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Monday, July 8, 2024

The Good That Jimmy Carter Did

The peanut farmer from Georgia was not a great president, but he did more for liberty than many realize.

Image Credit: Picryl

Jimmy Carter never figured among my favorite presidents. I did not vote for him in either 1976 or 1980. I rarely found myself in agreement with him on policy matters. But as he approaches his 100th birthday in October, I find myself wanting to think the best of him.

The very fact that he went to Washington but came back to Plains, Georgia, speaks strongly in his favor. He never allowed himself to be captured by the Beltway elite. The simple but sturdy life of small-town America appealed to him more than the pomp, power, and pretense of national politics.

Carter was not a great president, and he evidenced considerable naïveté on some important issues, but he was not a bad or venal man. Never personally tainted by self-dealing scandal, he resisted temptations to cash in on his election to the country’s highest office. I do not believe him to be a dishonest or corrupt politician, which is a high compliment these days.

I never met him, but I think I would have enjoyed a day with him—whereas I imagine a mere minute with the narcissistic Barack Obama, or the mendacious Richard Nixon, or the inept and dishonest Joe Biden, or the egotistical Donald Trump would be unbearable. I think the famous Carter smile was genuine, not a gimmick.

Let’s remember that when talks between Egypt and Israel nearly broke down, Carter invited President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachim Begin to the US. The intensive 13-day confab produced the Camp David Agreement, the basis of the last half-century of peace between the two long-time enemy nations. Sadat and Begin won Nobel Peace Prizes in 1978 for their roles. Carter deserved to share it with them, though for other work he did pick one up in 2002.

When airlines and trucking were heavily regulated by the federal government, costs were artificially high and service was often second-rate. Jimmy Carter began the process of deregulation that mostly fixed those problems. He also started communications and energy deregulation, though it was in a three-steps forward, two-steps backward fashion.

Carter also deregulated the American beer industry in 1979. He signed legislation that legalized the sale of malt, hops, and yeast to home brewers. Today, America boasts about 35 times as many breweries as it had before Carter’s action.

Carter’s humanitarian instincts were deep and lasting. He stressed human rights on the world stage, even if he was a bit selective in where he applied them. He built houses for the homeless.

His private, nonprofit Carter Center relieved suffering in nearly a hundred countries. As recently as the 1980s, cases of Guinea worm disease numbered 3.5 million annually; now, largely because of the Carter Center, that figure has declined by 99 percent.

The country chose well when it retired Jimmy and elected a far better president (Ronald Reagan) in 1980, but I suspect that in coming years, the sun will shine a little brighter on the Carter legacy. We may spend more time reflecting on the good that he did, and that is a good thing in itself no matter who you’re talking about.

I hope Jimmy makes it to 100, and I wish him well in the twilight of his long life.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is