Over my lifetime I have had four opportunities to vote for Jimmy Carter -- twice for governor and twice for president -- none of which I exercised. As the present White House occupant, I felt Carter lacked the political experience and knowhow to handle the job of chief executive. But later l became more aware of Carter’s amazing intelligence and unshakeable moral fiber. And because of his extraordinary ability to absorb and assimilate complex data, many experts rate Carter one of the most intelligent individuals ever to occupy the White House. But other presidents have proven that one doesn’t have to be a genius to lead the nation.
A confessing, evangelical, born-again Christian, Carter was without doubt our most openly religious president. And there is nothing contrived or opportunistic about his piety and probity. He has remained consistently faithful to the dictates of his faith since his conversion at an early age. Sadly, Carter was often unable to lead the country in the way he had planned due to his lack of political skill and his reluctance to occasionally get his hands dirty in politics. But Carter lost the 1980 election largely due to propaganda and outright lying by the newly-emerging Religious Right.
This new political-religious faction was not formed to oppose abortion rights as some suppose, but in reaction to an IRS ruling against Bob Jones University that removed its tax-free status due to discrimination in forbidding student interracial dating. And they wrongly blamed Carter. The rejection of Bob Jones’ tax-exempt status was finalized on January 19, 1976, over one year before Carter took office. But for reasons best known to themselves, the Religious Right decided to portray Carter as an evangelical turncoat compliant in the "creeping secularization of America." And their followers apparently believed them.
Was Carter totally honest? Not quite. After promising "I’ll never lie to you," in his first press conference when questioned about the U.S. government’s furnishing of women to King Abdullah of Jordan while here on an official visit, an occasional practice in the case certain high-level Middle-Eastern dignitaries, Carter denied any knowledge of the matter. This is a little hard to believe.
Other than his inability to solve the Iran hostage crisis, I think Carter’s major failure was his 1978 Tax Reform Bill originally intended to provide tax relief to middle and lower-income Americans. He failed to push his bill through Congress in its original form because he didn’t understand how to apply the right pressure in the right places. The final version gave originally-unintended tax breaks to corporations and higher-income individuals and lowered the capital gains tax while giving only token relief to working Americans.
Carter’s Camp David Accords established a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt that endures today. But I think his greatest diplomatic accomplishment was the renegotiation of the Panama Canal Treaty. Up until 1979 Communist Russia had been making steady inroads among Latin Americans by convincing them that the United States considered that entire area, particularly Central America, its private fiefdom, its "plantation." And the Panama Canal acquisition was presented as "Exhibit A." But voluntarily returning sovereignty over the Canal Zone and eventual control over the Canal itself to Panama weakened the Soviet’s case for American colonialism and dampened any serious Latin American flirtation with Marxism. Those who say Carter "gave the Canal away" apparently know little of its earlier history. If I had it to do over again I would vote for Jimmy Carter all four times.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.