[First published in the February 2007 issue of commentarymagazine.com, reprinted with permission].
More than a quarter-century after completing his term of office, James Earl Carter is still to be found in the thick of debates about national policies on a range of issues: nuclear arms, Iraq, North Korea, and, especially, the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. A steady stream of books and articles continues to issue forth from his pen, and he travels the world on self-selected diplomatic missions. No other former President has chosen to play a similar role. But then, Carter’s whole political career has been out of the ordinary. In order to understand the man today, it is necessary to see him in the light of his past.
In 1976, when Carter tossed his hat into the ring for the presidential nomination, the Democratic party was still deeply riven by the long, bitter debate over the war in Vietnam. Carter’s response was to soar above these divisions, downplaying both ideology and issues. Instead, he put himself forward as a man of piety and character who would restore a high tone to government in the aftermath of Watergate and related scandals. Before the rise of politically-oriented televangelists, Jimmy Carter made his personal experience as a “born again” Christian into a key tenet of his platform. “I can give you a government that’s honest and that’s filled with love, competence, and compassion,” he pledged.
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