An evening with President Jimmy Carter

Last night, Sally and I were guests at a televised interview with Jimmy Carter.

Formerly the most powerful person in the world

An Evening with Present Carter

This took place at the Royal Festival Hall, video’d by the BBC World Service, and hosted by Jon Snow of Channel 4.

So many people sought tickets that the RFH’s ballroom was used as a video overflow.

I was always a bit ambivalent about President Carter whilst he was in office. I’ve never been wholly convinced that world leaders who do not have a ruthless streak make suitable candidates for high office. But Carter clearly is a both a moral and a tough character.

Toughness was not required last night, though. He was in the company of friends. The President was in the UK to launch The Carter Center, a charitable foundation which has, amongst many other things, almost eradicated guinea worm in Africa. The videos required strong stomachs.

What was surprising was Carter’s openness, intelligence, toughness, energy and decency. He’s a mix of Bishop Tutu and Abraham Lincoln. The President grew up in a small village in Georgia. His future wife, three years his junior, was born in the house next door.

“Were you there at Rosalynn’s birth?” asked Jon Snow.

Carter roared with laughter, but then got serious.

The Republicans have no chance of getting elected in the next Presidential elections. George W Bush was a disaster, supported by Tony Blair (huge applause), government and religion should be kept separate even though he had been both President and an evangelical lay preacher, his biggest ambition now is to eradicate guinea worm, the Palestinians want to do a deal, and so did Ariel Sharon too, but there is no stomach for a deal in the present administration. Relations between Carter and Bill Clinton were difficult because Clinton wanted to be seen his own man, but Carter got on well with George Bush Snr who was a much better President than was apparent at the time. The sooner we get out of Afghanistan the better. And, if the US administration is willing to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, the regime would stop work on nuclear weapons, and Cuba will come in out of the cold. China is revaluing the yuan but could go faster,  which America would like because the USA owes China a stonkingly large sum, and so on.

There was plenty more. The session lasted slightly over 90 minutes, and was worth every second.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs was saying goodbye to life as a result of pancreatic cancer.

I have transcripts of several of his speeches, but didn’t know of his death until much later last night. Sally and I said a grateful goodbye to our hosts, Alan and Alex Bishop, and walked in the dark along Hungerford Foot Bridge over the river Thames towards Charing Cross, London gently glowing all around in drizzle, humming Waterloo Sunset and holding hands. The Carters have been married for 65 years. We have been married for a mere 35 years.

Here’s an extract from a talk Jobs gave to, I think, MBA students at Stanford in 2005:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

The world’s graveyards are full of men and women who were thought to be indispensible, but turned out to be entirely dispensible.

Generally, this is true, but I think we’re going to miss these too rather more, once both are dead, as we do most others.