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The ol’ peanut farmer, malaise and world peace

Jimmy Carter is the first president I remember. I was 4 when he was elected in 1976, and in elementary school when the two girls who were the bus patrol on Bus #133 used to entertain us with a modified version of the Oscar Meyer advertising jingle.

“My president has a first name, It’s J-I-M-M-Y. My president has a second name, It’s C-A-R-T-E-R.”

Funny what you remember. Some Republicans I keep up with remember Carter less fondly than they do Oscar Meyer weiners. “Carter was the worst president in history,” or some version of that, is common from the right, hitting on the malaise of the late ’70s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis, geez, you name it, it wasn’t going well for us then.

We’re in another one of those periods of time right now. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t going well for us today. The economy, in the tank for the past 18 months, is starting to show signs of recovery, but it took going into massive debt for us to bail ourselves out. And in place of malaise is the divisiveness that has marked the past 15 or so years, really since the right realized that it could put a halt to politics by attacking, attacking, attacking, and the left with the controversial election of George W. Bush in 2000 decided to do what it could to mirror the approach of its ideological rivals in that respect, to less in terms of effectiveness, but even so.

This brings me back to Carter, who was at James Madison University Monday night to receive an honor from the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence. Something else I remember from the ’70s is hearing the phrase “peace in the Middle East” repeated often, and coming to understand later as a college student studying international politics that it was Carter who was initiating the global discussion on that.

“There was an oil embargo by Arab OPEC nations, with a secondary boycott of any American corporation doing business with Israel,” Carter recalled during his address at the Gandhi Center award ceremony in a filled-to-capacity Convocation Center at JMU.

“There had been four major wars in 25 years led by Egypt, the only Arab country, with Soviet military support, that was a formidable challenger. There had been no concerted efforts to bring peace to the region, and there were no demands on me to initiate negotiations,” Carter said.

But Carter used the bully pulpit afforded a U.S. president on the world stage to do just that, to bring the mortal enemies that were Israel and Egypt to the negotiating table. The resulting peace treaty, which Carter noted with pride “not a word of which has been violated for more than 30 years,” removed a major military threat for Israel, a key to its growth and prosperity since.

The Middle East continues to be a focal point for now Ex-President Carter, visiting Israel and Gaza three times this year. Carter said he is convinced that the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian territories “will dramatically reduce any threats to Israel,” noting that all 22 Arab governments in the region have offered diplomatic recognition and full trade and commerce if Israel were to withdraw from the occupied territories and comply with other pertinent United Nations resolutions.

“What I have described in these few minutes is a clear but difficult pathway – the only one – to what all of us want: a secure Israel living within its own borders, in harmony with its neighbors,” Carter.

“We can have peace in the holy land,” Carter said.

The respect accorded Carter at the Convo was in line with the respect you would expect to see for a former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, not the person you hear sometimes referred to disparingly. And in fact, I should point out that it was a bipartisan audience giving him that respect. A friend on Facebook who is a Republican noted the presence of several fellow Republicans at the event, and the honor that was being given to Carter from that contingent.

It’s a lesson to us in this day and age of cut-throat politics that it can be done a better way. Not bad for an ol’ peanut farmer to teach us a lesson like that, eh?

 

– Story by Chris Graham/Photos by Mark Miller


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