As he enters hospice, it's a good time to reappraise the most underestimated U.S. President in history
Not surprisingly, Jefferson was a little self-serving when he claimed that no blood was shed in war during his administration. The First Barbary War was fought from 1801-1805 during Jefferson's first term. That's where the "shores of Tripoli" comes from in the Marine Corps Hymn. So maybe Carter's was the only presidency where no blood was shed in war!
I noted a minor historical error in your beautifully written biography of Mr. Carter. I believe you stated that he potentially ran the risk of being the first President since Rutherford Hayes to not earn the renomination of his party. Firstly, this is technically not really relevant regarding President Hayes because he had clearly stated that he did wish to run for a second term. Secondly, I believe that an elected President had not received his party's renomination as recently as 1920, when, believe it or not, a severely ill Woodrow Wilson actually wanted to seek a third term.
When working on my book, I interviewed Carter a dozen times--either in person or by email. Unfortunately, he suffered a series of falls and in 2019 lost his ability to read email. And he no longer grants interviews to anyone. He's just too old. Also, there's not a lot else I'd ask him that I haven't already....
Btw, he and Rosalynn listened to my book on tape. He appreciated that I corrected the record on his presidency but wished I had covered his post-presidency more. (I had to cut some from that section to keep the book from being too long). Rosalynn's comment was: "Jonathan wrote some critical things about Jimmy but he only said nice things about me!" That's entirely accurate.
PRESIDENT CARTER'S BIOGRAPHY Jimmy Carter's father was a white supremacist! But Jimmy's mother was a nurse, who treated black people at no charge! When Jimmy was in the navy, he sent Rosalynn steamy love letters! After his father's death, she opposed Jimmy's plan to take over the peanut farm! As a Baptist missionary, he tried to convert a brothel's madam! Jonathan Alter wrote the book, "His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life" (2020).
Jimmy Carter's No Real Humanitarian
by Gordon Smith
Carter secretly supported the genocidal Pol Pot government ousted by Vietnam in 1979. This secret support was essential to further punishment of Vietnam for having successfully defended her own population against the American invaders. US Indochina strategy also intended to outflank the Vietnamese, who were aligned with the Soviet Union, and to back the Pol Pot forces, aligned with China.
Carter declared his support for the Shah of Iran-despite the rampant torture practiced by the Shah's secret police in close collaboration with the C.I.A.-more emphatically than Richard Nixon had: "There is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal friendship and gratitude."
Following the Indonesians' 1975 invasion of East Timor, Carter continued to arm Indonesia's army dictatorship as well as give diplomatic support (vetoing U.N. resolutions to end the atrocities in the former Portuguese colony). This war has killed more than 200,000 East Timorese, making it the worst genocide relative to population since World War II. Carter did nothing to pressure General Suharto (Indonesia's chief of state) to end the war. He was an ally and major supporter of the Indonesian military's repression of its own population, as well as the slaughter of the East Timorese people. The army's murderous stranglehold on East Timor will continue as long as the ruling military clique of Indonesia lets transnational oil companies have a good share of East Timorese oil profits.
During his watch, Carter aided and supported Nicaragua's then-dictator Anastasio Somoza, who murdered and repressed tens of thousands of his own people. When Somoza's forces were about to lose control of the main cities, Carter attempted to launch an invasion under the fig leaf of an intervention by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS refused and Carter then planned to send the US military to salvage Somoza's army, which was established by and beholden to the US government-but it was too late. Carter made sure that Somoza was ferried out of the country on a Red Cross-painted US aircraft. The C.I.A. under Carter helped to re-establish Somoza's army as a terrorist force against the people of Nicaragua. These "contras" assassinated social workers, doctors and civilians, burned crops, and tried to exterminate any possibility of social reform that the Sandinistas created.
Wonderful summation of your important book. Like many around the world, I'm feeling renewed admiration for the President and his strengths as he makes the decision to go into hospice, a brave move for a man who so loves is life. Thank you. I am sending your piece along to others in appreciation. Nancy
Presidential historians may want to revisit their assumptions about his presidency after so many years since he left office. Stepping away from a huge painting offers many different perspectives.
