A life well lived

The news for him was not good. But his life has been exceptional.

Former President Jimmy Carter, 90, has cancer that has spread to his brain. He begins radiation treatment today. It would not be wise to bet against this most physically and intellectually sprightly of men to make a recovery. That said, the 39th U.S. President has remarked of late that he is at ease and has lived a full and wonderful life. That he has.

No matter which side of the aisle you may reside, one can only respect Carter’s incessant drive and sense of mission. From out of nowhere, a small town called Plains, he became the governor of Georgia in 1971 and won the presidency in 1976.

He likely was never a great fit for that office, though without the Iranian hostage crisis and a pouty Ted Kennedy he would have had an exponentially greater chance at reelection. (Then again, Carter would never have been elected in the first place without Watergate.) Carter preached, and I do mean preached, the sermon of austerity. By 1980 Americans instead wanted that “shining city upon a hill” feeling from a certain former actor.

But Carter did what no one before or after him has managed: to bring some semblance of peace to at least part of the Mideast, in his Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, something that maintains to this day.

Another tip of the cap should go to Carter and the late Gerald Ford for forging the deepest of friendships post-presidency. It wasn’t the first time presidents had struck up friendships. But it seemed to have truly set the ultimate tone for bi-partisan cooperation and respect among presidents ever since.

In 2002 Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Carter Center. This honor was emblematic of the special and seemingly limitless contribution Carter has made to humanity. He has never stopped his work to improve the lives of the forgotten, the persecuted, the impoverished. His moral compass has never wavered.

Historians will always have their ongoing, evolving assessments of past presidencies. But if you judge a past president by his deeds, by how he lived his life, Jimmy Carter has led one exceptional life.

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