Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy 90th Birthday, Jimmy!

The 39th President of the United States was born on October 1, 1924, so tomorrow is Jimmy Carter’s 90th birthday.
In spite of the many difficulties and widespread criticism during his presidency, he is the best ex-President the U.S. has ever had in terms of public service and contributions to world peace and justice.
It was fitting that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. And it is fitting that we, too, celebrate his birthday.
Carter was a one-term president, embarrassingly defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
His defeat was due to many factors, such as rampant inflation that caused grave financial problems in the country, 53 Americans taken hostage in Iran and held for more than a year, and loss of support by the Religious Right.
Still, the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, of September 1978 were a tremendous accomplishment.
Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin won the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for those accords, but the agreement came about only because of the indefatigable efforts of Carter.
It can be argued, though, that the biggest mistake Carter made while in the White House was his support of the Shah of Iran.
On New Year’s Eve in 1977, President Carter toasted the Shah at a state dinner in Tehran, calling him "an island of stability" in the troubled Middle East.
Just over one year later, the Shah fled his country because of the Iranian Revolution, and in February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returned after 14 years in exile.
Then, in November 1979, students in the Iranian Revolution overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 53 hostages who were not released until the minute after President Reagan was inaugurated in 1981.
The Iranians didn’t forget Carter’s support of the Shah.
Since his presidency, Carter has authored numerous books. One of his most important, and most criticized, is “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (2007).
Many strong supporters of Israel have been quite critical of that book. But in it Carter quite convincingly argues that the Palestinians have been mistreated greatly over the past 60 years.
It is a book that still needs to be widely read and seriously considered.
The documentary film “Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains” (2007) is mostly about Carter’s book tour following the publication of “Palestine” and about the controversy surrounding it.
Carter’s latest book, published earlier this year, is “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” He writes in the introduction that “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.”
Carter’s commitment to human rights and justice was a highly commendable aspect of his presidency, and he has continued that emphasis in all these years since he left office more than three decades ago.
The third chapter in Carter’s new book is “The Bible and Gender Equality.” It is a strong statement about how the Bible, rightly interpreted, supports the equality of men and women.
He also explains in this chapter how that issue is one of the main reasons he left the Southern Baptist Convention.
In most ways Jimmy Carter is a rather “common” man. But he has had a remarkable life and has made great contributions to the world, both as the President of the United States and as a very active ex-president.
So regardless of your political position and your evaluation of Carter’s presidency, please join me in exclaiming, “Happy 90th Birthday, Jimmy!”


  1. Jimmy Carter is a national hero and treasure. Very nice, Leroy. Thanks.

    P.S.: It does not escape me that you've published a blog about Carter's birthday on the day of mine! I guess I'm going to have to win a Nobel Prize or something... :D

  2. Happy birthday, Anton!

    And just wait, I am planning to write about you on your 90th birthday. (That may be a challenge, though, as I will be 99 then!)

  3. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard comments,

    "I have no doubt that Carter is a genuinely decent man; perhaps too decent to have been President. His activities as an ex-President have been exemplary and he has consistently supported human rights.

    "Unfortunately, the hostage crisis in Iran and the economic crisis brought his defeat in the 1980 election. He did not lose as badly as one might have suspected. I am not convinced that his successor was any better, but then I have my political prejudices just as everyone else.

    "I agree with Carter that women's rights is most important rights issue on the planet. Prevention and avoidance of warfare is critical in this struggle."

    1. Well, the electoral vote was 489 to 49, so that is a pretty decisive loss.

      And I, for one, am thoroughly convinced that Carter's successor was not any better.

  4. I think it is no mere coincidence that in 1979 the Southern Baptist Convention was blindsided by a fundamentalist takeover, and then a year later the SBC leadership were cheerleaders in Reagan's victory. Perhaps with some luck Carter might have survived the election, but a radical conservative movement combining libertarian economics and social conservatism was sweeping to power in America, and America has still not recovered. We live under a new golden rule, where those who have the gold make the rules.

