Last week's death of former vice president Walter Mondale started me thinking about Mondale's boss, Jimmy Carter. There is a lot here to like, and, well, you know the rest.
I was too young to vote in the 1976 presidential election, but I remember liking Carter. Fresh. Different. An outsider. I thought he was what the country needed at the time.
In retrospect, the country would have been okay, more than okay, under Gerald Ford. Back in 1976, Ford was still catching heat for the Nixon pardon. Most people will now agree the pardon was the right thing to do. It was time to move on from that sorry time in our history.
It was a close election. Carter rode a solid south to the White House, with the networks making the calls around 3:30 AM.
The Carter presidency came off the tracks several times-- oil kept rising in price, the economy faltered, and there were 444 frustrating days here at home and in Tehran.
As I neared high school graduation, President Carter became preoccupied with peace in the middle east. I remember getting upset because there were more and bigger problems here at home that needed to be addressed. I was thinking about college, jobs, paying bills, the economy, putting gas in my tank... The middle east seemed so irrelevant. As I've become older, and hopefully wiser, I realized middle eastern peace is important to world stability and the economy as a whole. Still, I thought Carter's focus was way off.
I do remember one hot night at the Avoca airport. Carter was flying around the country on a listening tour, and there was a rumor NEPA would be among the stops. It wasn't. It still drew a big crowd to the airport, even very late at night. An aside, if any elected official needs to go on a listening tour, something is seriously wrong, and a publicity stunt like a listening tour isn't going to fix it.
1980 was a disaster. Carter lost touch with the electorate. We all felt impotent during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The Carter administration looked inept. Ronald Reagan uttered perhaps the best debate line ever when he asked "Are you better off than you were four years ago.?" No one could honestly answer "yes."
Reagan trounced Carter on election night, although, as ABC's Sam Donaldson notes in an interview that you can find on You Tube, that the tide really didn't turn until the weekend before the election. People were looking for a reason to give Carter another four years, and they just couldn't find it. Donaldson added that history will treat Jimmy Carter nicer than the voters did. Time will tell.
Jimmy Carter had a second act. When foreign nations wanted an impartial election observer, they called Jimmy Carter. He built countless homes for Habitat for Humanity. It would take hours to list all of his charity work.
Jimmy Carter will never be on the list of America's greatest presidents, but no one can dispute that he is a good man.