The following are excerpts from Nicholas Kristof’s look at the real former President Jimmy Carter as he turns 90 and releases an a memoir, A Full Life.
President Carter is a man I’ve always admired more than any other U.S. presidents for many reasons but his commitment and physical involvement in providing shelter worldwide through Habitat for Humanity to the less-privileged, sealed the deal with me and, I’m sure, many of those who really knew and have always appreciated The Man, and got involved by chipping in to the magnificent cause.
A very decent man who might have been a politician but was not the political type, he and his wife, Rosallyn are two of this blogger’s greatest role models, living or dead. TOLA.
One of our worst traits in journalism is that when we have a narrative in our minds, we often plug in anecdotes that confirm it. Thus we managed to portray President Gerald Ford, a first-rate athlete, as a klutz. And we used a distraught rabbit to confirm the narrative of Carter as a lightweight cowed by anything that came along.
Now that Carter is 90 and has been an ex-president longer than anyone in history, it’s time to correct the record. He is anything but an empty suit.
When he was inaugurated governor of Georgia, he declared, “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.” He then erected a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in the State Capitol.
A black woman who was a convicted murderer, Mary Prince, was assigned to work at the governor’s mansion in a work-release program. Carter became convinced that she was innocent and later applied to be her parole officer, so he could take her to the White House to be his daughter’s nanny. Prince was eventually pardoned.
But Carter was also a pioneer. He was the first to elevate human rights in foreign policy. He appointed large numbers of women, Latinos and blacks. He installed solar panels on the White House (President Reagan removed them). He established diplomatic relations with China.
Carter also had a deep sense of honesty — sometimes too deep. Other politicians have affairs and deny them. Carter didn’t have affairs but nonetheless disclosed that “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” File that under “too much information.”
Carter, the one-termer who was a pariah in his own party, may well have improved the lives of more people in more places over a longer period of time than any other recent president. So we in the snooty media world owe him an apology: We were wrong about you, Mr. President. You’re not a lightweight at all, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll do in your next 90 years!
READ THE WHOLE ESSAY AT:
FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2015. 7:02 a.m. [GMT]