Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, 1980
President Jimmy Carter welcomes Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the White House, Washington, DC, on April 8, 1980. Photo credit: U.S. News and World Report / Wikimedia

Jimmy Carter was the finest president of my lifetime. When he passes, America will be the poorer.

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It’s Presidents’ Week, so I wanted to share a few things you may not know about my favorite president.

Jimmy Carter has always been one of my heroes, and not just because he was the only president willing to come on my radio program and speak bluntly about the Supreme Court and American oligarchs (among other things).

— He was one of those rare Christians in political life who actually lived the values Jesus taught.

— He saw climate change coming and took steps to stop it that — had Ronald Reagan not intervened — would have altered the world’s energy and climate future.  

— He was the victim of one of America’s most notorious political crimes, and it was during his presidency that the Supreme Court began the deconstruction of American democracy.

— He brought peace to the Middle East during a critical period, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize.

— He even proposed a national health care program that would pay every American’s medical expenses above $2,500 per year.

Like his climate proposals, Carter’s health care plan died in the face of bought-off politicians and the Reagan Revolution.

The New York Times summarized Carter’s 1976 health care plan with the headline: “Carter to Present Health Plan Paying Costs Above $2,500.” From that article:

“We have built a haphazard, unsound, undirected, inefficient nonsystem, which has left us unhealthy and unwealthy at the same time,” Carter proclaimed.  

“We have heard speeches, testimony and press conferences in support of national health insurance for 30 years, but not a single bill has passed the Senate or the House. The time has come for us to quit talking and get down to work.”

Carter was also a nuclear scientist who, at the age of 28, stopped what could have been one of North America’s worst nuclear meltdowns.

Carter lowered himself into a nuclear reactor that was on the edge of actively melting down, possibly saving the homes and lives of thousands. As he wrote in his 2015 book A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety:

The reactor core was below ground level and surrounded by intense radioactivity. Even with protective clothing, each of us would absorb the maximum permissible dose with just ninety seconds of exposure, so we had to make optimum use of this limited time. The limit on radiation absorption in the early 1950s was approximately one thousand times higher than it is sixty years later.

Newsweek noted that Carter’s “urine was still testing as radioactive six months after the clean up operation, and it affected his health for the rest of his life.”

As a scientist, Carter also knew it was common knowledge across the scientific community that greenhouse gasses — particularly CO2 and methane — were warming our planet.

As you can see from the graphic below, it had become irrefutable by his presidency.

Global ocean, heat content, chart

Graph of global ocean heat content change in the upper 2,000 meters (~6,560 feet) of the ocean, showing the monthly average by year as compared to the annual average, for 1955–2019. Photo credit: NOAA NCEI and IAP

President Carter pointed to this knowledge and these trends and took action to try to stop the crisis the world is now experiencing. 

“The energy crisis is real,” Carter told the nation in a televised address that Republicans ridiculed. “It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them. … What I have to say to you now about energy is simple and vitally important. … Point one: I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 — never.”

He declared a national crisis that year and proposed legislation to create “this nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”

Tragically for America and the world, it all came crashing down when the fossil fuel industry’s candidate, Ronald Reagan, replaced Carter, killed the solar bank and the solar bond program, and even took Carter’s 32 solar panels off the roof of the White House.

Reagan embraced the fossil fuel industry with gusto (and they embraced him back), promoting climate deniers like James Watt to head the Department of the Interior (which oversees oil, gas, and coal drilling and mining), and Neil Gorsuch’s mother, Anne Gorsuch, to head the EPA.

Simultaneously, the fossil fuel industry began throwing millions of dollars a year into sellout scientists and climate deniers while pouring billions around the world into politicians and political campaigns.

As a result, we actually increased our consumption of fossil fuels — and the fossil fuel industry made hundreds of billions in profits. Our World in Data summarizes it well: 

Global primary energy consumption

Photo credit: Our World in Data

It’s particularly galling when you realize that Carter’s goal to save the planet from climate disaster was short-circuited by an act of naked Republican treason.

During the Carter-Reagan election battle of 1980, then-President Carter had reached a deal with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr to release the 52 hostages held by students at the American Embassy in Tehran.

