|From Jimmy Carter ...|
I stood inside the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock back in April, next to my brother and he asked me if I had ever been to the Jimmy Carter Library. I was ashamed to say no, and sort of half-lied trying to save face. I had driven by it numerous times on my way to get a pizza , but never stopped. He said, “Next time I come to Atlanta, we should go.” It was agreed; it would be so.
Now, why hadn’t I gone. Most people I asked shamefully said no, or lied like me, or said they went on a school trip or something a long time ago. No one proudly said that they went on their own volition, or said they enjoyed it. (I want to change this). I think it’s because we lived through the Carter Presidency and the general consensus adopted with the rise of the Republican Noise Machine was that he was one of the worst presidents ever . But most historical rankings place him in the twenties out of currently 44 (by Historians ,by public opinion). Average maybe, but not awful, unless the U.S. Presidency is a parade of truly horrible men.
I want to change this disposition. I went and I was moved. Compared to Clinton’s palatial library, the building and its contents were simple. But, it appeared even-handed and I was impressed by its real attempt to frame Jimmy Carter’s service to the country within a historical context.
There are displays discussing the negatives we remember vividly. Most notably the Hostage Crisis and the Fuel Crisis . They were treated fairly without real attempt at apologetics. His principal success, Peace between Egypt and Israel was given no grander treatment. I found this humility admirable. There were displays of some of the gifts he received, most interestingly portrait done by Mexican Artist Octavio Ocampo.. There was the replica of the Oval Office and the famous Resolute desk (as in National Treasure 2). I heard a rumor that you could sit in the desk and get a photo, but that was not the case. (My brother and I thought that they may have stopped this practice because of the fun-loving boyfriend and girlfriend opting to strike a Clintonesque pose). There were taped interviews and you could watch two of the famous School House Rock! videos (Energy & How a Bill becomes a Law). There was a nice 15 minute film of the presidency to set the stage correctly.
But struck by the broader picture, I formulated a different picture of the man. His principle undertakings, Human Rights, Education, Stagflation in the Economy, Middle East Peace, and Energy, resonated in my head with the issues of the 21st Century. Darfur, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, China are human rights issues of the day. Education has become worse and worse. We face, whether we like to call it or not, a real recession. Our demons are legion in the Middle East. And our Fuel crisis is double anything we faced in the 70’s. Carter’s speeches on turning toward fuel conservation became a subject of jokes and ridicule. He elevated Energy to a Cabinet level position (Do you even know who Samuel Bodman is?).
Carter created the Department of Education. Carter appointed Paul Volcker as the Federal Chairman, who was the architect of the monetary reforms that hurt, but cured Stagflation issues (Greenspan & Bernacke are unfit to hold his Volcker’s jockstrap--it’s like replacing Dan Marino with Jay Fielder). The Camp David Accords saw the first recognition of Israel by an Muslim country, real peace across religious barriers. Carter's energy policy of conservation is going to be our forced mantra looking at our $4+ a gallon gas prices and $150+ per barrel oil prices.
So what happened to our National Direction. Our course change drastically with the Election of Ronald Reagan . Reagan decreased funding to the newly formed Department of Education. He focused globally (and successfully) away from the Middle East. He symbolically removed the solar panels from the White House (What harm could the solar panels cause?), to highlight our shift from a saving to a wasting nation. I stood in the library, for the first time of my life, thinking how much different we could have been if we had re-elected Carter instead of bringing in Reagan. Maybe Carter wasn’t the failure, our short attention to history remembers. Considering the world we live in, maybe, just maybe he was a visionary, an prophet disliked and ignored in his own country. And regardless of your agreement or disagreement with this, he is our native son, our only Georgia-born President.
So I want this post to serve two purposes. First, I want the general public to reexamine the Jimmy Carter Library as a possible destination in your wanderings. The cost is $8 for adults, but kids 16 and under enter free (June 2008). And secondly, I wanted this to be a public apology to Jimmy Carter for every bad thing I ever said about him. No, you weren’t perfect, but you were trying and you were right. I formed an opinion about you when I was Eight that it took me decades to shake:
President Carter, if you ever read this, I am sorry, truly sorry.