For anyone with an honest interest in the true profession of politics, the name James Earl Carter may have been on your mind for the last few months. If you’re fortunate to have access to any form of media expression, coupled with that sincere interest in all things political, you’ve been wrestling with what to say about the Carter story - and how to say it - since his disclosure a year ago that he has cancer. And a resulting remission.
The best regional piece I’ve read was from friend Marc Johnson in Boise, on his blog “Many Things Considered” awhile back. Something thoughtfully political with a great deal of heart and substance.
Historians will continue to debate the Carter presidency as they do those of all temporary occupants of the Oval Office. The good - the bad - the important - the trivial. That’s their job and they’re welcome to it. Not possessing any of their scholarly credentials, don’t look for any of that here.
But, I’m an adult American male with some longevity and understanding of what I admire in someone of that same simple description. Politics aside, I can think of almost no other public figure who rises to the common definition of role model and just plain decent human being as does James Earl Carter.
I’m a cancer survivor. So far. As such, I’ve watched Carter’s public discussion of that very private issue of possible death with interest. In sum, his public statements about his battle contain what every medical professional looks for in someone in their care - thoughtfulness - perspective - reflection - understanding. And humor. Humor from - and directed at - the human experience that death is a part of living. If religion is part of someone’s life - as it certainly is for Carter - invoking one’s faith is not only relevant but crucial in how matters of fate can be accepted.
But, within a few hours, matters of politics soon interrupted these moments of witnessing humanity at its best. In less than a day, one of the cretins running for president took a public shot at the Carter presidency. A shot not only ill-timed but factless. As too many of recent statements have been. Embarrassment and personal humiliation don’t exist in Cruz world.
But Cruz and others - whoring for dollars and votes - have offered the most glaring examples of how far the institution of national politics has fallen compared to the humanity and moral stature of a Jimmy Carter. Trump is the worst as he usual is when taking about the value of someone’s humanity. His outright prostitution is selling himself for public adulation and to gorge his billionaire-sized ego
Try to simultaneously hold in your mind the kind of personal and public life lived and the contributions to humanity made by Carter since his White House years, while also considering those “candidates” who got into the Republican primary this year. Pick any one of the strident voices from the entire pack - just one - from whom voters could expect a future personal life of humanitarian service, public dignity and selfless contribution. I can’t.
Our recent political history is befouled by money, lies, unfounded fears of government spread by callous but well-paid voices, wide-spread willful ignorance, candidates far, far exceeding the “Peter Principle” and scores of office holders not qualified to do the jobs to which they’ve been elected.
The National Republic Party is reaping a harvest of shame from years of accepting the lowest denomination of unqualified candidates. This scrum of flotsam has been propped up by billionaires determined to set our country’s agenda for decades to come. For Democrats, the candidate is someone whose run has long been “ordained” but who’s not been sufficiently publically challenged in this campaign and who’s become profoundly rich at the public trough.
And it’s our fault. We’ve accepted all that. With the exception of Clinton and Sanders, we’ve accepted vastly unqualified people who’ve disdained educating themselves or participating in the knowledgeable conduct of their government. We - you and I - have not been involved enough with a selection process that puts names on the ballot - the names from which we have to chose who’ll determine our national course. We’ve stood at the polling place too often and cursed while making a choice of “the lesser of two evils.” By our careless and uninformed vote, we’ve allowed office seekers - and holders - to become whores chasing dollars and taxpayer-funded retirements while rewarding big donors with favoritism. We’ve failed to demand high standards and have allowed incompetence to be perpetuated and accepted. We’ve wrongfully allowed elected office holding to be perpetual employment.
Then, a former peanut farmer from Georgia displays the grace, dignity, acceptance and guts of someone you can’t help but admire, whatever his politics. He does it in our living rooms, face-to-face, showing us how to deal with our own mortality by offering the finest of ourselves.
For centuries, travelers have navigated by the North Star because of its reliability and brightness. Future presidents would do well to navigate their courses using the same qualities of humanness as James Earl Carter.