    The inauguration of Reagan ushered in an era of borrow-and-spend Republicanism, which replaced the tax-and-spend system which had brought prosperity to postwar America. For today's Republicans, even that is too much, so now we have "starve the beast" Tea Party Republicans who claim austerity will lead to prosperity, even as depression haunts Europe and America. The plutocrats have nearly won, they own the Republicans, and have largely co-opted the Democrats. Depression for the masses is the price they are happy to pay for power for the elite. Income and wealth inequality are at near record levels. Yet, they want more.

    Asking if Carter could have defeated Reagan is sort of like asking if Jesus could have avoided crucifixion. There are times when the powers of darkness are on the march. The Roberts Court has thrown every case possible to the rich and powerful, and dark money is trying to bury the environment, the economy, and just about every freedom except the freedom to do stupid things with guns. There is lots of money to be made in manufacturing and selling guns and ammunition. Not so much in helping the halt, the blind, and the lame. There is lots of money to make in criminalizing poverty, not so much in fighting poverty. So jails are booming, even as cities are dying. Ferguson, Missouri is the new America.

    Jimmy Carter was too good for America, so we threw him out.

  5. Anti-drone activist Brian Terrell, about whom I wrote in my 6/20/14 blog article, posted strong criticism of President Carter on Facebook, where I had linked to this article, and he gave me permission to post his comments here.

    "I wish Jimmy Carter well on his birthday but find little in this political career that is not lamentable, if not criminal. His support of the Shah might be his biggest mistake (is "mistake" the right word for Carter's deliberate support of a tyrant?) but there are many acts as horrific.

    "His support for the death squads and oligarchy in El Salvador? We forget that Carter was the president who ignored Archbishop Romero's pleas for the US to stop arming the thugs who were murdering his people just before he was martyred.

    "Afghanistan? Members of his administration brag that Carter lured the Soviets into invading Afghanistan by secretly arming 'freedom fighters' there, giving the Russians 'their Vietnam' that brought them down. Carter might be credited as a founding father of the Taliban.

    "When the USS Jimmy Carter was 'christened' in 2004, Carter said that having a Sea Wolf class nuclear attack submarine, a cold war relic obsolete before it was built, was the greatest honor he received in his life, a greater source of pride for him that his Nobel Peace Prize. South Africa, Guatemala, Israel, cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe (a Carter scheme Reagan took the blame for) the list is inexhaustible.

    "Carter is no worse but no better than the succession of presidents before and after him. Good that he builds houses for the homeless, that he is the one to label Israel as an apartheid state, but not enough to atone for what he did as president."

  6. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson, received yesterday (when I should have posted them here):

    "You've highlighted well the reasons for which we should think of Jimmy Carter as America's most commendable former president. If Baptists ever recognize saints, he deserves to be at the head of the list as one who loved his fellow human beings without partiality."

  7. Local Thinking Friend Donald Wideman also sent comments about Carter and permission to post them here:

    "Thanks for your post on Jimmy Carter. I have had the privilege of meeting him, sitting in his Sunday School class in Plains, visiting the Carter Center in Atlanta and learning of the many accomplishments of that great work in the fields of fair elections, elimination of diseases, and other works.

    "I believe the U.S. supported the Shah of Iran for some time before Carter became president. Carter's approval of allowing the Shah to come to the U.S. became the issue that radicals in Iran used to imprison Americans.

    "I think history will provide a positive review of Jimmy Carter."

    1. Thanks, Don, for your comments--and for mentioning Carter allowing the Shah to enter the U.S. (for medical treatment in Nov. 1979). That probably was more the target of the Iranian Revolution's criticism than was Carter's toast to the Shah that I mentioned.

      And, yes, the U.S. had close ties to the Shah from the beginning of his "reign" in 1941 until he was overthrown in 1979.

  8. I just found someone else celebrating Carter's 90th birthday. Here is the link: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/10/01/1333327/-Cheers-and-Jeers-Wednesday?detail=hide

  9. Local Thinking Friend Joe Barbour wrote,

    "Thanks so much for your blog about Jimmy Carter. I first met him at a convention meeting. He was a very personable man.

    "I got to know him much better when he came to Zambia to see about free and fair election of a new president for that country. His presence did much to help that goal to be achieved. We invited him to meet with our missionary group of IMB personnel, had a dinner with him and about 6 hours we spent with him.

    "Certainly he has done a far greater work since his presidency than while in office, but I will remember him as a great man."