TOPICS: Stop picking on Jimmy Carter

Walter Rodgers

In this season of new resolutions, Americans would do well to rethink their perceptions of Jimmy Carter. President Carter has suffered the misfortune of having his legacy almost entirely shaped by his political enemies rather than by objective reality or a basic sense of American fairness. Today, Carter is caricatured as a weak-kneed, sweater-wearing puritan who struggled with lust in his heart, presided over a malaised America, and micromanaged even the scheduling of the White House tennis courts.

More recently, he’s taken heat for his blunt portrayal of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. What an egregiously undeserved reputation. Carter wasn’t just a “good man who got in over his head,” as critics say. He was in fact quite a good president.

He kept us out of endless wars. He protected the Alaskan wilderness. He promoted a visionary energy policy. He countered the Soviet military threat. And since he left office, he has persistently promoted the cause of peace around the world. The landmark Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty he fashioned remains in force today. Against the backdrop of an unnecessary trillion-dollar war in Iraq, it is instructive to recall how Carter avoided a similar morass when he negotiated the Panama Canal treaties, for which he was excoriated by Ronald Reagan’s Republicans.

President-elect Obama, take note: No matter how loud the clamour for war, if your instincts tell you it’s wrong, remember Carter and don’t be stampeded onto unnecessary battlefields. Carter was truly the prophet without honour in his own land on energy policy. Thirty years ago, he preached conservation and alternative energy. A profligate nation — not to mention Congress and the vested interests — ridiculed him. Today, his ideas are mainstream. Obama take note: The American public believes it has a constitutional right to cheap gasoline. Even with gas prices topping $4 a gallon in 2008, the bestselling vehicles are still gas-guzzling pickups.

Obama take note: American politics is as much about bigotries as it is about issues. The worst thing about Carter is that he was politically tone deaf. But even that’s not true: He simply prized doing what was right over what was popular. Oh yeah, and that infamous

“malaise” speech? He never actually used the word. And his text remains prophetic:

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.... But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.... Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources - America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.” When we consider the record of the past eight years, Carter’s performance — and his vision for America — positively shines. So, let’s make a national New Year’s resolution: Stop denigrating Carter.