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Stephen Colbert settles for ex-presidential wisdom when he can't lure Jimmy Carter back to politics

Jimmy Carter, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

On Friday’s Late Show, host Stephen Colbert welcomed 93-year-old former President Jimmy Carter for a friendly chat—with an ulterior motive. First, Colbert, introducing the former POTUS as a Nobel Prize winner, nuclear engineer, and peanut farmer, was content to praise Carter’s post-presidency career as tireless philanthropist, best-selling inspirational author, and seemingly unimpeachable nice guy. Noting that he was planning to meet with fellow ex-Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton tomorrow, the ever-gracious Carter rolled with Colbert’s joke about Donald Trump raising all the exes’ variously embattled legacies up a few notches, before displaying some more of that graciousness in response to Colbert’s question about whether the famously devout Carter prays for Trump. Taking a beat, Carter gave the sort of skillful half-answer you only master after spending 75 years or so in the political arena. Telling Colbert that he, indeed prays, if more for Trump not to nuke the world, trample human rights, and basically get his racist, toddler-impulsive shit together (paraphrasing), Carter told Colbert an anecdote about his pastor’s advice on prayer. Explaining that God has three answers to prayer (yes, no, and you’ve gotta be kidding Me), Carter chuckled that he’s not sure what answer he’s gotten yet.

Not that Jimmy Earl Carter of Plains, Georgia can’t throw down, albeit, you know, graciously. He confirmed Colbert’s assertion that, back in 1980, he had, indeed, said he could “kick Ted Kennedy’s ass” in the upcoming election, a then-shocking utterance that seems quaint enough to make one want to sit down and stare out the window for a long time these days. (He also confirmed that the congressman who leaked said boast is alive, but no longer in politics, which Colbert hinted sounds like a grandfatherly version of “snitches get stitches,” in so many words.) Talking about his newest book Faith: A Journey For All, Carter continued to exemplify the opposite of all things Donald Trump by talking about the courage it takes “to have love for people different than you.” Colbert, noting that some politicians use a book release to float a pending run for office, hinted (perhaps betraying a hint of desperation) that there’s no age limit preventing “Carter 2020,” and producing a specially made T-shirt to that effect. The delighted Carter, joking that, while constitutionally eligible, the unofficial age limit is probably 93, laughed off the gesture. He did keep the T-shirt, though, so we’ll see.


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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.