Blessed are the peacemakers, especially now With the nightly news filled with images of war, bombings and shootings, it was especially nice to hear the news late last week that former President Jimmy Carter had received the Nobel Peace Prize. Especially in these tumultuous times, blessed are any peacemakers, and President Carter has been one of the most active. While others are taking extended solos on the drums of war, Carter has been quietly playing the pipes of peace his entire adult life. His single term in the White House, 1977-1981, seems distant and remote now. It was an era of disco and bad haircuts and Carter always seemed out of place. A centrist by nature, he faced challenges from both the right and left wings. He could barely contain a revolt within his own party. Defeated in a landslide by Ronald Reagan, he retired to Georgia and, if he"d been like most former presidents, could have vanished. Instead, he began a post-presidential career as an advocate for peace, democracy and human rights. My own memory of President Carter extends back to 1976, when, as a candidate for the presidency, he came to Garfield Park for a speech and rally. Presidential candidates don"t do much of that kind of public campaigning anymore. Their appearances are carefully crafted, invitation-only fund-raisers where the public is unwelcome unless they"re paying $500 a plate. The Carter rally at Garfield Park was probably one of the last of the old-time campaign stops in Indianapolis. There was a country band jamming on Southern-fried music, vendors were hawking buttons and T-shirts and there were flags everywhere. Girls in hotpants registered people to vote. Children were hoisted on a parent"s shoulders to see the action. It was a beautiful fall day and thousands of people came out to see the man who would become the 39th president. At age 11, the whole scene was amazing to me. There was excitement everywhere; nobody could remember when a presidential candidate had come to the Southside to campaign. Especially a Democrat. Indiana has gone Democratic exactly once in the last 70 years, so it was probably not worth Carter"s while to come here. But I"ll never forget the moment when Carter was introduced. He flashed his trademark smile, waved directly at me (or so I thought) and the crowd went wild. I remember that he talked about how America needed a break from the politics of deception, how a country as great as ours deserved leaders who told the truth. He promised to bring a big broom with him to Washington to sweep out the old. There was no negative campaigning going on; he didn"t try to elevate himself by trashing his opponent. There was no spin. The only thing going on was an earnest man promising to bring positive change. He delivered optimism and hope. I remember both my parents, who generally supported conservatives, talking about how impressed they were by the man. The possibilities seemed endless; the future stretched out beyond our imaginations. I purchased a paperback copy of his autobiography, Why Not The Best?, and found out that Carter had been a poor white kid, just like me. His parents were poor farmers who eked out a living on their farm. Like me, he stayed up late, reading, dreaming, thinking about a way to escape poverty. Even after all these years, a phrase from the book still stands out in my mind. At one point in his early adulthood, he was visited by a Klan-like organization and asked to give money. "I"ve got $5 in my pocket but I"d flush it down the toilet before I"d give it to you," he told them. Here was an amazing man who would fix all the problems of society. America had finally found its hero. As it turns out, of course, that optimism was a little misplaced. Carter found that getting elected as an outsider was easier than governing as an outsider. The establishment never really embraced him and in fact obstructed him at every turn. He ran one of the most ethical administrations in history yet, in those post-Watergate days, the media consistently looked for scandal. For a man whose most notable feature was his wide smile, he didn"t seem to take much joy in being president. And, finally, the voters pretty much tossed him out of office. But, like much in life, that defeat turned out to be only temporary. And that might be the best lesson to draw from the life of Jimmy Carter. After a crushing defeat, one that would have crushed a lesser man, he came back stronger and more effective than before. He parlayed a sole term in Washington into 20-plus years of achievement. It culminated last week with the Nobel Peace Prize. And, again, there were naysayers. Professional geezer Bob Novak said on CNN, "He was a disgrace as president and he"s a disgrace to the Nobel Peace Prize." Of course, they said that about another man from the South who won the Nobel. He was a man who the director of the FBI called "the most notorious liar in the country." Cops regularly harassed him. But Martin Luther King is revered by people across the world and his enemies are forgotten. Children learn his speeches in school. Like Carter, he tried to get the United States to face up to hard truths and suffered as a result. There"s been a lot of talk about patriotism lately. And I"ll wave the flag like everyone else. But when I do, it"s for the America of King and Carter, for a nation with the courage to wage peace and to dream of a better tomorrow.

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