Bani-Sadr was a moderate and, as he explained in an editorial for The Christian Science Monitor, successfully ran for president that summer on the popular position of releasing the hostages:

I openly opposed the hostage-taking throughout the election campaign. … I won the election with over 76 percent of the vote … Other candidates also were openly against hostage-taking, and overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against it [hostage-taking].”

Carter was confident that with Bani-Sadr’s help, he could end the embarrassing hostage crisis that had been a thorn in his political side ever since it began in November of 1979.

But behind Carter’s back, the Reagan campaign worked out a deal with the leader of Iran’s radical faction — Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini — to keep the hostages in captivity until after the 1980 presidential election. Khomeini needed spare parts for American weapons systems the shah had purchased for Iran, and Reagan was happy to promise them.

The Reagan campaign’s secret negotiations with Khomeini — the so-called “October Surprise” — sabotaged President Carter’s and Iranian President Bani-Sadr’s attempts to free the hostages. As President Bani-Sadr told The Christian Science Monitor in March of 2013:

After arriving in France [in 1981], I told a BBC reporter that I had left Iran to expose the symbiotic relationship between Khomeinism and Reaganism.

Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.

And Reagan’s treason worked perfectly.

The Iran hostage crisis continued and torpedoed Carter’s reelection hopes. And the same day Reagan took the oath of office — literally to the minute, as Reagan put his hand on the bible, by way of Iran’s acknowledging of the deal — the American hostages in Iran were released.

Keeping his side of the deal, Reagan began selling the Iranians weapons and spare parts in 1981, and continued until he was busted for it in 1986, producing the so-called “Iran-Contra scandal.”

It was in 1978, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, that Lewis Powell authored the infamous Supreme Court Bellotti decision — the precursor to Citizens United — that said corporations are persons, money is speech, and therefore corporations bribing politicians was no longer to be called “bribery” or “corruption” but instead a simple “expression of [corporate] free speech.”

Robert Reich noted in his substack newsletter Monday morning the immediate result of that decision:

The untold story of the Carter years is the vast increase in corporate political firepower during this time. Trade associations, law firms, lobbying firms, political operatives, and public-relations specialists swarmed Washington, offering executives so much money that most retiring members of Congress also became lobbyists.

The city went from being a sleepy if not seedy backwater to the hub of America’s political wealth — replete with tony restaurants, upscale hotels, expensive bistros, and 25-bedroom mansions (one of them now owned by Jeff Bezos), and bordered by two of the richest counties in the nation.

Having had his own firsthand encounter with the billionaires who funded Reagan’s rise to power, Carter also had the courage to call them out publicly.

Speaking with me after five Republicans on the Supreme Court handed down their corrupt 2010 Citizens United decision, expanding their 1978 legalization of political bribery, he said:

It [Citizens United] violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president, and the same thing applies to governors and US senators and Congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.

While Carter being an avowed evangelical Christian helped get him elected president in 1976, particularly across the Bible Belt, he didn’t behave like the typical politician who claims that title.

He was reluctant to make his religion an issue in the election, in fact.

And when he left office, Carter devoted much of the rest of his life to helping others, most famously helping build houses for low-income and homeless people through Habitat For Humanity.

When his church took a stand against homosexuality and the ordination of women, Carter resigned and found one that didn’t discriminate. He said:

I never knew of any word or action of Jesus Christ that discriminated against anyone because of who they were. And the sexual orientation of a person is just like the color of their skin or whether they are poor or rich or whether they live in a foreign country or our country.

His work for peace in the Middle East earned this summary on the Nobel Prize’s website:

While the President of the United States, George W. Bush, was planning war on Iraq in the autumn of 2002, former President Jimmy Carter was awarded the Peace Prize for undertaking peace negotiations, campaigning for human rights, and working for social welfare.

According to the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Carter ought to have been awarded the Prize as early as in 1978, when he successfully mediated a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Jimmy Carter was the finest president of my lifetime, perhaps one of the four best presidents in American history behind Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Washington. When he passes, America — and the world — will be the poorer.

Reprinted from The Hartmann Report with the author’s permission.

Thom Hartmann is a four-time Project Censored-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of 34 books in print and the #1 progressive talk show host in America for more than a decade.


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