When I get to Jimmy Carter’s grandson from Zoom, he responds with a T-shirt to Raphael Warnock’s campaign. Jason Carter is a lawyer and politician, from the mid-1940s, animated and well-read, with blue eyes reminiscent of his grandfather’s. He just got off the phone with his 93-year-old grandmother, Rosalyn. This is a special day; Joe Biden is on his way to Carter̵
“My grandfather met almost everyone in the world he could want,” says Jason Carter. “He is currently meeting with the president of the United States. But the person he would say he learned the most from is Rachel Clark, an illiterate partner who lives on his family’s farm.
“He didn’t feel sorry for her,” Carter said. He saw her strength. My grandfather believes in the power of one person and a small community. It protects people’s freedoms, he says, and they can do great things. It all comes back to great respect for people. “
Carter is openly moved to talk about his grandfather, although it is clear that he does so often. A series of recent biographies and documentaries show not only renewed interest in the former president, but also a willingness to update the public account of his tenure. Recent biographer Jonathan Alter called Carter “perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history.”
Carter, who lost his candidacy for re-election in the so-called A landslide by Reagan in 1980 was often portrayed as a “failed president” – an unfortunate peanut farmer who did not understand how to do things in Washington and whose administration was marked by inflation, the energy crisis and the Iranian catastrophe.
Subsequent presidents, especially South Democrat Bill Clinton, kept their distance – presumably they did not want to be seen as part of a political narrative that emphasized piety in doing things. Even Obama was clearly wary of being associated with the kind of mild heart failure attributed to Carter.
But was Carter really that ineffective?
In his 2020 biography of Carter, Alter speaks of a more nuanced interpretation of Carter, calling him a “surprisingly subsequent president – a political and stylistic failure, but a significant and far-sighted success.” Perhaps it is the far-sighted nature of Carter’s ambitions, especially around energy, that allows us to appreciate him for another four decades after the end of his term.
Born in 1924, Carter is now 96. Americans must deal with his mortality and the onset of climate change, which Carter explicitly warned the nation about 40 years ago.
Carterland, a newly released documentary, offers a particularly sharp focus on Carter’s extensive work on conservation, climate and justice.
“That’s what people do wrong about Carter,” Will Patis, one of the film’s directors, tells me. “He was not in his head either inefficient, weak or indecisive – he was a dreamy leader, decades ahead of his time, trying to attract the country to renewable energy, climate solutions, social justice for women and minorities, equal treatment for all nations. the world. He faced almost impossible economic problems – and at the end of the day he came so close to changing the trajectory of this nation. “
Will’s brother, Jim, agrees. “The question that people have to ask themselves is: what catastrophes would befall this country if someone had others than Jimmy Carter was at the helm during that critical time in the late ’70s? “
These late 1970s were determined by inflation, the Cold War, long queues at gas pumps, and a change in cultural habits. Carter himself showed a willingness to grow. Although Carter served in the Navy himself, he forgave the Vietnamese troops. Although of segregated and racist origin in Georgia, Carter insisted on positive action and gave priority to diversity among judicial nominees, including the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Amalia Lyle Kiers. He uses Mary Prince, a black woman who is wrongly accused of murder, as the nanny of her daughter Amy, which has been criticized by some modern thinkers as continuing domestic slavery.
What was radical in the 1970s may appear decades later; the public narrative works in both directions. In some ways, Carter is difficult to tell, as he could be both astonishingly conservative – financially, or in his appeal to evangelicals in the deep south – and progressive, especially with regard to human rights and climate. He seemed to be acting on his personal compass, not his political compass.
He shocked the world by personally mediating the critical Middle East peace treaty between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David. He retreated to the Panama Canal, angering conservatives who thought he was distributing American assets. Through Alaska’s Natural Land Protection Act, it doubled the system of national parks and preserved more than 100 meters of land – the largest expansion of preserved land in American history.
He was not afraid to make unpopular moves or ask for a personal sacrifice. He was old-fashioned and futuristic, and nowhere did futurism matter or seem more predictable than climate and conservation. He risks speaking directly to the American public and asking them to do something difficult – focus on renewable energy and reduce dependence on oil.
He paid the price for this outspoken request, as did we.
IDuring his trip to Plains, Georgia, Biden participated in a video tribute to Carter, joining a stellar lineup of Georgian politicians, celebrities Sen. John Osoff, Senator Rafael Warnock and Stacey Abrams, serving as an assertive kim back on political meaning.
The messages relate to the essence of the film, but also serve as a heartfelt thank you to a former president who has only recently begun to look predictable to the climate and unique in his morals.
“He always lived by his values,” Abrams said in the video.
“Our world is crying out for moral and ethical leadership,” Warnock suggests. “Few have embodied it as clearly and consistently as Carter.”
“He showed us what it means to be a civil servant, with an emphasis on the servant,” Biden said.
Many Americans can’t help but notice the connection between Carter and Biden – who became the first elected official outside Georgia to support Carter’s candidacy for president in 1976. Biden’s colleagues called him a “violent” idealist at the time.
There is also a growing comparison between Carter and the Trump administration.
James Gustave Spett served as chairman of Carter’s Environmental Quality Council. As Carter’s chief environmental adviser, Spet helped Carter talk about climate change and direct politics. He finds the contrast between Carter and Trump “striking.”
“People see that Carter was at the pole,” Spet tells me. “Carter was the opposite of Trump – and everything people despised about him. Carter had integrity, honesty, candor, and devotion to the public good. Carter was a very different person. “
Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, died a month ago at the age of 93, perhaps a startling sign of the need to accelerate overdue praise and understanding. Spet agrees that it would be best to expedite our recognition of Carter. “So many good things are said about the bodies of the dead,” Spet said. “I would love for the recognition to happen now.”
Spet is also working on his own book on the Carter administration, which covers Carter and subsequent climate and energy administrations and highlights the failure to build on Carter’s foundation. His project, which will soon be published with MIT, has a damn title: They knew.
One of the deepest – even painful – parts of watching documentaries like Carterland testifies to the fact that Carter was right to ask us to drive less, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, focus on conservation and renewables. energy. Carter’s vision was not only unpopular but ridiculed. Reagan removed solar panels from the White House, politicized the environmental movement, and painted it as a coastal endeavor.
“Carter was our only president who had a visceral environmental and environmental commitment. It was part of his being, “says Spet. “We had the opportunity in 1980, but we lost 40 years in pursuit of a climate-safe road. We can no longer avoid serious and destructive changes, period. This should not have happened. “
I ask Spet why Carter’s proper legacy matters. First, Spet says, it’s important to recognize the example Carter looked forward to in a culture that rewards sounds and short-term gains. “Carter was a trained engineer who believed in science,” says Spet. “He understood things on a global scale and believed in forecasting. Preparing for the long term is a rarity in politics. “
Carter Alter’s biographer agrees. “If there is a gene for duty, responsibility and will to deal with messy problems with little or no potential for political gain,” he wrote, “Jimmy Carter was born with it.”
While none of these recent documentaries or biographies attempt to portray Carter as a saint or even a political mind, they insist that his presidency has been more successful than history has acknowledged, especially in the areas of energy, conservation and human rights. man. Still, there are aspects of his mandate that are likely to remain in his account, such as his weak relations with Congress, the early service of segregationists to win votes, and the crisis with Iranian hostages.
What can we learn from the changing story of Carter’s presidency?
“You can talk about how Carter was an underrated president,” says director Jim Pattis. “But can you ask yourself: what qualities do you really want from a leader?” Do you want someone who will challenge you to be better or to speak in catchphrases and not want much from you?
“This movie is a warning story,” Patis said. “We can choose another Carter. Let’s reward leaders who are willing to do the right thing. “
Jason Carter has lived with the nuances and inconsistencies in the story of his grandfather’s presidency throughout his life. “Stories are always summaries,” he says. “They leave so much that we can understand them in simple words. Nowadays, public speaking is so common for politics. It really has to be about the big societal problems we are solving. There is a difference.
“I don’t want the story to be kind to my grandfather,” Jason Carter tells me. “I just want the story to be honest.”