Should Jimmy Carter Annoint Himself As The Best Former President Ever?

Last week, former President Jimmy Carter told NBC’s Brian Williams:

“I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents’. Primarily because of the activism and the — and the injection of working at the Carter Center and in international affairs, and to some degree, domestic affairs, on energy conservation, on — on environment, and things of that kind. We’re right in the midst of the — of the constant daily debate.  And  the Carter Center has decided, under my leadership, to fill vacuums in the world. When — when the United States won’t deal with troubled areas, we go there, and we meet with leaders who can bring an end to a conflict, or an end to a human rights abuse, and so forth. So I — I feel that I have an advantage over many other former presidents in being involved in daily affairs that have shaped the policies of our nation and the world.”

Many commentators felt that Carter’s self-annointment as the best post White House POTUS was unseemly at best, immodest and ungracious at worst. While humility is a virtue, it is not one that major political figures and leaders possess or display very often; Carter’s lack of it may be grating, but it is hardly an ethical offense. He is widely regarded as one America’s least effective Chief Executives, and it is understandable that he would be over-eager to assert a more favorable legacy for himself.

But is it true? Is Carter superior to other presidents in making a significant contributions to his nation and the world after serving?

Whatever one thinks of Jimmy Carter, he has to be accorded one of the highest ranks in this regard. To begin with, he has stayed alive, healthy and active: many of his predecessors never got the opportunity to be productive because they either died in office (Harrison, Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, FDR, and Kennedy), died shortly after leaving office (Washington, Monroe, Polk, Arthur, Coolidge), were so ill, frail, elderly, or financially troubled upon leaving office that they couldn’t do very much (Madison, Jackson, Cleveland, Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan). It is impossible to say that Carter is first among America’s former presidents, however. One can understand why Carter reached that conclusion, but not all of his activities, particularly on the diplomatic front, have been universally hailed as beneficial or wise. He is also in competition with some other presidents who accomplished a great deal after leaving office, and arguably more than Carter. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, for example. John Quincy Adams served 18 years in the House of Representatives post-presidency, and remained an important political leader, especially in the battles over slavery. He also won freedom for the Africans who had taken over a Spanish slave ship in the Armistad case. William Howard Taft became the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, easily the most impressive job ever held by a former U.S. President. (Taft considered it a promotion.) People forget about it now, but much maligned former president Herbert Hoover led the post-war initiative to set up a school meals program in the American and British occupation zones of Germany in 1947, serving 3.5 million children aged six through 18.

Jimmy Carter is justly proud of his accomplishments, but he shouldn’t minimize the contributions of his distinguished predecessors who continued to serve the needs of America and the world…just like he has. Like all Americans, he should respect those who served as President, and he should recognize the importance of being fair to their legacies.

One thought on “Should Jimmy Carter Annoint Himself As The Best Former President Ever?

  1. Ifeel we were in about the same ecomonic way when Jimmy was in as it is now with Obama…I and my wife had no jobs we nearly lost our home I had to leave my home in Illinois and work in Tx for nearly 18 months without my family to support them and this jerk thinks he was great –Obama thinks his great too…talk to someone who is not working….they tell you who they think is great……not this one…….

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