest problem was Iran holding our hostages.

[On screen headline: "President Jimmy Carter One-On-One, What Can Obama Learn From Carter?"]

LAUER: Right.

CARTER: Now Iran is planning a nuclear weapon perhaps. And the energy crisis. We pretty well made a lot of progress here. I was able to cut down oil imports from 8.5 million barrels a day, cut it by 50 percent, but now it's gone back up to about 11 million or 12 million barrels a day. And I think they're dealing with the Middle East peace process, I was able to bring peace between Israel and Egypt. But now we're trying again to bring some peace between Israel...

LAUER: Yeah same subjects, all these years later.

CARTER: Same subjects, yeah.

LAUER: One of the, the things you write about is there was this dissatisfaction or a feeling, in this country, people had for their government, there was frustration.

CARTER: Yes.

LAUER: And, and it seems as if one the ways that, that frustration has shown itself now is in the creation of the Tea Party movement. I don't know whether to call it a movement or a political party. What do you see it as? Is it a viable party that can last into the future, or is it a passing mood that will end when the economy gets better?

CARTER: I think it's gonna be a transient thing. But I believe it's going to be very effective and important during the upcoming election. I capitalized on the dissatisfaction with the government when I was elected. You have to remember that I came in right after Watergate, right after Vietnam, right after the assassination of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and so I rode a wave of dissatisfaction with the incumbent government, in order to get into the White House. I think the Tea Party is taking advantage of that now. But I think that their influence is gonna be merged with the Republican Party and then eventually, I say within, I would hope by 2012 their big influence is gonna be dissipated.

LAUER: One of the things President Obama, I would say, would put on his, his greatest accomplishments list, of the early stage of his presidency is health care reform.

CARTER: Yeah.

LAUER: It's something that he fought hard for and he went around the country singing its praises. Now here we are six weeks before a midterm election and Democrats are running in races all across the country and very, very few are talking about that accomplishment of health care reform. Why?

CARTER: Well, I think the Republicans have been successful in projecting it in a very negative way. But the main thing I see in the health reform is that it brings health care insurance to about 30 million people who didn't have it before. And I tried the same thing when I was in office in June of 1979, we had comprehensive health care for about 16 million people who had been uninsured, to cover all catastrophic health needs. And then we also had a proposal there that was designed to be increased so that the full gamut of health care could go into effect in four years. We didn't succeed with that.

LAUER: Right.

CARTER: But, but I think that's something, that we need to expand in the future is total, total insurance for everybody in our country.

LAUER: Universal health care

CARTER: Universal health care and, but it's going to be phased in very slowly now. But the way it was such a long, tedious, drawn out confrontation has been utilized by the opponents of it, to cast it in a very negative light, which it does not deserve.

LAUER: A final question, you have said that this book may be your last chance to talk about your years in the White House and put them in context, at least in your own words. For someone who was born after the Jimmy Carter presidency, whose only experience of your presidency might be what he or she reads in this book, do you think they'll come away thinking your, your time in the White House was a success or a failure?

CARTER: I think success. We were able to preserve the peace, we never went to war. We brought peace to other people. We normalized relations with China, which may have been a seminal change in the international political world. We negotiated a peace agreement between Israel and it's foremost challenger, the Egyptians. We emphasized human rights. We, we did a lot of things that were very important, but very controversial. I would say the most controversial one was dealing Panama Canal crisis. And now under, you might say free enterprise, under the Panamanians, they've changed the socialistic managing of the Panama Canal, by the United States, into a, like a five times greater service for the Panama Canal, than when they changed it. So a lot of those things were very controversial. The most important issue that we had to face when I was in, in the White House, domestically, was the energy crisis.

LAUER: Right.

CARTER: And it's now come back to haunt us in a much more severe way. Had all my reforms taken effect, we wouldn't be having this problem now.

LAUER: We can learn, there's a history lesson in the pages of this book. President Carter, it's nice to have you here as always.

CARTER: Thank you, any time.

LAUER: Appreciate it. The new book is called White House Diary.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.