Don't Shoot Me, I Like Jimmy Carter

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: July 20, 2013 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

I like Jimmy Carter. Liked him since 1975 when I met him at a harvest festival in New Boston, N.H. He and his brother Billy were between speeches, camped out along the president-stumping trail.

The Carters were in a folksy, peanuts-and-bumper-stickers booth next to my husband's arts and crafts. It was impossible not to be impressed.

Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter

Jimmy would go on to win the New Hampshire Democratic primary the following year, but at that moment -- never mind that he charmed the crust off those salty New Englanders -- he was just a congenial cracker from the Georgia sticks with a twinkle in his eye and a brother who drank too much beer.

As much as I liked him cradled in among pumpkins and pitchforks in '75, I didn't vote for him in '76. And I didn't peg him as a particularly great president or, frankly, much of a standard bearer for the Democratic Party. But Jimmy Carter -- man of conscience and principle, man of honor and courage -- is without question a great American.

The reason I bring him up now is that earlier in the week the 89-year-old 39th president reminded me again why he's still a tower of strength and why I'm still such a fan of this remarkable man.

Speaking at an Atlanta event sponsored by The Atlantic Bridge, a private, nonprofit group working to further German-U.S. relationships, Jimmy spoke from experience, from intelligence, from the heart when he told this group the Obama administration has taken the country in entirely the wrong direction in its reaction to spying.

"America no longer has a functioning democracy," he said, claiming the president has been trying without much success to placate Europe's anger over spying programs.

He said National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's revelations are a good thing because "they inform the public."

This is what I love about Jimmy Carter. He lives in the old school. The one built by statesmen who rarely, if ever, let partisan politics stand between themselves and the Constitution or common sense or the good of the country.

Jimmy Carter's statements this week aren't the first time the former president has criticized U.S. intelligence policies. He told CNN in June, "I think the invasion of privacy has gone too far. I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial. I think the American people deserve to know what their Congress is doing."

Jimmy doesn't seek out his audience, he doesn't try to make a splash. He just speaks when asked. But when he does, it's reasoned and it's exactly what he means to say, take it or leave it. 

In 2012 the New York Times asked him to write an oped about civil liberties. He graciously agreed. In the piece, he warned that the United States' moral authority has been in trouble because of the restriction of civil liberties. He called U.S. surveillance procedures a "never-before seen breach (of) our privacy by the government." 

Maybe Jimmy doesn't get many invites to the White House -- maybe he's about as popular as a wet dog at a wedding anywhere near Pennsylvania Avenue. But I'll bet when he goes to bed at night, he sleeps like a baby.

I thought as a president, from 1977 to 1981 -- Camp David peace accord excepted -- he went too far trying to make foreign policy more about human rights than, well, foreign policy. But I believe as a former president, Jimmy Carter has been unwaveringly, selflessly useful to America and Americans and greatly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2002 for his humanitarian work.

I hope it doesn't offend too many of my friends to hear me say all this because I doubt they'll agree, but here it is one last time: It was a privilege to shake Jimmy's hand those many years ago in New Hampshire. And it does my heart good to see a former president live so comfortably, so attractively, in his own skin.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. 

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