A good man doesn’t equal a good president, but Jimmy Carter was one of the best
It’s a difference with a distinction, a juxtaposition of like terms that can confound critics.
Former President Jimmy Carter is a “good man,” likely one of the best men ever to become president of the United States.
However, as a president, he was not a “good president,” a view that seems a collective consensus of many historians.
So, in light of the ongoing race for the 2016 presidential nominations in each of the parties, it leads to the question, just how important is it to be a “good person” (a more gender-neutral approach, given that a woman now is running for each nomination)?
All of that came to mind given the late August disclosure by President Carter, 90, that he has cancer, four spots on his brain, which ordinarily would be terminal for most cancer patients.
It was 40 years ago this fall, in November 1975, that I spent a full day traveling with then- Gov. Jimmy Carter, when he remained “Jimmy who?” to folks like us outside of Georgia, where he’d been born, raised and was active in the civic community, serving as one of its last Democrat governors.
It was a year to the day before he would be elected president that the then yet-obscure politician brought his one-man road show, carrying his own carry-on bag, with no security, to Delaware.
The News Journal – where I worked then covering politics – offered the opportunity to travel with Gov. Carter for the day first to its far more seasoned political reporters, Ralph Moyed and Bill Frank, each of who turned it down. I was the third to be asked, and as a rising 28-year-old, I happily accepted. (Moyed later kidded me about the “career boost” he gave me by passing on the Carter visit.)
Covering such a soon-to-be luminary was not a new experience. I’d covered governors and gubernatorial candidates, senators (I’d already covered a 30-something Joe Biden), and presidential surrogates.
Nevertheless, I remember approaching meeting Gov. Carter with a wide-eyed enthusiasm, particularly given his aspirations. In the news about that time has been the famous “lusting in my heart” comment in a Playboy magazine interview, a “feet of clay” admission of his personal humanity and weakness.
Presidential aspirant Carter was a real contrast to three of his four predecessors (Gerald Ford being the exception}, given what became known about JFK, LBJ and Nixon. LBJ likely was the best president as an executive since FDR and his predecessors despite his own human and political weaknesses, Nixon accomplished some great things albeit without any real ethical boundaries, and JFK set an aspirational tone that’s been hard to match, with a great accomplishment – NASA’s “man on the moon” – and his legacy of expanded involvement that led to the Vietnam War.
I didn’t agree with all that President Carter did, notably his “give back” of the nation’s treaty rights to the Panama Canal and his 180-degree flop on America’s “one China” policy, dropping Taiwan like a hot potato in favor of the Red Chinese. And he was stuck with some difficult times not of his making, notably the Iranian hostage crisis, economic and energy issues at home, and such.
But “the sense of the man” that I got that day in November 1975, of his strong ethical core, gave him a foundation to which every elected political leader could and should aspire. It transcended Carter, and enveloped even the more human people around him.
Hamilton Jordan (pronounced JER-dun) was Carter’s right-hand man, himself a very human person, created a colorful swath in Washington, once crawling under a dinner table at a Georgetown party in an inebriated condition. I came to know Jordan later in his life, when, as a four-time cancer survivor, he devoted his life as a writer and speaker to helping cancer victims, survivors and their families, perhaps a part of the halo effect of the Carter legacy.
I spent another day with President Carter about 1989 or so, when we at the DuPont Co. were contributing DuPont materials to help him in his global campaigns, that one to eliminate the parasitic guinea worm from well water in sub-Saharan Africa which created enormous pain and suffering there. To this day, I remember the dual sense of purpose and peace that enveloped President Carter.
Today, for Jimmy Carter, all we can do is wish him God speed and include him in our prayers. For the rest of us, we should be blessed too have a “good person” who becomes a “good President.”
Sam Waltz is the founding publisher Delaware Business Times.