In the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Atlanta on June 14, former US presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter sat together on stage. Carter outlined his post-presidency activities, most notably the creation of the Carter Center and the many aid and research projects he’s conducted with it since, and Clinton praised the 91-year-old Carter for his lifetime commitment to public service.
And then Clinton asked him this: ”If you were leaving the White House tomorrow, and you had to design a service life [for yourself], what would you do, how would you think about it?”
Perhaps Clinton was curious how the 39th president might have structured his years after the presidency if he could go back in time and do it again. Or maybe he was prodding Carter for advice for Barack Obama, who is about to leave the White House himself. (To make your own inferences in context, you can watch the whole conversation here.)
Whatever the case, Carter instead chose to frame his response in the form of what he said were ”suggestions” for the next person to occupy the Oval Office. And from the sound of it, the suggestions are meant to be taken up while the person is still president.
“I think we need some innovation that would involve not only the people who’ve been caught by the police and accused of a crime, but also the general public,” Carter said, noting that when he was governor of Georgia, “we had a program of volunteer probation officers. … [T]hat’s an innovative thing we might try again.” He described recruiting prominent business leaders for the effort, as well as leaning on them to guarantee jobs for parolees and people on probation.
Clinton said it was a good idea, because there aren’t enough probation officers.
Carter continued: “That’s the kind of thing that we need to try more of, and I think that the governors, or the president himself, or herself”—referring, of course, to Hillary Clinton, and prompting cheers from the audience—”can very well inspire the people to do it.”
Carter said another problem he’s concerned about is the voter participation rate. “If I had my preference, I would let everybody be automatically registered to vote when they’re 18 years old,” he said.
“Another idea that I tried, and it worked really well in Georgia, was we passed a law deputizing every high school principal to be a voting registrar. And every May, as governor, I called on the high schools to have a contest about who could register the most upcoming 18-year-olds.” Carter said he proposed doing the same thing on a national level when he became president, but faced opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. “That’s something that a president can speak to the people about and maybe get something like that done.”
“I think the two dramatic changes that have taken place since you and I both ran for president,” Carter told Clinton, are “a stupid decision by the Supreme Court on Citizens United and the … increasing gerrymandering of congressional districts. I think an enlightened Supreme Court could reverse both of those things. One of the things that would be very easy, maybe even for a conservative Supreme Court to do, would be for each state to have a blue ribbon commission to outline congressional districts.”
He told Clinton, “[I]f you get those three things done, then we’d have, maybe, a democratic system in America as good as it was when you and I were president.”