Innovation is built into the American way of life, says former President Jimmy Carter. “Quite often, the people who do leave their own nation and come to an unknown destination, like the United States, are inherently adventurous, so we’ve had that adventurous spirit that has embedded itself collectively in the American consciousness.”
But in his Big Think Interview, President Carter warns that the United States’ primacy is fading. America became a consumer nation in the 1970s and “increasingly, that has been a blight on our economic system,” he says. Jobs are going overseas, and not just low value-added manufacturing jobs; China is taking the lead in alternative energies and electronics. This is indicative of China’s growing stature in the world, but their gain doesn’t have to mean America’s loss. China does have a significant economic advantage over the U.S. though: it is a more peaceful nation. “They are very careful to avoid any engagement in war…which gives them another advantage over the United States, when we are much more inclined to go to war for various reasons,” he says.
Looking back at his four years in office, Carter also assess the strengths and weaknesses of his presidency. Aside from the Iran hostage crisis, which was largely out of his control, his biggest failure, he says, was the failure to keep the Democratic Party united, costing him the election. “It was divided in my reelection campaign between me and the people who were loyal to Ted Kennedy, and that cost me a lot of votes.” And with many beginning to compare Obama’s presidency to Carter’s, the former president offers the current president some advice: “Just stick to his guns, be firm and let the American people know what he wants without equivocation and without doubt.”
The former president also believes that the American people are ready for a gay president—maybe not in this coming election, but in the very near future. Americans have made tremendous strides in accepting homosexuality, he says. “Step-by-step, we have realized that this issue of homosexuality has the same adverse and progressive elements as when we dealt with the race issue 50 years ago – or 40 years ago.” And with the country acclimated to having a black or female president, it’s only a matter of time before it is ready for a gay one, he believes.
Finally, Carter gives us a lesson in how to be a good husband. He and his wife Rosalynn have been happily married for 64 years. One of the secrets, he says, is that they resolved long ago never to go to sleep at night estranged. “If we do have some arguments during the day, we have almost a commitment before God that we will resolve that argument before we go to sleep.”