Life is a Mystery

26 July 2008

Jimmy Carter

My favorite president, partly because of his focus on peacemaking, partly because he listens well, partly because he had the courage to call Americans to sacrifice as part of his energy policy, partly because he is the first president I got to meet up close. His patience and discretion during the Iran hostage crisis made a very deep impression too. Since his presidency he has been my favorite ex-president. I’ve seen no other ex-president as actively engaged in issues that matter.

Today the Daily Dish points to a profile of Carter in New York magazine.

By June 9, six days after Obama secured the nomination (and Carter’s endorsement), McCain had found his sound bite. In an interview on NBC Nightly News, apropos of nothing, McCain said, “Senator Obama says that I’m running for Bush’s third term. It seems to me he’s running for Jimmy Carter’s second.”

Maybe I’m among the few who sincerely hopes this is true. I’d love for Obama to give us Jimmy Carter’s second term. Unfortunately, I don’t have any illusions that this will be the case. But maybe at least on energy policy?

On the other hand, given the current energy and economic crises, you might look back and think that Carter was enormously prescient. Last week, presidential historian Joseph Wheelan wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asking, in regard to Carter’s promotion of alternative fuels, “Can we now acknowledge that Jimmy Carter was right all those years ago?” Carter also negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, a 30-year truce that has never once been violated (something one cannot say of any other negotiated peace in the region, and an achievement that seems even more impressive in retrospect). “The last time I looked,” says Jody Powell, Carter’s former press secretary, “President Carter’s favorability rating was a good bit higher than McCain’s or Obama’s or George Bush’s.”

Obama’s faith journey has been a big part of the current campaign. Here Carter considers how he and the current occupant of the Oval Office live their faith.

“I can’t say I know how the current president looks on the rest of the world,” Carter says. “I am determined and sometimes stubborn, and he is, too, but I don’t look on the rest of the world as he does, despite our shared Christian faith. For instance, I worry about our endangered values. I worry about nuclear-weapons proliferation. I worry about our torture of prisoners and how that affects our commitment to human rights. I believe in waging war only when our security is in danger. I believe in taking care of and preserving the environment. On these issues, he and I are almost diametrically opposed. Certainly, I do not profess to understand his motivations. As Christians, yes, we worship the same savior, Jesus Christ, and I think we worship Christ in the same way. I look on some aspect of Jesus Christ perhaps differently from him: I worship the Prince of Peace.”

May we all grow old as gracefully as Carter.

What’s most interesting about Carter at the age of 83 is not that he’s an eccentric, or that he’s outspoken, or that he continues to be a part of the debate, but that his mind-set and his policies seem to jibe so well with the attitudes of young people, students, and the blogosphere. In many ways, Carter seems more relevant than George W. Bush, his ideas more contemporary, his interests more outward-looking. He builds houses in New Orleans and elsewhere with his Habitat for Humanity project; he jets around the world, funding projects to deal with global health crises; he makes sure elections are free and fair. Carter is more like Bono than he is like Bush.

The full article is well worth a read.

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org