Who is Georgia's most detested homegrown public figure? My guess is Jimmy Carter. Yet he may have accomplished as much good as any other living Georgian.
I am willing to bet the above assertion will trigger an avalanche of hate mail directed at me and Carter. "If you write a nice word about Jimmy Carter, you must be as mean and stupid as he is." That will be the gist of the milder stuff. The rest won't be printable. I know my readers.
Carter's recent book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," touched off a firestorm of hatred and criticism of Carter. Some leading members of the Jewish community, once among Carter's closest allies, denounced and abandoned the former president.
They see his book as an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of Israel's relationship with Palestinian Arabs. That is all I'm going to say about the Carter volume, except 1) it includes some interesting maps and 2) the manuscript editor who allowed Carter to use "apartheid" ought to be fired.
Of course, the Israel-apartheid furor simply marks this year's annual Carter controversy. We have come to expect at least one such blowup every 12 months. In 2006, Carter's eulogy of Coretta King caused an explosion of contempt.
The ex-president dared to criticize the current president at what was plainly a planned political funeral with heavy anti-Republican overtones. No matter. Carter was deemed a skunk again, as was any writer who defended him. That meant me.
The truth is that my relationship with Carter over the years has ranged from cool to frigid. More than three decades ago, Carter accused me of plotting to undermine his career when I broke the story of his presidential bid. ("Jimmy Who is Running for What?" Honest, chief, I did not write that headline.)
Three weeks ago, when I applied for media credentials to cover the ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of Carter's inaugural, the former president's press office didn't even bother to respond. Carter still believes I am the principal source of material on his racist strategy to become governor in 1970. He is correct.
I give you this background, dear reader, to let you know that the ex-prez and old Bill are not close and, in fact, not even on speaking terms most days. It is also meant to preface this:
Carter ought to be venerated. He is a Georgia treasure. History may not rate Jimmy Carter as another Franklin Roosevelt or even Dwight Eisenhower, but he will be remembered for a few good works during his presidency and many afterward.
Envision the present Iraq quagmire without Carter's Camp David Accords, which ended hostilities and opened trade between Egypt and Israel. Imagine the bellicose role Egypt might be playing in the Middle East conflict, if it were not for the accords and the inestimable benefits accrued to the Egyptians.
Carter's postpresidential career has achieved astounding results, especially in fighting disease. To be sure, his occasional meddling in foreign policy has irked even members of his own party. Yet Carter has moved beyond politics to a more inclusive mission.
Human rights ought to include the right to live a healthier life, he contends. Traveling with Carter recently in Africa, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote:
"Mr. Carter argues - and he's dead right - that we conceive of human rights too narrowly as political and civil rights, and that we also need to fight for the human right of children to live healthy lives. He has led the way in waging that battle. Because of Mr. Carter's two-decade battle against Guinea worm disease, it is expected to be eradicated worldwide within the next five years. It will be the first ailment to be eliminated since smallpox in 1977. ... At the end of the day, this one-term president who left office a pariah in his own party will transform the lives of more people in more places over a longer period of time than any other recent president."
Instead of being an incessant whipping boy, the aging Carter and his work for child wellness might serve as an inspiration for some contemporary Southern politicians, even if they don't dare identify their role model.
Check the public health statistics. The rural American South may not suffer the Guinea worm plague, but parts of our region are not as far from the filth and disease of Africa as one might think.
Instead of joining Rep. Ben Bridges' concern over whether Earth is standing still on its axis, some ambitious Georgia politician might start posing questions about the health of the state's children. Or is that asking too much?
Now, type: "I despise Jimmy Carter and you because ..."
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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