Despite today’s national holiday being called by some President’s Day, it’s not actually set aside to honor all the holders of that high office. Today is Washington’s Birthday, well Wednesday, Feb. 22, will be. And that’s not really George’s birthday either, for he was born Feb. 11. When he was 20 years old, in 1752, the old Julian calendar was changed to the current Gregorian system and 11 days were added.
But we will still use today’s occasion to reflect on a man who followed Washington: Georgia’s Jimmy Carter, as he receives hospice care at his home in the little town of Plains at age 98. He was not a great president like Washington or Lincoln. Indeed, Carter had a troubled presidency for four years, but had a very successful post presidency for more than 40 years, promoting peace, democracy, human rights and development.
GAZA CITY, GAVA STRIP – JUNE 16: In this handout from the Hamas Government, the head of Hamas goverment in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh (R), sits with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (R) June 16, 2009 in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip. Carter is in the Gaza strip fro talks with the Hamas government about conditions to end the international boycott of the Islamic milutant group. (Photo by Muhammad Alostaz/Hamas via Getty Images)
Former US president Jimmy Carter helps build a house as he visits the construction site of houses being built by Carter’s Habitat for Humanity foundation for victims of the January 2010 earthquake in Leogane, 33km south of Port-au-Prince, on November 26, 2012. AFP PHOTO Thony BELIZAIRE (Photo credit should read THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US president Jimmy Carter visits the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon on April 5, 2013. Carter headed to Myanmar and Nepal, hoping to find ways to encourage democracy in the two Asian nations, which are undergoing political transitions. AFP PHOTO/ SOE THAN WIN (Photo credit should read Soe Than WIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Gates snr, father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates (L), former South African President Nelson Mandela (C) and former President of the U.S Jimmy Carter all sit and cradle babies from the Zola clinic in Soweto, 07 March 2002. The US-based Gates Foundation awarded US150,000 to four South African AIDS projects at the ceremony held at the clinic.
AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)
405512 03: Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) speaks with the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (L) and his wife Rosalyn during a departure ceremony at Jose Marti International airport May 17, 2002 in Havana, Cuba. Carter visited for six days in an effort to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba. (Photo by Jorge Rey/Getty Images)
South African cleric Desmond Tutu (2nd L-front), former US president Jimmy Carter (R) and ex-UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (L) receive bouquets of flowers as they cross from the Greek Cypriot-controlled side to the Turkish military-controlled areas of the Cypriot capital Nicosia on October 9, 2008. The group of the international statesmen known as “The Elders” are visiting the divided island of Cyprus to support UN-backed peace talks between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot sides. They met representatives of both communities on the island in a bid to spur on negotiations that started in earnest on September 11 between Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. AFP PHOTO/STEFANOS KOURATZIS (Photo credit should read STEFANOS KOURATZIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US president Jimmy Carter (L) helps build a house as he visits the construction site of houses being built by Carter’s Habitat for Humanity foundation for victims of the January 2010 earthquake in Leogane, 33km south of Port-au-Prince, on November 26, 2012. AFP PHOTO Thony BELIZAIRE (Photo credit should read THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP via Getty Images)
MONROVIA, LIBERIA – OCTOBER 11: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter leaves a polling site October 11, 2005 in Monrovia, Liberia. The Carter Center, founded by Carter to promote peace initiatives and health issues worldwide, is in Liberia to monitor the elections along with the National Democratic Institute. Liberia, beset by 13 years of savage civil war and two years of uncertain peace, held internationally-monitored elections October 11, a landmark achievement after two years of United Nations military occupation. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – OCTOBER 31: (NO SALES) In this handout image provided by the Elders, Jimmy Carter walks with his grandsons Jeremy Carter (R), 22, and Hugo Wentzel, 10 during a picnic event on October 31, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey.Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and their fellow Elders invited their grandchildren to join them this week to remind the world of the catastrophic risk of climate change to future generations. The seven Elders and their thirteen grandchildren from Asia, Africa, Europe and America met in Istanbul with the group ranging in age from 3 to 85. Global Elders enlist their grandchildren’s help to warn of the perils of climate change. (Photo by Kate Brooks/The Elders via Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Former US President Jimmy Carter (C-back) and former Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai (3rd L-behind-with glasses) observe local election officials speaking with a voter (R) at a polling station in Jakarta, 05 July 2004. Carter and Chuan are here as official observers as polls opened in Indonesia’s first direct presidential election, with more than 153 million voters eligible to choose from five potential leaders. AFP PHOTO/ARIF ARIADI (Photo credit should read ARIF ARIADI/AFP via Getty Images)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum (L), Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Minister of Defence, and former US president Jimmy Carter, holding the International Zayed Prize for the Environment, stand during a ceremony in Dubai 22 April 2001. Carter, who received the first prize of USD 500,000, was recognized for his vision and work on world poverty, human health, human settlement and peace. AFP PHOTO/Rabih MOGHRABI (Photo credit should read RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP via Getty Images)
MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE: Former US President Jimmy Carter (L) congratulates 02 December 2004 a Mozambican family after they’ve voted during presidential elections in Maputo, Mozambique. Mozambique’s long-time President Joaquim Chissano expressed surprise Thursday at the abysmal turn-out in elections to choose his successor, and blamed the poor showing on widespread illiteracy and ignorance of political systems. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)
The Carter years saw high inflation, which exceeded 10% in 1979 and peaked in 1980 at close to 15% and interest rates were equally punishing, with the Fed setting their benchmark at 17%. He did manage to win ratification of the Panama Canal treaty, a goal of presidents for decades, with a Senate with 62 Democrats. (The post-Watergate House had 292 Democrats, a 67% supermajority).
His greatest achievement was the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel. And while Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize a month after they signed in 1978, Carter would have to wait 24 years to get his own Nobel.
Carter tried to heal the nation on his first full day in office by pardoning those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. But the highpoints were few.
From his malaise speech on America’s spirit which never used the word “malaise,” to the overthrow of the shah of Iran, creating an oil crisis and long lines to buy gasoline and the hostage crisis that bedeviled Carter to the moment that Ronald Reagan was sworn in, Carter was beset. Still, Jimmy Carter was an honest and honorable man who served his country.
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