Thinking Aloud: Jimmy Carter, Revisited

Apr. 4, 2015 by Darius

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta.  Although I didn’t have as much time there as I would have liked, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain why I am a fan of Jimmy Carter.  Yes, really.

First and foremost, Jimmy Carter was exactly what America needed to recover from Vietnam and President Nixon’s disgrace.  Carter’s immediate predecessor, Gerald Ford, was a nice guy who did what he could to get the country moving from Watergate.  But he wasn’t in Carter’s league.  Carter was squeaky-clean and an almost aggressively nice guy.  He showed the country that not all politicians were conniving scumbags.  Of course, the American people thanked him by replacing him after one term, but that’s a different story.

Unlike many other US presidents, Carter also brought his personality to foreign policy.  Reading through actual transcripts of Carter’s initial meetings with Middle Eastern leaders, I have been struck by the difference in tone from Carter’s predecessors.  The first time Carter met with both allies and enemies from the Middle East, he sought to hear the entire story, often stretching back thousands of years, from the perspective of the person he was talking to.  Armed with this greater understanding, Carter moralized his way to one of the most enduring and important peace settlements in the region’s history: the Camp David Accords.

Carter takes a lot of flak today for the poor economy during his tenure.  But it’s a consistent fallacy, one that should be killed dead, that presidents are responsible for the state of the economy while they are in office.  In Carter’s case, rising oil prices worldwide created a textbook example of cost-push inflation.  To his credit, he didn’t pursue the wage and price controls the Nixon administration had a few years earlier.

Finally, after Carter lost his reelection bid, he didn’t retire to his ranch and paint.  Instead, he threw himself back into the fight.  He built houses for the poor and continued his work as a public diplomat, negotiating for peace and human rights in various hot spots around the world.  Largely thanks to him, we are on the verge of eradicating Guinea worm, one of the most disgusting diseases in the world, and his Carter Center has overseen dozens of elections around the world, working to ensure their transparency and fairness.  At age 90, Jimmy Carter is still going strong.

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