Monday, August 24, 2015

Jimmy Carter, Humanitarian

He never ordered a shot fired in anger, he sought peace between Israel and Egypt, he addressed the crisis of confidence in American society (still very much with us) and the misplaced value on materialism (ditto), and not once did he ever lie to us.  Yet James Earl Carter, Jr., the 39th President of the United States, is probably going to be best remembered for his foibles and fumbles - namely, his handling of the economy and the oil crisis, the ill-conceived boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a 1979 re-organization of his Cabinet (the most sweeping such re-organization since President Jackson reformed his Cabinet in 1831) that caused more confusion than re-assurance, a failed rescue mission to get the American hostages in Iran out of the U.S. Embassy (Desert One), and the admission of the deposed Shah of Iran into the U.S. for medical treatment, which perpetrated the commandeering of the Americans in the first place.
But, as Jimmy Carter reflected on his life following his cancer diagnosis this past week, he had no regrets (apart from the Desert One debacle) about his Presidency, taking comfort in the fact that he did the best he could have done as President, and expressing great pride in the work of the Carter Center, the organization he founded to improve living conditions in poor countries.  He's used his Christian faith to extend help to others, from building houses with Habitat for Humanity to working to eradicate Guinea worm, just as his belief in humanity and his devotion to Christian principles was what guided his foreign policy - a foreign policy that sought to follow George Washington's advice to "observe good faith and justice towards all nations" but is still, still, ridiculed by rhymes-with-glass-poles like Chris Christie and Ted Cruz.  Carter's efforts to expand human rights by the deed rather than by the sword and deny succor to the enemies of liberty - especially the anti-Communist rightist dictators of Latin America and Africa - were a wonderful expression of American prestige.
I wish Carter well in his bout with cancer.  However, I feel some sadness that he will be judged a failure for what he did not and could not do - though, I'd like to point out, that hostages held in the Middle East under Presidents Reagan and Bush he Elder were held for longer than any under President Carter.  He faces a similar judgment of history granted to Herbert Hoover, who, like Carter, was a one-term President who faced economic crisis and tried to alleviate it, only to be voted out of office.  Hoover was a humanitarian himself, devoting the thirty-one years between the end of his Presidency and his death to postwar famine relief and supporting the Boys Clubs of America (now the Boys & Girls Clubs of America), among other endeavors.  But after Hoover died in 1964, one historian said that he would be remembered for his two greatest mistakes - running for President and getting elected.  Jimmy Carter will likely be unable to escape a similar assessment when his own time comes. :-(   

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