Former President Jimmy Carter greets Issaquah fans

November 2, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Former President Jimmy Carter takes a break from signing copies of 'White House Diary' at the Issaquah Costco Oct. 27. By Greg Farrar

Costco event attracts almost 1,000 people

In Issaquah, more than 30 years after President Jimmy Carter delivered the so-called malaise speech, the former president finally uttered the word.

Carter — during a break from a packed Oct. 27 book signing at the local Costco — said a lack of national confidence set the stage for a Washington outsider to run for president in 1976.

“There was a lot of dissatisfaction back in those days with the government and with incumbents in office,” he said. “I really capitalized on that, there’s no doubt about that. Because we had had the Watergate scandal, we had had the Vietnam disgrace, we had had the Kennedy brothers assassinated and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, so there was just a general malaise about what was going on in Washington.”

The scene at Costco carried flickers of the enthusiasm Carter inspired among the electorate a generation ago.

The former president, 86, attracted almost 1,000 people to the Issaquah stop on a tour to promote “White House Diary” — a frank account of the single term he spent in the White House from 1977-81.

Carter — encircled by a retinue of aides, Secret Service agents and Costco employees — strolled through the cavernous store just before noon to a table cordoned behind velvet ropes near jewelry cases and cookware displays.

Then, the former president started autographing books — crisply and precisely, allotting mere seconds per book — 13 minutes ahead of schedule. Nearby, amid displays of CDs and khakis, admirers held aloft mobile phones and digital cameras to snap photos of the former peanut farmer.

Customers lined up hours before former President Jimmy Carter (far left) appeared at the Issaquah Costco Oct. 27 to sign copies of 'White House Diary' — a candid account of his years as president. By Greg Farrar

Issaquah resident Pamela Dent purchased a half-dozen copies of “White House Diary” for the former president to sign. Cradling the stack of books, she stood nearby as Carter flashed a famous grin to other fans. Dent plans to give the signed books as Christmas gifts.

“I know everybody that I’m giving one to is going to be really happy to have it,” she said.

Theresa Randolph, another Issaquah resident, brought a ninth-grade report about the 1976 presidential election for Carter to autograph — only for aides to squash the idea. Undiscouraged, she had a copy of “White House Diary” inscribed instead.

“Just being an average citizen of the United States, the chance to meet a current or former president is one in a million,” she said.

Parallels between Carter and Obama eras

“White House Diary” chronicles the public triumphs and behind-the-scenes squabbles of a bygone era, but Carter said many of the issues remain the same 30 years later.

“In many ways, the issues that I describe in this book, about 30 or 40 of them, are still on President Obama’s desk to be addressed,” he said. “You know, health care and the environment and budget balancing and dealing with energy.”

Despite messages of change modulated to appeal to the electorate in the same way, Carter does not see many parallels between his long-shot bid for the presidency in 1976 and the Tea Party movement in 2010.

Former President Jimmy Carter autographed books for about 90 minutes Oct. 27. By Greg Farrar

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the Tea Party movement this time — without, maybe, their knowledge — has been financed by very rich oligarchs who own oil companies and just want to avoid having any sort of regulation, and also want to avoid having any sort of environmental quality imposed on them,” he said.

Carter also offered a gentle rebuke to the agenda set by Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress.

“I think we concentrated almost exclusively the first two years on just one or two things — health care, for instance, and the stimulus package, both of which were notable goals,” he said. “But I think they kind of took away from concentration on jobs and employment and the suffering of ordinary people economically, but I think that’s going to change in the next couple of years.”

The former president said Obama should receive more credit for landmark efforts to stimulate the anemic economy and reform healthcare, especially in a hyper-partisan political environment.

“I think he’s had good success already, compared to what he faced from the Republicans,” he said. “If I had only got one or two votes from the Republican Party on my major issues when I was in office, I would have had a very difficult time.”

Though the public might remember the Carter era more for crises — oil embargoes, a hostage crisis in Iran and a feeble economy — Walter Williams, a University of Washington emeritus political science professor, said the period seems quiet compared to the turbulent decades since.

“It turned out to be a much calmer presidency than we felt at the time,” he said. “He really didn’t do anything all that bad or all that good.”

Welcome to Issaquah, Mr. President

President Obama jetted to Seattle in August and October. Bellevue hosted President George W. Bush in 2007. Even Newcastle greeted President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880.

Issaquah, too, has welcomed presidents — ex-presidents, to be specific — including former President Jimmy Carter last week. The trip marked the second Issaquah jaunt for Carter. The former president landed at Costco in 1996 to sign copies of “Living Faith” and again on Oct. 27 to autograph “White House Diary.”

Former President Bill Clinton attracted a raucous crowd to Costco in June 2004, as he inscribed copies of autobiography “My Life.” The signing attracted more than 1,500 fans, some of them from as far away as Oregon. Diehard Clinton admirers lined up outside the store more than 12 hours before the event.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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