By: Jeremy D. WellsCarter County Times
Former President Jimmy Carter has come home to be with family during his final days of hospice care. Very soon he will no longer be with us.
During a discussion of the former politician’s legacy the other day, a friend of a friend said that while the former president “may be a decent guy,” he was, “a failure as a president.”
Personally, I find that statement debatable. To be clear, I was a very small child during Carter’s presidency. I don’t remember much about that period at all, much less any first hand knowledge of the politics and zeitgeist of his four years in office.
To my mind, though, if Carter was a “failure” it was because he failed to embrace the cynicism, opportunism, and the general mean-spirited nature of D.C. politics. It seems to me that the very thing that made him attractive to voters – that genuine nice guy appeal – doomed him to failure in the cut-throat world inside the beltway.
There may be some of you who feel I’m being a bit naïve, but I think it’s hard to deny that Jimmy Carter’s heart was always in the right place, both during his time in office and after retiring from the role.
Despite having held the highest office in the land, Carter maintained the fairly modest home he and his wife Rosalynn have owned since 1961. Upon returning to their home in the community of Plains, Georgia after leaving the White House, Carter went back to teaching Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church – a role he continued in despite his declining health at least twice a month.
If Carter is best known for one thing, other than his presidency, it’s probably his volunteerism with Habitat for Humanity. Since first becoming involved in the organization in 1984, the former president contributed time and labor to building more than 4,000 homes with the charity.
For me, though, the thing that convinced me Jimmy Carter was a good man was a photo and a letter that graced the hallway of my grandparent’s home.
My grandmother was a big supporter of Jimmy Carter’s political career. Though she lived through another four administrations, and had strong political opinions, she never voted in another presidential election after Carter’s defeat. She said none of the men who ran for that office after him were honorable enough to earn her vote.
In the immediate aftermath of his defeat by Ronald Reagan, however, my Nan – never one to find herself at a loss for words – put pen to paper to express her regret that he would not serve a second term and to wish him well in whatever came next.
Not only did Carter respond, he sent her a personalized letter touching on the exact points she raised in her letter to him. That this man – a person who once held the most powerful office in the nation – not only took the time to send my grandmother a response, but a personalized one, made a huge impact on me.
Since then, learning of the Carters friendship with Tom T. and Dixie Hall, and reading over some of their correspondences in the archives of the Olive Hill Welcome Center, I’ve come to be even more impressed with the man, his talent, and – most importantly – his humility.
You may not have agreed with every action he took as president. You might have wanted him to handle things differently. But there is no denying that Jimmy Carter endeavored to put more good out into the world. He did what he could to make a difference, not in the lives of political donors and business lobbyists, but in the lives of the most needy among us; the homeless in need of shelter, and the spiritually hungry seeking a lesson to fill their hearts.
He may not have been the best president we ever had, but he is undoubtedly among the finest of men this nation has ever produced.
We could sure use more like him in this world.
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