Let’s Begin Our Story With A Public Humiliation
Defeating an incumbent president is hard to do. One term presidents include such duds as Taft, Van Buren, and Hoover, but the list is small. On Nov 4, 1980, Jimmy Carter joined the list. Out of 50 states, Carter only carries his home state, and five others. It’s a national rebuke. It’s public humiliation on a global stage.
Most of us who were alive, and of voting age, wept no tears. We voted for Ronald Reagan, whose campaign slogan was (warning, irony) Let’s Make America Great Again.
Four Years Earlier, Blue Skies and Big Smiles
All the smoke in the air, in the early Trump term, crisis this, crisis that, it is nothing compared to Watergate. Watergate was a long, dirty descent that tested our institutions, our very Constitution. After the assassinations of the 60’s, and now Watergate, it felt woe-unto-us, a national hand wringing of how-did-we-come-to-this…
So we had an election and Jimmy Carter wins! He was the Trump before Trump. The outsider. The pendulum swinging the other way. The people-just-fed-up-to-here guy. He seemed so wholesome. Had a smile that Santa would envy. Safely southern and comfortably regular. Had an impressive military and educational resume, was smart, but humble. No skeletons in the closet. True to his wife, a good father, a pillar of his hometown church. And…he wasn’t Nixon.
Plus he was a Christian. Jimmy Carter was the real deal, christened, baptized, altar called, sanctified, born again, prayed over, prayed for, prayed up, ready to lead us back to our national values…
It Was Supposed To Go Like In The Sunday School Stories
We were America. One nation under God ‘n all that. We’d hit a rough patch, with that rascal Nixon, but we’d returned to our roots. Our new leader was what we all wanted to be, wholesome and honorable, dutiful and untainted.
Surely, God would smile upon us…and boy howdy…we were surely wrong…
It just seemed to be one thing after another. Oil shortages, lines at the gas pump, runaway inflation, high unemployment and then a recession.
And then there were the interest rates. You’re not hardly gonna believe this, if you’re younger than me, but the Prime, I kid you not, was up near 20%!!! Think about it. That’s for perfect credit. Buy a house, buy a car, charge a new microwave, everything costs double digit dumb.
While Mr. Jimmy is struggling to get the U.S. economy on track the pesky Russians are invading Afghanistan. And to top it all off, right at the crucial end of his first (and only) term, some nuthead radicals in Iran overran our embassy and snatched American hostages…
Just thinking about it…my goodness…his presidency was like a boxing match, and you just kept waiting for the referee to wave his hands and call it a TKO…
Age 56, Prime Of Life, Now What?
Carter was a sincere man. I believe he prayed every morning of his presidency for wisdom and guidance. Like all of us who pray for “reasonable things” and only hear crickets from heaven, I imagine Jimmy Carter feeling awfully alone during his presidency.
On election night, when he was trounced, I imagine it to be a great and unique pain, like a father being fired by his children.
If it was me, I’d just curl up in a corner somewhere, and keep the room dark.
Jimmy Carter ain’t me.
One of his first statements to the press, after losing, was to declare that he didn’t want to profit from his presidency. Instead of taking, he just started giving.
He grabbed a hammer, strapped on a nail apron, and helped build homes for the needy. If there was a hurricane, volcano, earthquake, anywhere in the world, off he’d go.
He helped bring home hostages and political prisoners.
He’d pop into the news, doing some good, then disappear, then there he’d be again, nothing self promotional, just good guy stuff, and he began to grow on us, especially as he aged, and we did too, knowing how hard it is to stay idealistic in this hard world, and there Mister Jimmy was, holding firm, like some raggedy prophet in the Old Testament, walking the desert with a rod and a robe, trying to help his people.
Why, God, Why?
Why didn’t God make our most Christian president an example of how God blesses when we obey? I don’t know. But I know something about failing. I know something about reaching for, and arms too short. I know about thinking I’m up to it, and ooops, I ain’t. I know about bad timing and bad luck, and I know something about Now What?..
If Jimmy Carter was a great president, all I could do is admire from afar, like a State Champs sign painted on the hometown water tower. But because he shined after failing, his never-quit, in faith, in idealism, in character, in do-gooding, for all these decades, he’s remained “down here”, and become someone to emulate.
In this year, when we’ve lost Billy Graham, then Barbara Bush, I feel a need to “say something” to these national treasures, before they go. Just as we’ll never have another Billy Graham, so too, we’ll never see the like of Jimmy Carter again. Possibly our worst president, but almost certainly our best ex-president. Bad for four years. Excellent for decades. A role model, as both Christian and American.
Could be…come to think of it…God knew what He was doing with Mister Jimmy.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we try to set our eyes upon admirable things. Other Bedtime Stories can be found on the Eighty-one Facebook page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonus quotes: Comedian Jon Stewart on Carter vs. W Bush, as ex presidents, “Jimmy Carter, he’s like 108 years old, got cancer, he’s out in Africa, pulling Guinea worms out of children’s feet trying to cure them. Bush is at home, painting with oils and watercolors, ‘Ah, bring me my fruit bowl, I’m doin’ a still life.’”
“Jimmy Carter used to walk off the airplane (Air Force One) carrying his own luggage. I don’t want my president carrying – I want the freaking marines to be carrying his luggage.” D. Trump.