Former President Jimmy Carter addressed more than 200 students and community members at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Tuesday night about the situation in the Middle East, his own and other presidencies and his hopes for the country’s future.
“I would like for the young people of the coming generation to strive for transcendence in political affairs, for superb accomplishments not just in your own profession, but in America,” Carter said.
The Harry Middleton Lectureship, a program sponsored by the LBJ Foundation, hosted “A Conversation with Former President Jimmy Carter.” Middleton directed the LBJ Library and Museum for 30 years and served as a staff assistant to President Johnson in the White House.
Middleton, who attended the event, said he believed Lady Bird Johnson would have been proud.
“Carter brings a vantage point that not very many people have,” Middleton said. “He occupied the most important position in the world for four years.”
Mark Updegrove, presidential historian and director of the LBJ Library, asked the former president his opinion of current events in the Middle East, an area Updegrove said no other president was associated with more than Carter. Carter negotiated the Camp David Accords, a 1978 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Carter said the current efforts between the United States to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors are at a stalemate. He added that Obama did quite well in handling the Egyptian situation.
“About the same way I would have handled it if I had been in office,” Carter said. “I would probably have been loyal to Mubarak in the beginning.”
He said the Carter Center, his humanitarian organization, planned to send a delegation to Egypt within a week to help organize a constitution and set up the democratic elections in September.
In his lecture, Carter also discussed his years in the White House and joked about his life as a peanut farmer, his unexpected presidential victory and his $1 million personal debt when he left office.
“My proudest accomplishment was that I never dropped a bomb, fired a bullet or shot a missile while I was president,” Carter said.
Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said Carter’s visit has been in the works for more than a year. He added that endowments left by Lady Bird Johnson and the LBJ Foundation would allow the series to always run free of charge.
“It’s really important to have people of his magnitude come to Austin on campus and be available for this kind of intimate conversation,” Hutchings said. “It made me feel he was sitting in my living room.”
Julia Burch, a public affairs graduate student, said she thought Carter’s work after his presidency has kept him on the forefront and kept him in a leadership role most presidents do not undertake once they retire.
“I hope future presidents have the energy to follow President Carter’s lead,” Burch said. “I’m here today to learn from his wisdom and hear what he has to say and hope to apply a little bit of that in my own life.”
Carter ended his lecture encouraging young people to strive for excellence and said he hoped that America would become a “real superpower” — a nation that would emulate the highest ability of a human being.