For anyone with an honest interest in the true profession of politics, the name James Earl Carter has been on your mind for the past week. 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.
The best regional piece I’ve read is from friend Marc Johnson in Boise, on his blog “Many Things Considered.” To read something political - with heart and substance - take a minute right here and go to http://manythingsconsidered.com/. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
So much for the well-written, scholarly approach to the Carter story. My response is far more visceral.
Historians will 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. I possess none of their scholarly credentials. So 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 the same description. And, 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.
With some training in matters of hospice care, I’ve also watched Carter’s public discussion of the very private issue of impending death with interest. In sum, those few minutes embodied what nearly every hospice 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 has been with 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 this moment of witnessing humanity at its best. It took less than a day for one of the cretins running for president to take a public shot at the Carter presidency. A shot that was not only ill-timed but factless. Embarrassment and personal humiliation don’t exist in the Cruz world.
But Cruz and others - whoring for dollars and votes - offer the most glaring examples of how far our national politics have fallen when compared to the humanity and moral stature of a Jimmy Carter. I include all but two in the current crop. Trump is not prostituting himself for big bucks. He’s whoring on his own campaign tab. His prostitution is selling himself for public adulation and to gorge his own billionaire-sized ego. I also don’t include Sanders because he’s not looking for big donors and not running the kind of “selling-your-soul-in-the-marketplace” campaign of the others. Including Ms. Clinton.
Try to simultaneously hold in your mind the kind of life lived, and the contributions to humanity made by Carter since his White House years, while also considering our current presidential choices. Pick 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. With the possible exception of Sanders, I can’t.
Our moment in 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. In Democrats, the leading candidate is someone whose run has long been “ordained” but who’s not been sufficiently publically challenged and who’s become profoundly rich at the public trough.
And it’s our fault. We’ve accepted all that. We’ve accepted people who’ve disdained educating themselves or participating in the conduct of their government as having some sort of personal right to do so. They don’t! We’ve not been involved enough with a selection process that puts names on the ballot - the names from which we have to chose to set 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 while rewarding big donors with favoritism. We’ve failed to demand high standards and have allowed incompetence to be perpetuated and accepted. We’ve 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 stability. Future presidents would do well to navigate their own courses using the same personal qualities of James Earl Carter.