The Moral Authority of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter has snubbed the lecture circuit cash cow to devote his post-presidential life to brokering peace in the Middle East and fighting disease. So why is it that so many Americans can't stand him?

The Carter Center, originally a one-man mission, is now the employer of 150 people, with a restless, global brief that ranges from ridding the world of "neglected diseases" to monitoring disputed elections - with a little light Middle East peacemaking thrown in. This post-presidential work bagged Carter the Nobel Peace prize in 2002 and has led even his critics to call him the most successful ex-incumbent of the White House in American history. He has devised a new model, the activist ex-presidency, which appears to have inspired, at least partially, Clinton in his global foundation and high-profile effort to combat Aids.

It helps that Carter's message is so in tune with liberal, European sensibilities. Carter says he has: "I have moral authority - as long as I don't destroy it." It also means he carries himself more as a spiritual leader than a political one; more Desmond Tutu than George Bush Snr. It helps that Carter is a man of deep faith - he is often described as the first born-again Christian to serve as president, and still teaches a Bible class every Sunday morning in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. The fact that the Carter Center can legitimately claim to have mediated successfully in a clutch of armed conflicts and to have all but rid the world of the hideous Guinea worm disease - there were 3.6m cases of it when the Center started work and just 5,000 now - only reinforces the image of a tireless agent for good, even, in one journalist's description, a "living saint".

So why is it that so many Americans can't stand him? The answer lies partly in the very things that non-American audiences admire. Where Europeans see a dove, Carter's detractors see a weak president who delighted a hostile world only too happy for America to walk small.

[Excerpt of an article by Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian]

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