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Friday, February 11, 2022

Weekend Special--Canadian Historian Speaks:

Arthur Milnes: Jimmy Carter has achieved great things during his lifetime and now in his 98th Year

KINGSTON, Ontario, Canada — It is probably fair to say that former President Jimmy Carter is too liberal for today’s conservatives and too conservative for today’s liberals. He describes his own philosophy best, saying he is a conservative/progressive of long-standing.

Despite the confusion felt by some, everyone today can agree that Carter is among the greatest Americans of his generation. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his contributions are legion. He forged peace between Israel and Egypt at Camp David.

Later in life, he personally built thousands of homes for the disadvantaged through Habitat for Humanity, and Carter’s policies created hundreds of thousands of new jobs by deregulating the airline and trucking industries. As president, Carter also championed the use of solar power and other renewable sources of energy, anticipating today’s concerns for the environment.

He and his Carter Center have now eradicated Guinea worm disease, saving millions from contracting this terrible condition, one that has afflicted countless millions over the centuries. During one of his many visits to Africa since leaving office, a child famously greeted him holding a hand-painted sign: “Watch Out, Guinea Worm, Here Comes Jimmy Carter.”

When the former president started his work combatting this affliction, there were 3.5 million cases annually. By 2021, there were only 14 cases identified. It is a public health victory for the ages, making Guinea worm only the second disease the world has largely eradicated (the first being smallpox in the 1970s).

These accomplishments, together with countless others, have left a positive legacy that many of the presidents who followed must surely envy.

Carter, who still lives in the tiny hamlet of Plains, Ga., (in a modest home, the only one he’s ever owned) is now in his 98th year — he turned 97 on Oct. 1. A Christian of principle and compassion, he taught a weekly Sunday school lesson at his church until very recently. Thousands from across America, of all denominations, have traveled to rural Georgia to hear and watch him teach.

And it is not hard to see why.                                                     By ARTHUR MILNES

“We’ll never know whether something new and wonderful is possible unless we try,” he once told his students at church. “Let’s scratch our heads, stretch our minds, be adventurous! Serve God with boldness, and who knows what wonders the Lord may work.”

It is a challenge many regular Americans who have followed him since he left the White House have taken up.

Even Republicans, who used him as their straw man for decades, have largely paused their rhetorical phony war. And in fact, when you study his presidency dispassionately, as many historians are finally doing, it is clear that in some ways — ironically — President Carter’s leadership set the stage for policies the GOP now holds dear.

“Carter wanted regulatory reform, welfare reform, tax reform and, most important, a balanced federal budget by the end of his first term,” writes historian Kai Bird in his 2021 biography, “The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter.” “Carter also came to office wanting to simplify government regulations, particularly for small business. He wanted welfare recipients to work and the federal government itself to be streamlined and reorganized for the sake of efficiency.”

One could argue that his administration was also a precursor of the more centrist Democratic Party and administration led by Bill Clinton a decade after Carter left the White House.

Before progressives get riled up by Carter’s conservatism, mention must be made of his liberal social views. The former president has spoken out in favor of gay marriage, fought (along with his wife, Rosalynn) the death penalty at every turn and championed diversity and racial equality at every opportunity. More recently, he has spoken out against voter suppression efforts by Republicans.

I last saw Carter in Plains a few years ago. We lunched at a local diner, he standing in line at the buffet like everyone else. While his body had obviously aged, his mind was as sharp as ever. Still, a restless sadness seemed to occupy him. As we spoke, I realized he was frustrated at being in the twilight of his life. There was still so much he wanted to do, so many causes and changes still left for him to lead.

Still, it is a good time to be Jimmy Carter. As he enters his 98th year, he’s been able to witness the positive reappraisals of his presidency and lived to witness how his post-presidency has made him one of the most admired men in America.

It is no wonder so many are pausing to reflect upon this special man’s contributions. Like me, they feel it is more important than ever to thank Jimmy Carter while he is still among us.

Journalist and historian Arthur Milnes of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, is the author of “98 Things to Thank Jimmy Carter For,” available on Amazon.com. His previous books include studies of presidents George H.W. Bush and Franklin Roosevelt.

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