BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Jimmy Carter’s Legacy Built on Moral Goals

Barbara Walters asked Jimmy Carter a few years ago what he considered to be the very best years of his life. He didn’t hesitate to answer, “By far the best years are those I’m enjoying with Rosalyn since we left the White House.” In his new book, Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope [Simon and Schuster, 2007] he interestingly elaborates on exactly what he has been doing to improve the world.

The Carters returned to Plains, Ga., after the election of 1980 to find their once-thriving farm supply business in financial trouble. They were able to sell it, plan a presidential library, and start raising big money for the project they called the Carter Center. The result was that they have reached out and helped many poor people in the whole world.

Carter is careful in the book to reveal the solid ethical principles behind his work. His ideas stress a nonpartisan approach, not duplicating the work of other groups, and taking action on problems, not just discussing and debating them.

He also decided to report on his trips abroad, not just to his family but to the State Department and the UN. He figured correctly that it would be positive to work with people at Emory University in Atlanta too. And he has been very successful as a funds raiser. Maybe fame and money go together. The Center now has more than 150 employees and a yearly budget of between $35 and $40 million.

Now for the three main points of the book. First, waging peace. He goes into a lot of detail on his efforts to reconcile Israel and its neighbors and made a little progress there. Obviously, much more effort and many more creative ideas are needed today. And talk about another Herculean task — trying to open up Soviet media. Gorbachev was an ally in this effort, but Putin has not been so positive.

The next of the three goals is fighting disease. It has been not just physical maladies they are trying to cure. Mrs. Carter has worked hard on mental health services too. One of the obvious goals has been parity in treatment for those who can’t really afford it. The people from the Carter Center have worked in many African countries, especially Nigeria and Ghana, where they have tried to control the weird disease called the Guinea worm malady, worms that attack the body and then push out of all body openings. It originates from impure water, and the workers found that they were able to cure it by having villagers filter their water through a special cloth. It’s like protecting from malaria by using mosquito nets.

Building hope for the future is closely related to establishing the best of ethical values everywhere, according to the Carter philosophy. Human rights are a central topic with him. He takes up for the work of the UN, especially its Human Rights Commission headquartered in Geneva. Another “hope” that Mr. Carter has is achieving equality for women worldwide. We are also glad to learn that the Carter Center has not forgotten the people of Atlanta who are poor.

Like Al Gore, Carter has also earned a Nobel Peace Prize. Global warming and humanitarian relief are part of the same moral goal.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2008

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