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Happy Birthday President Jimmy Carter, And Why Character Matters

October 1, 2019

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter takes questions from the media during a news conference about his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment plans, at the Carter Center in Atlanta

Jimmy Carter, the son of a peanut farmer who served as America’s 39th president, turns 95 today.  He is the oldest living former U.S. president, a title once held by the late George H. W. Bush, who died in late 2018 at 94.

Carter was the first candidate I was able to cast a ballot for president. His personal honor, love of human rights, and working to ensure functioning governments exist worldwide is a true statement of his character.  Over the decades I have known that when it came to my first vote I had the opportunity to stand in support of a most impressive fellow citizen.

One of the books I have loved since published in 1995 is Character Above All.  I have posted about that book several times over the past 13 years on this blog.  The book is a series of essays about why character is central when it comes to presidents sitting in the Oval Office.  From FDR to George Bush (41) the writers, who are specialized with their topic, give readers examples of why character must be the prime qualification for high public office.

Hendrick Hertzberg wrote the article on Carter and there is a condensed version online.  This is a nugget from that shorter version.

Though Carter didn’t have a political ideology, he did have what I would call a moral ideology–and on this he was faultless. He knew the difference between right and wrong. This may sound like faint praise–after all, doesn’t everybody know the difference between right and wrong?–but it isn’t. It is very high praise…..

Carter’s moral ideology–his ability to tell right from wrong–would have made him a great President for a time of moral crisis. If the overriding problem facing America in the late seventies had been racial segregation, for instance, or the Vietnam War, Carter would have known how to rise to the occasion because he knew how to do what was right–even when the political cost was high.

Carter was elected in the backwash of a moral crisis, but the biggest problems he faced as President, especially in the domestic arena, were not primarily moral problems. They were primarily managerial, technical problems, involving tremendous vested interests and offering few political rewards. There was no right or wrong way to solve these problems; just effective ways and ineffective ways.

Today there is a crisis of character which is demonstrated countless ways each day from the Trump White House.  Those in the nation with a moral compass, and who were brought up in homes where values were taught and instilled will grasp the need to have higher ideals once again restored in the Oval Office.

For me, there is a sincere pleasure that Carter was a man of depth, courage, and morally driven character that I was able to vote for in 1980.  Happy Birthday, Jimmy!

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