Kennedy's campaign to unseat Jimmy was the first display of meanspiritedness I witnessed in my young life. I was living in Boston then, a friend of mine was working in Kennedy's campaign and knew the real story of Chapaquidic, which I don't know how to spell correctly and don't care. I knew the purse left in the car was the purse of the woman Ted was having an affair with. The fact of the affair meant Kennedy was protected from the silly, simple truth coming out. Nobody knew Mary Joe had been drinking so much she fell asleep in the back seat of Kennedy's car and Ted and his girl were too tipsy to notice her either when they got in the car. She was simply passed out in the back seat when she drowned. Sitting on this secret of the how it all went down was a marker in my life. Now that I'm an old nanny goat, I fiercely believe that friendship means supporting a friend even when you don't agree with their decisions; hence Kenndy's role as a Democrat was to support Carter as president, not try to unseat him. I really think this goes back too to the Kennedy's dislike of southerners in the way they disliked Johnson. As a southerner of the deep South, I received that same sort of prejudice. Jimmy being Jimmy proves that one with his level of decency will be loved in time for all the right reasons. I have always loved his accent. Everyone should read His Very Best. Thanks for writing it, Jon.
Yeah, like everybody else Volcker behaved as if he were on Reagan's payroll, but if Teddy hadn't permanently tilted newsrooms against Jimmy, we'd have rallied behind our besieged leader like nobody's business. It's never so much the words as how you couch them. Just our collective anger at Iran should have had him winning in a landslide. Wow, I can't believe I'm still angry about this, but I sure am. So many Democratic disasters seem like Deus ex Machinae at work— Sirhan, Monkey Business, Thurgood Marshal's premature retirement, Florida's recount fiasco, James Comey— it's enough to turn you to religion. Or against it. Valuing the right thing over the popular thing will always be known as the Carter credo. I think about it every day, Jon. Clearly, so do you.
I am enjoying Old Goats very much! Stay safe and well.
Compared to Jimmy, we're all Guinea Worms, aren't we, Jon? A truly moving piece, thank you so much! My own Monday Morning Quarterbacking of the 1980 election was that one thing and one thing only, Teddy's ignoble, media-beloved campaign for President less than a decade after he was caught wet-handed at Chappaquiddick, was necessary and sufficient, hence causative, for Carter to lose in 1980, tagging him Loser for Life. As a member of the complicit 4th Estate in 1981, I covered the initial Space Shuttle launch with Cronkite (barely a month into retirement) and the whole gang at Cape Canaveral. They smelled guilty. They/we've been trying to make it up to Jimmy ever since. I wish they/we could make it up to this warming, frog-boiling world.
Love this, Jon…I first met him at the Mt. Joy, Iowa airport in 1975. There were about 20 people there to greet him. His decency resonated in the post-Watergate era, and the rest is history. Thank you for sharing his amazing life with all of us.
Really enjoyed this biography and critique of anti-Carter myth. Political myth is fascinating. I remember reading a New Yorker article a few years back wherein it discussed how the vast majority of Americans in the sixties were either pro or neutral on Vietnam, and generally approved of Nixon (until Watergate). Yet the myth we’ve been handed down is that everyone in the turbulent sixties was a radical hippie trying to tear down 1950s conformity and the status quo. It really makes you wonder what media myths (on both sides) we’ll be handed in 20, 30 years about our time right now. How will media retell the story of Wokeism, the 2020 riots, January 6, Covid, etc.
I’m currently reading a biography on FDR and loving it. Very interesting.
Anyway--thanks for the thoughtful, well written, in-depth piece.
‘Sincere American Writing’
What a wonderful synthesis of Carter's life and legacy. Now I'm even more depressed that my first vote for president in 1980 did not get him re-elected! To think he was going to start trying to work on global warming. Wow. I've also appreciated Rosalyn Carter so much more as the years went on. As a kid still really while she was First Lady, I didn't appreciate that what she was doing was new and different.
very well done much appreciated
Thank you. My late parents grew up with Jimmy and Rosalynn. Dad and Jimmy were classmates. Rosalynn and I are distant cousins. So I was fortunate to engage with them at family reunions over many decades. The last time I spoke to Jimmy was in 2019. He lived a true life. We need more like him.