In the latter part of the twentieth century, Evangelical Christians threw their vote behind a politician who shared their values, and the groundswell of support not only took that candidate all the way to the White House, but created such a seismic shift in the American political landscape that Newsweek magazine declared the year of the campaign “The Year of the Evangelicals!” That year was 1980, and that candidate was Ronald Reagan! No, wait, that’s not right – it was actually 1976, and the candidate was the Democrat that Reagan later defeated: Jimmy Carter.
(That surprise ending was probably undercut by the large headline and picture of Jimmy Carter above. I liked it anyway).
For better or worse, Jimmy Carter helped usher in the age of Evangelical politics, even if his fellow believers (Carter was a Southern Baptist but left the denomination in the 2000s over disagreement on the ordination of women; I’ll let you guess which side Carter was on) abandoned him politically because of his liberal policies – he had moral qualms against abortion but supported abortion rights as a legal principle, for example – switching Evangelical support to Ronald Reagan (shades of Evangelical support for Donald Trump abound here [shade at Donald Trump comes later in the article])
Jimmy Carter turned 95 yesterday, making him the only US President to reach that age (and making him exactly 25 years older than the People’s Republic of China – fun fact; Carter was the first US President to meet with the new post-Mao leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, and Deng and Carter signed accords creating full diplomatic relations between the two countries).
Carter is seen by some as “history’s greatest monster” (one of the greatest political jokes to ever come from the Simpsons), or more seriously “the worst figure in American history” by a group of conservative bloggers (to give some perspective to the list, Carter is followed by Barack Obama, then FDR. Benedict Arnold and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh are numbers 5 and 9, respectively. Wow). Even without the hyperbole, conservatives point towards his bungling of the Iranian hostage crisis and perceived softness in the Cold War (by contrast, political scientist Samuel Huntington, who served in the Carter administration, credited his former boss’ emphasis on human rights as one of the many factors that kicked off a wave of democratization that swept the world from the 1970s on, but, you know, we have to be tough to stand up to communism, not let human rights get in the way of supporting anti-communist dictators. I keep digressing. Let’s move on).
For others, Carter is “the greatest ex-president” the US has ever had. Remember that old SNL cartoon where the “X-Presidents” were superheroes; yeah, that’s basically Jimmy Carter for real. His greatest achievement has been the Carter Center, founded by the former President and his wife Rosalynn in 1982, which has monitored over 100 elections worldwide, helping to establish a modicum of fairness and equity to these proceedings and/or reporting on those that were decidedly unfair. Oh and it also basically wiped out an entire disease: Guinea worm, a rather nasty and disgusting parasite that used to infect millions of people each year – now it infects about 20. Not 20 million. 20 individuals. Good job. The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize won by Carter for his center was well deserved (sorry, President Obama, but this is how you win a Nobel Prize).
Carter is still active in international diplomacy, as he’s been consistently since leaving office; most recently, he’s been trying to support the political transition currently taking place in Sudan. And in their spare time, Jimmy and Rosalynn still build houses for needy families through Habitat for Humanity. Carter still teaches Sunday School. I’m sure he also rescues animals from trees and performs puppet shows for children.
Oh, and he and Rosalynn have been married for (counts years from 1946 until now) 73 years! Just to be clear, they’ve been married for basically the exact amount of time that Donald Trump has been alive (I promised you Trump shade, but discussing his marriages seems like a low blow, so I’ll let you fill in the details of said shade).
I usually try to build up to some clever insight or interesting point in these articles, but sometimes it’s simple: Jimmy Carter is awesome, he has lived his Christian faith and principles with grace and humility, and even if he had a few missteps in office, the world is been much better off for him being in it.