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Former President Jimmy Carter on service and how the presidency has changed

Jimmy Carter on service, changing presidency
Former President Jimmy Carter: "America will learn from its mistakes" 06:41

At 93 years old, former President Jimmy Carter is still actively finding ways to serve his country. He and his wife Rosalynn have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity since 1984. Together, they have helped build or remodel thousands of homes. "CBS This Morning" co-host John Dickerson spoke to Mr. Carter on a project outside South Bend, Indiana, about his commitment to service, how presidency has changed and also met some other famous volunteers.

Nearly 40 years after leaving the White House, Jimmy Carter's legacy is still building. With his wife Rosalynn, President Carter has put in 34 years helping make more than 4,000 homes in 14 countries. The couple even used the skills they've learned from their work with Habitat for Humanity to renovate their own home.    

"We contracted with a carpenter, and he didn't show up when he said he would so we just decided we would do it ourselves," Mr. Carter said.

"We've been married now, as you know, a little over 72 years, and so we've learned to accommodate one another and to iron out those differences," Mr. Carter said of working on projects with his wife.

Dickerson got a chance to see their teamwork up close when he joined them at their latest Habitat for Humanity community near South Bend, Indiana. There were about 1,700 volunteers there. 

"It tells me that America has a great orientation towards helping people in need … It's very difficult for somebody who is well-off to cross a barrier and get in touch with a very poor family who is in need and has never had a decent home, but Habitat divides that avenue very automatically," Mr. Carter said.  

Jimmy Carter reflects on John McCain's legacy 00:51

In the process, inspiring others to come out swinging like comedian David Letterman. 

"I should be thanking you for allowing me to help out and do this," Letterman said to Mr. Carter, who reminded Letterman that he's been working with the organization for a long time.

Letterman said he started volunteering right after Hurricane Katrina and found the experience "overwhelmingly gratifying." He credits President Carter. 

"Seeing him and being here on these builds is such a lovely break from the cynicism of life," said Letterman, who also helped rebuild in Houston after Hurricane Harvey and joked that it was a job for a "younger, braver man."

"If I screw up the hammering, that means I have to go to the claw part of the hammer and spend the next half hour doing that while everyone's looking at me. 'Dave, you're, you know, you're holding up the build.' And you don't want that."

President Carter only served one four-year term in the White House, so he never met the five-year requirement for a federal pension, but he isn't planning on retiring – already a former president for longer than anyone in history. 

"You said that you thought telling the truth was important when you were president, but you seem to suggest it might not be so important to the presidency," Dickerson asked Mr. Carter.

Letterman: "When you help others, you feel better about yourself" 00:28

"Well, that seems to be the case now. I think it's well-known that the incumbent president is very careless with the truth. Telling the truth has been pretty deeply ingrained in me, and I think that makes it even more deplorable to me to see that it has been abandoned by some people," Mr. Carter said.

He disagrees with the notion that politics sometimes requires people to lie.

"I think I went through my campaign and my presidency without ever lying to the people or making a deliberately false statement, and I think that would be a very worthwhile thing to reinsert into politics these days," Mr. Carter said. "I don't see much to be emulated in recent months, but, you know, I'm not here to criticize the incumbent president. I just wish him well, and I pray for him."

As for where President Carter sees hope for the rebirth of America, he said, "Well, it's bound to come in our country through the electoral process … And I think that America will learn from its mistakes. We don't always elect the best person, that's obvious, including the time when I ran perhaps. But I think America eventually prevails."

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