JIMMY CARTER: BEST PRESIDENT EVER?
IF NOT THE BEST THEN WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST HONEST AND DECENT
The recent news about our 39th President is not good. According to reports from him, (and, yes, it is typical Jimmy Cater style that he would take to the airwaves himself to make this announcement) he has cancer and it sounds like it’s not treatable. Those of you younger folks probably know Jimmy as a footnote in the long line of U.S. Presidents like Warren G. Harding or Grover Cleveland, or maybe you are aware of his organization, Habitat for Humanity, his post-presidential passion for building homes for low income people around the world. But those of us who actually lived through his presidency (1976 to 1980) know James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. as a scientist, as a humanitarian, as a progressive and as just one of those guys who exuded a kind of common decency that is rare, if nonexistent, among our later Presidents.
I first became aware of Carter on a trip down to Florida to visit my retired parents. It was during the 1976 Presidential Campaign and those of us up North had never heard of Carter, peanut farmer and Governor of Georgia. At the time, Gerald Ford and George Wallace were sucking up all the campaign news and Jimmy had limited his campaigning to the southern states thus far. So I was surprised when I discovered that Floridians were going bonkers for this unassuming man and, in fact, he led the polls down there. Six months later as his campaign expanded, the rest of America discovered Jimmy and we all pretty much fell in love with him especially after the debacle that Richard Mr. Downright Evil Milhous Nixon had just put us through via Watergate.
Democrat Carter is often the butt of late night talk shows since in the last year of his Presidency, he was hit with some pretty severe crises: the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Middle East Oil Embargo, the Three Mile Island nuclear explosion and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The American hostages held by the Iranians were released just as Reagan was being administered the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 20, 1980.
But Carter's one-term Presidency was remarkable in many respects, not the least of which was his penchant for honesty, something that’s been shoved off a cliff since then and no one seems the least bit interested in rescuing. After the oil embargo, Carter got Congress to pass legislation to give homeowners tax breaks for making our homes more energy efficient something I took advantage of by putting another layer of batt insulation in my attic. He also installed solar panels on the White House roof as a commitment to energy efficiency and alternate energy sources. This was in 1979 folks, 36 years ago. When Republican Ronald Reagan was elected he had the panels removed and the country did nothing for the next three decades to reduce our dependency on imported oil until the Obama Administration.
Here are a few of the other achievements of his short Administration:
1. Bailed out failing Chrysler Corporation
2. Declared unconditional amnesty for Viet Nam draft evaders
3. Negotiated the Camp David Accords between Israel and the Palestinians
4. Returned the Panama Canal Territory back to Panama
5. Negotiated Salt II Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty with the Soviet Union’s Brezhnev
6. Established the EPA’s Superfund to clean up the Love Canal
7. Deregulated the airline industry through the Airline Deregulation Act
8. Deregulated the beer industry so that people could brew beer at home
9. Boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow for USSR invasion of Afghanistan
10. Proposed shifting to the Metric System like most other developed countries*
Jimmy Carter’s post-presidential activities are equally impressive. Through the Carter Center Foundation, Jimmy has been the planet’s go-to guy for conflict resolution, human rights and charitable causes and he has served as election monitor for 96 elections around the world. He brokered an agreement with Kim Il-Sung of North Korea but following 9-11, George Bush repudiated it.
In 2002 Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to “find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development.”
Carter was the last of what I’ll call non-ideological, common sense, fact and data driven Presidents, if, indeed, there were any others in our history. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, America began our long, painful slide down the slippery slope of unfettered Free Market Economic policy, the culture wars and the virtual destruction of America’s working and middle classes. That’s why I say Carter was our last sensible President. No way, for example, would he be running around the country babbling on about how “cutting taxes creates jobs” without a dozen or so reports from legitimate organizations backing this claim up. His honesty - some of you will remember when he admitted that he had “lusted in his heart” – simply would not permit him to do something like this.
Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America; a gentleman’s gentleman.
* Carter’s modest proposal of showing mileage distances in both English and Metric on Interstate Highway signs, was met with explosive pushback from Congress and the public presaging the kinds of right wing nonsense against sensible proposals we see today every, single fucking day.