Has there ever been an American President as interesting or as admired than Jimmy Carter? And while he was a rather mediocre President at best, he has proven that he might be the best person to have inhabited the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Why do I say this? He was our 39th President, for one term only. He seemed a “fish out of water” in DC politics, and had a difficult time getting along with is own Democratic party in the House and Senate. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and eventually became Governor of Georgia. He was guided by skilled politicians through the rather flawed primary process, and became the Democratic nominee for President. A political outsider, he narrowly defeated our only appointed President, Jerry Ford.
Perhaps most significantly, he pardoned all Vietnam War draft dodgers on his second day in office! His most significant accomplishment while in office were probably the Camp David Accord with Sadat and Begin. His one term in office was burdened by rampant inflation, recession, and a severe energy crisis. He signed the Panama Canal back to Panama. He bailed out Chrysler. But he signed SALT II, and suffered through the Iran Hostage Crisis.
His term was marked by a continual refusal to play by Washington DC “rules.” He did not return political favors. He had an ongoing dispute with Congress through much of his term in office. Much of his opposition was the more liberal wing of Congress led by none other than Ted Kennedy. Perhaps his most famous speech was a tribute to the late Senator Hubert Humphrey, who he referred to as Hubert Horatio Hornblower!
In 2012, he surpassed Herbert Hoover as the longest retired President in U.S. history. He is the first President to live to the 40th Anniversary of his Inauguration. And of course, he is the oldest and earliest serving of all living Presidents. Earlier this year, he passed George H.W. Bush as the longest lived U.S. President.
But for me, his greatest accomplishments have come well after he left office. He is perhaps the key figure in the Habitat for Humanity charity, having built homes around the globe. He is the only President to have lived in public (subsidized) housing before being elected. In 1982, he established the Carter Center to promote and expand human rights. He flew to Cuba and met (May 2002) with Fidel Castro when tensions were still high between our countries.
He also assisted President Bill Clinton in a 1993 peace mission to North Korea. He was able to get political prisoners released from Nicaragua. He participated in human rights and peace efforts with Nelson Mandela in 2007. Through various Presidencies, he has voiced his opinion often, not always in support. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
But little seems to be known of his personal life, other than his remarkable philanthropy. He is an avid fly fisherman, cyclist, tennis player, skier, and wood worker. He was a personal friend of Elvis Presley. He is a devout Christian and a deacon in his church in Plains, GA. And perhaps his brother Billy became well known for his various antics and misstatements.
His Presidential Museum and Library was opened in 1986. I am here in Atlanta to visit the Library as well as the Martin Luther King Historic Site, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King was minister. It should be a great day to celebrate two great men.