01 October 2023

President Jimmy Carter

The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth.  Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents...

The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.”

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter’s predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that “Carter did the opposite.”

Since Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”..

Carter decided that his income would come from writing, and he has written 33 books, about his life and career, his faith, Middle East peace, women’s rights, aging, fishing, woodworking, even a children’s book written with his daughter, Amy Carter, called “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer.”

With book income and the $210,700 annual pension all former presidents receive, the Carters live comfortably. But his books have never fetched the massive sums commanded by more recent presidents...

Ex-presidents often fly on private jets, sometimes lent by wealthy friends, but the Carters fly commercial. Stuckey says that on a recent flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Carter walked up and down the aisle greeting other passengers and taking selfies...

That no-frills sensibility, endearing since he left Washington, didn’t work as well in the White House. Many people thought Carter scrubbed some of the luster off the presidency by carrying his own suitcases onto Air Force One and refusing to have “Hail to the Chief” played...

When Carter looks back at his presidency, he says he is most proud of “keeping the peace and supporting human rights,” the Camp David accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt, and his work to normalize relations with China. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

“I always told the truth,” he says.

Carter has been notably quiet about President Trump. But on this night, two years into Trump’s term, he’s not holding back.

“I think he’s a disaster,” Carter says. “In human rights and taking care of people and treating people equal.”..

They watch Atlanta Braves games or “Law and Order.” Carter just finished reading “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson. They have no chef and they cook for themselves, often together. They make their own yogurt.

On this summer morning, Rosalynn mixes pancake batter and sprinkles in blueberries grown on their land. Carter cooks them on the griddle.
Then he does the dishes.
I highly recommend reading the full story at the Washington Post.  His life and his personal principles offer such a stark contrast to current and recent presidents.  Here's one final excerpt about his home:
...a two-bedroom rancher assessed at $167,000, less than the value of the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside.
Photo credit Library of Congress, via CNBC.

Reposted from 2018 to add this photo of Jimmy Carter at his 96th birthday party several months ago:

He was too frail to attend the inauguration today, but was fondly remembered by several commentators (and me).

Via the Pics subreddit, where there is an affectionate comment thread.

Reposted from 2021 to celebrate President Carter's 99th birthday.  He is currently receiving hospice care.  Happy birthday, Mr. President.


  1. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”

    And that's why he never got a second term in capitalist America.
    What a man.

  2. I am a conservative. I even voted for you-know-who (sorry--I know you feel differently). But I have long respected Carter very highly. Now, I'm no longer a Republican, due to the hatred spewed on Obama over every little thing (it's one thing to disagree with a man's politics; it's another to act like he is purposely disrespecting the flag because he forgot to put his hand over his heart--something GWB did, too, by the way), but I have written Carter at least a couple of letters telling him how much I admired him.

    Republican will NEVER admit it, but if there is one thing that Carter did, he kept us from going to war over 52 hostages. At first blush, many might think we OUGHT to have bombed Iran, etc. But when you realize that many of those killed would be civilians--even children--who had nothing to do with the hostages...and would have likely led to a wider war that might have cost us THOUSANDS of lives (our side and their side), then I think Carter did the right thing.

    I especially liked his book about growing up. When he mentioned how his father did not like black folks coming to the front door, but that when he died, blacks from all over the area came to pay their respects to a man who would see them in need of something and make sure they had money to get groceries, etc., it summed up to a significant degree, I think, the complex relationship that blacks and whites often have in the south. That is, there is personal, individual relationships that are as valued as any other, yet when looked at AS A GROUP, there are certain racist tendencies. At the same time, even these racist tendencies are (for lack of a better term) fairly benign, in that many whites would not at all countenance someone publicly using the n-word toward blacks (even if they themselves use the n-word privately). The will fish, hunt, do business with, help, and so forth, there black (or white) neighbors and friends, even while having the view that that racial group, AS A WHOLE, is somehow lacking.

    I think this is why so many people say, "I'm not racist! I have black friends!" Indeed, they do. It is the view toward the GROUP that causes them to be considered racist.

    I am not excusing this sort of "complicated" behavior. I am only pointing out that Carter's book gave me an insight into a part of the South's racial complexity.

    I don't know if Carter will ever be considered a great president, but he was a good one (who happened to take office at the wrong point of the business cycle). And most of all, he was a good man. I imagine that many of us about now wouldn't mind at all doing without some other things if we could have a good man in office.

    1. A very thoughtful comment. Thanks, Aaron.

      And re Carter, I heard an assessment that his legacy may not be that of a great President, but that his life since then will mark him as one of the truly great ex-Presidents.

  3. Carter was not a good president as he largely lacked the tools to deal with the problems facing the US at the time. At a time when the democrats possessed large majorities in both the house and senate, Carter's refusal to make political deals or inability to stroke outsize egos meant that his legislative agenda largely failed. He had no coherent policy to deal with inflation and his switch from foreign policy realism to idealism was a disaster. One can say his insistence on doing the right thing rather than the practical consistently undermined his overall performance.

    As an ex-president, however, such dogmatism is not only encouraged, but revered! Carter, either by himself or through the Carter Center has taken a number of radical policy positions (the Middle East comes to mind) and has largely been applauded.

    As an aside, I have long wondered what would have happened if GHW Bush had been appointed by Nixon rather than Jerry Ford. Bush's strengths were as a technocrat: if anyone could have fixed our late 70's economy it was likely him. Bush meanwhile, turned out to be exactly what America didn't need in the early 90'2 -- but Jimmy Carter would have been perfect.

    1. That's an interesting thought to chew on. "What if some of our historically bad presidents had been president in a different era? (present occupant excluded)" I think your right, many of them would have been better if they had been president at a different time. Carter would be an excellent president now to help quell the anger and some of the division of the populace, though I am less certain about some of the political divas currently in power. It makes little difference other than a thought exercise but, a fun thing to keep the brain busy.

  4. I found these comments in Harper's:

    "Four days after Carter’s session with the students, the former Robert Kennedy aide William vanden Heuvel introduced him to Democratic activists at a Manhattan cocktail party as “someone who has stood with us on the right side in every fight that’s been important to us over the last two decades.” To vanden Heuvel and, apparently, his audience, it didn’t matter that Carter led the stop-McGovern forces at the 1972 Democratic convention; that he has always opposed abortion reform, busing, and, until this year, a federal takeover of welfare; that he favored right-to-work laws; that he supports the death penalty and preventive detention; that he opposed federal aid to bail out New York; or that in 1972 he sponsored a resolution urging all Democratic presidential candidates not to make the Vietnam war an issue. What did matter was Carter’s intoxicating sincerity—as evidenced by the low-key voice, the Kennedy­-like grin, and the way he looks you in the eye. What also mattered was that he looked and talked like a winner."


  5. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”
    I can hear Billy's cries of anguish in the background.

    When Carter was elected I had hoped it signaled a course correction for our mad foreign policy, but it didn't happen. Probably won't when it's making some people very rich.

  6. With his training and experience as an engineer and sailor, it doesn't surprise me that Jimmy Carter would prefer a less showy life than other former presidents. Most of the other recent presidents were lawyers or career politicians, which would have a different attitude.

    I was too young to judge how Carter did as a president while he was in office, but he has certainly done great things after his term.


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