The year was 1976, two hundred years after the founding of the country. And as we did every four years, we had an election in which we chose the new head of the executive branch, the President of the United States.
In the past we had selected quite a few from Ohio, but Massachusetts and New York had seen some representation as had, of course, Virginia and other states as well. They had been lawyers, and educators and businessmen, those whom the country tapped on the shoulder and said, “Please serve and lead the way.”
But this year it was different. We hired a former peanut farmer from the state of Georgia for the job – a man by the name of James Earl Carter, Jr. to serve as our 39th president.
Well, the new president’s background brought a lot of laughs in our big cities. And his brother Billy, a notorious alcoholic and family “black sheep” brought a lot of laughs in the taverns throughout the country with his antics and attempt to introduce his very own brew, “Billy Beer” into the beverage aisles of our supermarkets. And laughing was okay. We needed a few chuckles to keep our minds off all the problems we had to face.
In our heart of hearts we knew that Gerald Ford should have been elected president but for the fact that the country was in an unforgiving mood. A lot of us were still mad at him for pardoning former President Nixon. Heck, that pardon downright smacked of politics and a lot of us were offended at that.
Well, those of us who believed that Jimmy Carter’s election would prove to be a national disaster were at least proven to be moderately correct. Of course, he had a lot of issues to deal with which, in fairness, he had inherited from previous administrations. But the Annapolis grad tried to take ownership of those and work us through them.
Some will say he didn’t do a great job of it. In fact, there was no absence of criticism from the press in those days, critiquing and systematically reporting on his failures. It must be tough waking up in the morning, knowing that a few hundred papers across the country are politely calling you a jerk.
President Carter was, in my mind, doomed to failure with his policies. Of course, I bring a bit of prejudice to the table and will freely admit it when I tell you that I hadn’t voted for him. Just so you know.
But, as much as I was sure he was heading us down the wrong path, I never questioned the integrity that he showed while in office – or for that matter in the many years in which he has been absent from it. You see, even though we disagree with someone else’s vision, it’s at least comforting to know that they sincerely believe in it. And that gives us hope that maybe our analysis will be disproven and in the end it turns out that they were actually more far-sighted than we were.
I know that a lot of people mocked President Carter when he was asked whether his Christian values had ever been compromised by a sexual liaison with a woman other than Rosalynn his wife. His answer that he had, “Lust in his heart many times,” brought on a bunch of sniggering at the singles bars and in the corporate lunch rooms. But the way I looked at it, I thought it was refreshing that he had the honesty to admit it. Not all men at that time or later would prove to be so candid.
Pretty much as many of us had expected, President Carter’s policies, however well-intentioned, didn’t extricate us from our problems of a bad economy and high inflation. His efforts to find a true and lasting peace in the Middle East which he tried to hammer together in the Camp David accords didn’t quell the violence and bloodshed and hatred.
But probably the thing that sealed his fate as a one term president was his taking ownership of the Iran hostage crisis. After negotiations with the Islamic terrorists who had captured our embassy and personnel in Tehran had failed, he ordered that a rescue attempt be made to free them. This resulted in the deaths of eight American servicemen. It would take well over a year before the hostage members of our diplomatic corps in Iran were returned to American soil. Well, at least they all came home alive.
It’s probably fair to say that President Carter would be better remembered and perhaps thought of if his successor, Ronald Reagan hadn’t been so darned successful in repairing the damage to the economy and American spirit that he had inherited from his predecessor. The eight years of the Reagan presidency helped get America back on its feet and we all breathed a sigh of relief that we were finally, once again, headed forward.
But in deference to our 39th president, I still hold the opinion that he was an honest man. During his term in office I never doubted that he acted out of sincere belief and not merely to gain some political advantage. I guess that’s what people used to call “good character”. I still believe that about him.
Perhaps there is too much news, too much violence, too much posturing, too much Kim Kardashian and those of her ilk that occupy our thoughts these days for us to pay much attention to a former president – or at least this former president.
So it may be understandable why, when former President Carter made a statement the other day that has profound implications, not one single American newspaper reported it. Not one.
Or maybe there’s another reason that the only newspaper which dared to think it relevant was of foreign origin:
“The United States no longer has a functioning democracy.”
– Former President Jimmy Carter (quoted in “Der Spiegel”)