American politics are becoming an embarrassment, Jimmy Carter says

Published: Thursday, Oct. 28 2010 2:00 p.m. MDT

Joe DeLuca and Al Hartmann, media members, wait for a press opportunity with Former President Jimmy Carter. President Carter signed autographs for his new book today at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The American political atmosphere is becoming an embarrassment, former President Jimmy Carter told reporters at the King's English Bookshop on Thursday.

"Americans don't realize how dramatically our political atmosphere has gone downhill," Carter said.

Candidates are now getting massive amounts of money that is being used in negative campaigns. "The best way to get elected or re-elected now is to tear down the reputation or character of your opponent," he said. "That builds up a distrust because they are constantly attacking on television, and by the time the successful candidate gets to Washington, they have that deep feeling of animosity and division that carries into the deliberations of the Congress."

Carter was in Salt Lake City to sign copies of his latest book, "White House Diary," which is a condensed version of his 5,000-page diary — daily notes and dictations transcribed by one of his secretaries — written during his presidency.

The King's English has been preparing for Carter's visit since March, pre-selling books and planning how to best move hundreds of people through a small store in a short amount of time, said Anne Holman, who coordinates events for the shop. The store sold between 900 and 1,000 copies of the "White House Diary" for Thursday's signing.

More than 800 people waited in line for hours to greet the former president and get his autograph. Carter briefly stopped signing to answer a few questions from the media.

Interparty relations was one of the major topics Carter addressed.

During his time as president, Carter says he had superb support from the Republican Party. "I had the best batting average with the Congress than any president except Lyndon Johnson since the second World War," Carter said, "and it was because I got support from Republicans."

That's not the case now. "Republicans have been completely irresponsible in the last 20 months," Carter said.

The GOP's refusal to give President Barack Obama any support, even on items that Republicans backed in the past, is ridiculous, Carter said. "I'm not criticizing individuals, but I think they have been irresponsible."

Carter believes that once the midterm elections are over and the Republicans take over the House, members of the GOP will have to be more responsible because they won't be able to avoid saying they had some part to say in the decision.

That will give Obama more freedom, too, Carter said. "When he gets voted down in the House, he can take the issue straight to the American people and say, 'Look, this is what I proposed and the GOP refused to go along with it.' I think he'll have a good debating issue, which he hasn't had in the past 20 months."

Despite his brief time with the media, it was clear that Carter's visit was more about the people waiting to see him rather than a press conference. His interactions with fans, though brief, were warm and heartfelt.

The line to see Carter wasn't supposed to start forming until 10:30 a.m., but that didn't stop people from arriving at the King's English as early as 8:30.

Danesh Ajioka and his mother, Nousheen, were among the first to make an appearance. Carter was the president when Nousheen immigrated to the United States, and she has a lot of respect for him. It was for that reason she felt it was OK for Danesh to miss school.

Danesh is a seventh-grader at the McGillis School in Salt Lake City. Recently the students at his school held a bake sale benefitting Habitat for Humanity, a charity Carter has supported. The students raised more than $1,000, and Danesh was excited to meet the man known for his work with the organization.

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