Darkhorse cantidate for ’08: Jimmy Carter

By Joe Katz

Last week’s announcement by former Virginia governor Mark Warner that he would not seek the presidency in 2008 has greatly altered traffic patterns on the road to the White House. More than a year away from New Hampshire, Warner had already begun to look like the standard-bearer for the anti-Hillary contingent in the Democratic Party. Now, the race for the Democratic nomination will be contended by the polarizing former First Lady, failed vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, a pack of Northeastern liberals, and a few Midwesterners without national name recognition.

If Warner had remained in the field, Democrats could have hoped to emulate what worked so well for Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Take a moderate governor with a good track record, a proven ability to win Southern votes, and charisma, and win over enough independents and liberal Republicans to capture a plurality. Edwards will likely assume that mantle, but he’s been tarnished by his identification with the Kerry campaign. The party may well be without a candidate who can carry through Howard Dean’s 50 States strategy.

Throughout recent years, Americans have consistently expressed a desire for a middle-of-the-road thinker, someone who believes in God and champions the family, who can find common ground for a divided people. In the post-Bush era, we will also be seeking a diplomat to protect our endangered interests abroad and an innovator to help us prosper and advance as a nation at home. And of course after the debacle that has been GOP. environmental policy, someone who is willing to be progressive on global warming is a must.

All this got me thinking, what was so bad about Jimmy Carter?

Mock if you must, but America’s elder statesman is the ideal choice to succeed George W. Bush in the White House. A believing Baptist with impeccable moral standards and a Noble Peace Prize to his credit, Carter has undergone a Trumanesque rehabilitation in the eyes of the public since leaving office. His humanitarian and diplomatic efforts have won him applause from all parts of the political spectrum. Yet he’s still the same homespun, plainspoken good ole boy who first captured America’s attention in 1976. He has a unique broad-base appeal, with the right values to win in the South and the Plains states, the social mores to capture the Northeast and West Coast, labor policies that would entrance the Rust Belt, and an emphasis on the environment that would sweep Rocky Mountains voters off their feet. There is no doubt that if Jimmy were to run, he would be a serious contender.

The current chaos on the world stage practically demands a Nobel laureate to sort it out. Carter is well suited to the task, having spent much of his post-presidential career mediating some of the planet’s worst conflicts. An early critic of the Iraq war, Jimmy would help restore America’s credibility as a bastion of freedom and democracy. His term in office was historic in its prioritization of human rights over political expediency and of fair dealings with foreign nations. If anyone can handle Kim Jong-Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hugo Chavez all at once, it’s the man who brokered the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal, kick-started détente, and convinced Congress to give back the Panama Canal. We would do well to adopt his philosophy in our new role as international policeman. As for the Iran Hostage Crisis and its infamous failed rescue attempt, it was a debacle at the time, but not one he inflicted on the U.S. Also, Carter was humbled by the events, and, given the state of U.S. foreign policy, we could use someone with a little humility.

One can also reasonably infer that Carter’s respect for human rights would apply within our own borders. However he would conduct the war on terror, we can be certain that unconstitutionally invasive measures such as the USA Patriot Act would be muted, if not completely rescinded, under a second Carter administration. Jimmy is among those increasingly rare voices in American politics that mix Christianity and progressiveness. Carter has gone on record supporting the right of women to get an abortion in the first trimester. He has publicly endorsed civil unions and equal rights for homosexual couples. He was also notable for making tough choices when it came to supporting social funding, including authorizing a large tax hike to ensure continued funding for Social Security. None of his successors have been quite so gutsy.

In troubled economic times, our parents may not be reassured by a Carter return to the Oval Office. But it’s important to remember that the fiscal turbulence of the late 1970s was precipitated by an energy crisis that the president himself foresaw and valiantly tried to avoid. Jimmy was truly prescient in calling for Americans to reduce dependency on foreign oil, going as far as installing solar panels on the roof of the White House. He was perhaps more green-friendly than any executive before or since. He oversaw a massive expansion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that President Bush has argued for “exploring.” In a second go-around, he would be the ideal man to lead us through the painful process of making our way of life more earth-friendly—or at least compatible with the Kyoto Protocol.

With natural disaster after Middle Eastern quagmire after sex scandal after government shutdown after arms-for-hostages, the presidency has been unspeakably tarnished in our lifetimes. It’s time to put some dignity back in the White House. Does he want the job? If not, all the better. In the great Lucius Cincinnatus tradition, the reluctant but principled statesman can be called out of retirement to save the nation. And it is that serious. Draft Jimmy in 2008.