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A Case For Carter

Score another one for Jimmy Carter. The former president marked another landmark humanitarian achievement yesterday by bringing home American school teacher Aijalon Mahli Gomes from North Korea. Gomes had been sentenced by the North Korean government in April to 8 years of hard labor. It is the latest in a long list of humanitarian efforts by Carter.

Here’s the thing about Jimmy Carter: The right has been so successful in their depiction of Carter as a tremendous failure that even most Democrats have bought into the idea. He was recently voted the worst American in history by right-wing bloggers. But the truth is that he was one of our county’s best leaders. In a time when many southern Democrats were transitioning into Republicans, this Democrat from Georgia was able to truly reach across party lines and bridge some of the partisan rifts caused by Watergate.

Like the current president, Carter inherited one of the worst financial situations a modern President could expect. There were myriad reasons for the dismal state of the economy, and none of them were of his doing. However, by the time Carter left office, the double-digit inflation that is unfairly attributed to him was going, going and almost gone. And while he has been accused of being too liberal, he in fact continued the deregulation policies initiated by Nixon and Ford.

His accomplishments as president include an energy policy that is responsible for today’s more fuel-efficient cars and home appliances, creation of the Superfund to clean up dangerous environmental situations caused by corporations, and he played a strong role in bringing about a meaningful peace to the Middle East for the first time since the founding of Israel through his Camp David Accords. It is for his peace-keeping efforts that he enjoyed a higher popularity overseas than he did at home.

Faced with the no-win hostage situation in Iran, the Navy veteran used every option ethically available to a president, including the ill-fated rescue attempt that unfortunately came to define his administration. A heavier hand would have risked war and the lives of the hostages; a lighter touch had been ineffective.

The Reagan campaign allowed the American public to believe that the mere intimidation of the stronger, more manly Bedtime for Bonzo actor was enough to secure the release of the 52 embassy staffers. In fact, it was the illegal and un-American arms-for-hostages policy of the Reagan administration that did the trick. Reagan and his advisors knew instinctively that the actions were wrong. Why else hide them from the American people? There is even very strong circumstantial evidence suggesting that the Reagan campaign had negotiated a deal delaying the release of the hostages until after the election, thereby perpetrating their portrayal of Carter as weak and ineffective in safeguarding our nation and its citizens. And while all this has been brought to light, the myth about Reagan’s strength and Carter’s weakness still persists 30 years later.

Despite all of this, what is really important about Carter was and is his character and how that honor and integrity reflected on our country and on us as a people. Despite the successes or failures of all our presidents since (excluding Obama, for whom the jury is still out), not one has represented the USA on the world stage with the same virtues for which we were once admired – for doing the right things for no other reasons than because they are right and because we can.

It is a conviction and a calling that Carter has continued even after the electorate made it clear that the nation prefered the swagger of a cowboy and the right to be a world leader because no one could stop us from doing so. We should count ourselves quite fortunate indeed to have citizen Carter speaking on our behest and showing the global community that despite some of our recent activity, America is still a country with people who do good and ask for absolutely nothing in return.

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