It’s been nearly 40 years since Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from a rural town in Georgia, was elected president of the United States. Prior to taking office, Carter spent well over a decade as a politician, including serving two terms in the Georgia Senate and one as his state’s governor. Yet, as the 91-year-old humanitarian tells Oprah in this weekend’s “SuperSoul Sunday” interview, he would never be able to make it into the nation’s highest office as it stands today.
When Oprah and Carter sat down for the interview, which was taped a few weeks before the former president announced he has melanoma, Oprah asked her guest a pointed question relating to the current state of politics: Would he be able to become president today?
“Absolutely not,” Carter said immediately.
A big reason comes down to money and how much it takes to fund a successful campaign. “There’s no way now for you to get a Democratic or Republican nomination without being able to raise $200 or $300 million, or more,” he explained. “I would not be inclined to do that, and I would not be capable of doing it.”
What’s more, he feels that the political system has since warped into something completely unrecognizable.
“We’ve become, now, an oligarchy instead of a democracy,” Carter told Oprah. “I think that’s been the worst damage to the basic moral and ethical standards to the American political system that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
By the time a president makes it to Washington, he added, it has typically come by way of alienating people, rather than by bringing them together.
“You’ve already alienated Democrats from Republicans, and Congress from the president, and red states and blue states,” Carter said. “We never had any of that 25 or 30 years ago.”
In his own run for re-election in 1981, President Carter, a Democrat, failed to secure a second term, losing out to Republican Ronald Reagan. But that’s not because Carter alienated the opposing party, he pointed out.
“I had just as much support from Republicans as I did Democrats when I ran for president,” Carter said. “But I should have organized the Democratic Party to get me re-elected.”
President Carter’s full interview with Oprah airs Sunday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. ET on OWN. Watch a preview.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Carter spent two years in the Senate. It has been updated to clarify that he spent two years in the Georgia Senate.
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