The Who2 Blog

Jimmy Carter Did His Bit

A gray-haired man smiles in front of an American flag

Jimmy Carter in 2014, the year he turned 90. (LBJ Library / Carter Center)

[Editorial note: Rather than read the post below, try this wonderful article by journalist James Fallows, a Carter speechwriter in the 1970s: An Unlucky President, And A Lucky Man.

And for an even deeper dive on the Carter presidency, with a blunt look at his personal strengths and political failings, see Fallows’s 1979 profile The Passionless Presidency.]

President Jimmy Carter has gone into hospice care, the Carter Center announced this week. While his exact ailment is left unstated, the Carter Center noted in its tweet that President Carter has recently had “a series of short hospital stays.” As noted by The New York Times, Carter “has survived a series of health crises in recent years, including a bout with the skin cancer melanoma, which spread to his liver and brain, as well as repeated falls.”

Jimmy Carter was everything that we’ve been told “real Americans” want in a president.

He was a salt-of-the-earth small-town boy who grew up in rural Georgia. He was a military man who went to the U.S. Naval Academy and served on nuclear submarines (and heroically risked his life to prevent a reactor meltdown). He was a family man who left the Navy to take over the family peanut farm when his father died. He was a deeply religious Christian who lived his faith, teaching Sunday school at the Plains Maranatha Baptist Church into his 90s. He was a staunch supporter of democracy who founded The Carter Center to help ensure free and fair elections around the world. He helped Americans pull themselves up by their bootstraps by building houses with Habitat for Humanity. He was a devoted father and family man, husband to Rosalynn Carter for 76 years. He was even a rock and roll fan who was pals with the Allman Brothers and in his 90s was singing “Amazing Grace” with Willie Nelson.

And for all that he was roundly rejected after one term by voters who preferred Ronald Reagan, a handsome Hollywood actor who said “I’ll cut your taxes.”

What exactly was Carter’s sin? He certainly had failings; he was human. The Iranian hostage crisis went badly for him. But so many of the things that people like to blame him for now were the result of him speaking hard truths. Asking Americans, in the midst of an oil crisis, to turn down their thermostats or drive a bit slower to save 8 million gallons of gas a day — were these really such grave errors? Isn’t that the sort of common-sense can-do spirit that we’re supposed to pride ourselves on as a nation?

Signing the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians was treated at the time as some kind of grave betrayal of American power. 45 years later, does any American under age 50 remember or care that we once controlled the Panama Canal? Has it impacted their lives? No. But it was good politics to treat Carter like some kind of lily-livered weakling for doing the sensible thing. And it worked.

Turns out that people don’t want to hear the hard truths. So Jimmy Carter was excoriated, laughed at, and replaced by a man who raised the speed limit, tore out the solar panels Carter had put on the White House, and told everyone, “It’s morning in America, burn all the oil you want!”

It’s no surprise if, from this, generations of politicians decided it was better not to tell the honest truth. But that’s not the fault of Jimmy Carter. Quite the opposite.

Jimmy Carter talks with President Barack Obama in 2011. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza.)

Jimmy Carter did his bit! And he kept right on doing it for the last four decades, God bless him. He even has helped nearly eradicate river blindess in Africa in his spare time. (Using ivermectin for its actual, sensible purpose, BTW.)

Jimmy Carter wasn’t perfect, but he was a good guy and a terrific American. We’d be better off with more leaders like him. Salute!

See our full biography of Jimmy Carter »

Related Biographies

Share this: