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COLUMN

A Man Of Peace

Vivek Rao

Politicians are a funny lot. While some of them are in it solely for the power trip, a large majority of the young men and women who enter the political arena do so with some ideals and a sincere desire to change the world for the better. As our public leaders age and gain power, they seem to become focused on retaining their seats, compromising their platforms rather than truly fighting for that in which they believe. Yet once in a while, there are leaders who never seem to lose that desire to improve the fate of this planet and its people, leaders like Jimmy Carter. It was fitting that Carter finally received the Nobel Peace Prize, despite cynics’ claims that it merely represents a swipe by the prize committee at American foreign policy.

As is often the case with the public’s collective memory of political leaders, we tend to remember all the wrong things about Jimmy Carter. His ill-fated term in office was marred both by the general stubbornness of Congress and by a couple of key scandals that were not very reflective of Carter himself, but nevertheless severely undermined his presidency.

By the time Carter entered the Oval Office, he had successfully established himself as a man of the people. Though he had relatively little political experience, he won voters over with his easygoing Southern demeanor and genuine concern for the common man. Although his only major office had been the Georgia governorship, a position he held for just four years, he managed to win the presidential election.

The greatest tragedy of Carter’s presidential term was that the very distance he had placed between himself and Washington to win the election enraged Congress so much that it rejected many of his proposals to which they may otherwise have been amenable. Even when his suggested policies and programs represented fundamental solutions to key problems plaguing the nation, he found little support among legislators. Adding to Carter’s struggles were two scandals, one involving accusations of financial improprieties against adviser Bert Lance, and the other dealing with brother Billy’s alleged ties to Libyan terrorist leaders. Both Lance and Billy Carter were legally cleared of these accusations, but the damage done to the president’s reputation was irreparable, and when America’s struggles in the Middle East continued and the domestic economic situation worsened, Carter failed in his bid for a second term.

Yet unlike a run-of-the-mill politician, Carter has always stood for ideals that extended beyond the limits of the White House. Though he could easily have just settled into the cushy life of an ex-president, he opted to use his political clout and influence to try to better the world around him, demonstrating the dedication and desire that every politician should possess.

Just two years after leaving office, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded the Carter Center in Atlanta. The goal of the institution was clear: Carter and his colleagues would do whatever they could to promote peace throughout the world. Though his views often came into conflict with those of other political leaders, Carter stayed true to his ideals, and never gave up on his goal of world peace. Among his greatest post-presidency successes were persuading North Korean president Kim Sung to stall a nuclear development program, limiting the influence of military leaders on the political landscape of Haiti, and trying to thaw relations between the United States and Cuba.

In addition to his work to bring about peace between and within nations, Carter has also demonstrated a remarkable eagerness to improve the lot of the less fortunate members of society. Unlike many politicians who pander to the rich while occasionally throwing superficial baubles at the poor, Carter has long been a dedicated member of Habitat for Humanity, often helping build houses with his own hands. He has encouraged political participation among minorities, including non-white members in his Cabinet. And few politicians can match his concern for the environment.

When all is said and done, Jimmy Carter was recognized for voluntarily dedicating so much of his time and resources to fighting for key global causes such as peace, reduction of poverty, and the environment. Those who feel that the Norwegian Nobel Committee merely sought to send a message to the Bush administration by choosing Carter need only step back and look at the ex-president’s unmatched passion for social improvement and his willingness to get his hands dirty to achieve his goals. Today’s politicians should learn from the way Carter has used his stature and clout so effectively and constructively to work for his ideals. That is, if they still have any ideals of their own.