Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Somebody's birthday

In Plains in the 1970s. Hulton Archive/Getty Images, via New York Times.
Happy 90th birthday to President Jimmy Carter, greatest ex-president in the history of the United States! (With the possible exception of John Quincy Adams, who was not too proud to sit in the House of Representatives representing a Massachusetts district for the rest of his life after the presidency, 1831 to 1848, trying to put an end to slavery.)

Carter is maybe the only president who ever did anything directly personally for me, when he blanket-pardoned the Vietnam-era draft dodgers, so I'm biased from the start, but I think his quality as a serving president is drastically undervalued by most on the left even as it is demonized at an Obama level by the right (who can never forgive his efforts against dictatorship and for Middle East peace). Last April, when his book A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power came out, David Masciotra at The Daily Beast summarized some of the progressive aspects of his term that are consistent with, not in opposition to, the values he's shown since he left the White House, especially on the subject of environmental preservation, which has turned out to be the most crucial of all:

As president, Carter negotiated a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt—a ceasefire still standing today. He made human rights central to American foreign policy by cutting off funding for dictatorial regimes running torture chambers. He directed U.N. ambassador Andrew Young to make opposing apartheid in South Africa central to his work.... He is the only president who has tried to start a national conversation about reducing our dependence on foreign oil through conservation and the use of alternative energy sources. And he spent four years as commander in chief of the world’s largest and most lethal military without dropping one bomb, launching one missile, or firing one shot.

Carter’s awkward leadership style often obscured his genuine accomplishments. For example, the tone of the infamous “malaise speech” (in which that word is never used) might have been unappealing, but its content, as historian Kevin Mattson makes clear in his excellent book What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?, was prescient and illustrated true leadership, as Carter challenged Americans to change their ways of thinking and living, so that they might become more prosperous, unified, and free. And there is no disputing that he brought peace to formerly violent parts of the world, advanced the agenda of human rights, and used the powers of his pulpit to start new and necessary conversations about American life and America’s role as superpower. For his trouble, the American people expelled him from office and replaced him with a man who sponsored death squads in Latin America, said ketchup was a vegetable, and in the words of Norman Mailer, “was shallow as spit on a rock.”

Since then, no president has spoken to the American people with so much candor, directness, and vision. And yet the public—apparently unable to decipher the clear lessons of history—continues to wonder why its leaders are consistently dishonest, obfuscating, and frivolous.
The bit I left out was about his passion for deregulation, which doesn't fit the picture—although he denies strongly that he would have moved on to deregulating the finance industry in the second term that never came:
No, that's not true. The elements that have resulted in the latest breakdown were done under a later president, I won't call his name. We kept tight control over the banking and finance committee. There was a constant monitoring of the loans to people. And in getting those loans and then selling those mortgages to other people, and indeed they would be resold again -- all of that was prohibited when I went out of office. (Interview with Kai Ryssdal, October 2010)
And the list of industries he did deregulate includes beer, said to have made today's craft breweries possible against the monopoly power of the horse-piss factories, so there's even a bright spot there.

Image via wantinews.
Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

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