God Bless You, Jimmy Carter!
Years ago, before Covid entered the world, people used to attend campaign rallies. It was a political stereotype that the guy (it was always a guy) running for office would shake hands and kiss babies. I know. Impossible to imagine in today’s world: handing over your precious child for some politician to kiss. And yet my parents attended such a rally with me. The campaigner in question kissed me and told my mother that he had a little girl at home just my age. This was my first brush with politics. I would grow up to become an amateur political pundit, and the politician would go on to be the President of the United States.
My parents ADORED Jimmy Carter. They campaigned for him. My dad woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me he’d won the 1976 election. When they first proudly told me the story of Jimmy Carter kissing me as a baby, I was outraged! “You mean you met the president? And he KISSED me? AND YOU DIDN’T TAKE ANY PICTURES????” My father replied “I didn’t even think he was going to be governor. I never DREAMED he’d be the president!” Years later, I would meet President Carter at a book signing and tell him this story. Finally got my picture with him. (That’s me on the left in the white sweater.)
The Carter years were not good years for this country. I remember hours waiting in line with my parents to buy gas. I remember the Iranian hostage crisis. I remember Carter being attacked by a rabbit. But even though his presidential years don’t rank high, he has been universally praised for his White House afterlife: building homes for the homeless, brokering peace, overseeing elections, writing books, teaching both college and Sunday school. A fitting job for the man who taught America the words in Matthew 5:28.
It broke my father’s heart when Carter lost to Reagan in 1980. He proclaimed that Jimmy Carter was “too good a man to be president.” But he never waivered in his devotion to Carter and to the principles he represented. After my mother’s death, I was going through her papers and I found an envelope with my name on it. It was powder blue – the color they used to fashion tuxedos in the 70’s. I recognized my father’s store logo at the top, and his handwritten note to me in the middle: “Keep these. They have Jimmy Carter’s signature on them and will be worth a lot of money.” I opened the envelope to find my parents’ Georgia driver’s licenses from the ‘70s. I burst out laughing! Only my dad could have thought those would be worth money.
My father died in 1988, so he didn’t live long enough to see the Carter Renaissance. Thankfully, he didn’t live to see the toxic waste dump our current political landscape has become. Carter’s successors went from “lust in his heart” to “I did not have sex with that woman” and “grab ‘em by the …” They bought expensive properties and gave speeches for big bucks. Jimmy just went back to live in the same house he lived in before he was elected president – where he still lives today.
I think my father was right about Jimmy Carter. The virtues that he showed – that he continues to show even now: honesty, fidelity, humility – are no longer seen as political assets. On the contrary, they are now considered liabilities. We want a FIGHTER, not a Sunday School teacher. We don’t want any reaching across the aisle; we want punching in the face.
News that the 98-year-old former president had entered hospice care has generated a torrent of praise for him. Famous figures who knew him well will pen more eloquent tributes. But for me, it’s like I’m losing another piece of my dad. Soon, the world will mourn another member of the Greatest Generation. I’m afraid we’re also losing the last of our honor and decency. But maybe like Jimmy Carter, they will have a 2nd act on the American stage.
President Carter was the first President that I was really aware of. My parents were big supporters, and like yours they were less then thrilled by his defeat.
But Carter – for all his policy failings – was the real deal. A real Servant Leader. The stories of his work at Habitat are legend – in part because he went to swing his hammer, not take pics. And his continued jabs at the institutions of faith that had shaped him and sustained him were the kind of Christianity we should all be focused on practicing.
When I was a senior in college (1991), Carter came to give a series of lecture at our small liberal arts college. His lecture to our senior western culture and history seminar still reverberates with me, in that he called us to servant leadership, he owned his failings as President, and he was truly humble.
Jimmy Carter was the President we have needed ever since he left the White House. Our world is richer for his service, but it will be poorer for his passing.Report
The good news is that we have given Carter the praise he deserves during his lifetime, that he knows he was loved by the Americancommunity, as he loved us.
I fear we’ll not see his like again, not in positions of power. Would that the voters prove me wrong one day.Report
It always struck me like Carter just slobbered over any kind of compliment. I’m not saying I’d hold up well after being rejected as president, and we’re seeing someone handle it worse these days, but you could tell that it left him craving admiration. I also remember him calling W effeminate, and he likely violated the Logan Act repeatedly.Report
Couldn’t let the man die in peace, huh?
He went on a lot of missions aboard at the request of Presidents of both parties, and at the request of the UN. Both would seem to be 180 degrees away from the Logan Act prohibitions.
Interesting take on a man who mostly shunned awards, rarely gave interviews, and spent more time building houses then anything else in retirement.Report
I’m more inclined to honor him as a public servant. He drew a bad hand and played it out the best he could. He also elevated human rights issues in our foreign policy. However, after his presidency, he couldn’t find a dictator he didn’t admire. He’s not the first person to lose his way, but I’m not going to praise him for his faults.Report
I also remember him calling W effeminate
That was HW.
Bigger than the historical error, though, but you could tell that it left him craving admiration this sounds a lot like the criticism of MrBeast that pretty much everyone here was rejecting the other day: Carter did a bunch of good things (like build houses, say), and he did them mostly very publicly. Does this fact mean that the acts were any less good?Report
I wasn’t around for his presidency but always found his post presidential life and service pretty difficult to criticize. Whatever the politics it seems he did a lot of good for a lot of people.Report
I was in Kindergarten when he lost to Reagan. My school, in one of the more conservative counties in Tennessee, held an election, and like 2 out of 80-something kindergarteners voted for Carter, one of whom was me (because I knew my parents were voting for him). I’ve only ever voted for one other Democrat in a presidential general election (though the other time was more official).Report
Carter was enormously prior to my time but Noah Smith makes pretty good case that much of what Reagan in the 80’s got credit for was simply a continuation of policies Carter had started and implemented.
On the personal level, I felt Merri’s feelings on the passing of the man keenly. My Grandmother was an avid supporter of Queen Elizabeth II and helped make me the royalist I am today. I too keenly felt like a part of my Grandmother passed away when that grand old Queen passed into her final reward. You have my sympathy Merri and commiseration.Report