My Two Encounters with Jimmy Carter

During the 1976 Democratic convention that nominated Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia for the presidency of the United States, someone was shown — perhaps there were several such people; I really don’t remember — waving a banner bearing the words JC Can Save America.

A month or so later, a friend, incensed by the implicit quasi-blasphemy of the sign, persuaded me to join him in protesting a Carter campaign visit to Salt Lake City.  (I was finishing my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University that year.)  Truth be told, I wasn’t much inclined to do so.  I really dislike public protests of that (or pretty much any other) kind, and am not fond of confrontations.  But he was a close friend (a former missionary companion in Switzerland), and he prevailed upon me.

My expressed dislike of messianic pretensions in politicians is genuine, and of long standing.

We stationed ourselves near a place where we were confident that his motorcade would be parking, and where, while exiting his car, we were fairly sure he would see our sign calling upon him to disavow that expression from the Democratic convention.

It worked, and, sure enough, when he got out of his car, he saw us across the street.  “I didn’t like that either!” he shouted to us.

That was enough for me.  I really don’t believe that Mr. Carter, a devout Christian, confuses himself with the Messiah.  I never really did, actually.  He didn’t make the statement; it was some anonymous political zealot among the convention delegates.

I’ve never done anything like that again.  I wasn’t fond of the idea in the first place, and it left a bad taste in my mouth afterwards.

I didn’t see Mr. Carter again in person until March 2010, when, as part of my involvement with what we’ve often called the “Malta Forum” or, more formally, the Center for Global Engagement of the New York City-based Institute for American Values, I participated in a conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta on “The Arab Cultural Debate and Its Implications for U.S.-Arab Engagement.”

Mr. Carter was the opening plenary speaker for our rather small group.

Andrew Young
Leah Ward Sears
Congressman Andrew Young, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Carter and, later, Mayor of Atlanta, actively participated in some of the sessions, and I enjoyed enormously sitting down to lunch one day with him and with Leah Ward Sears, the former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.  The conversation was frank, witty, and fascinating — and that was just my side of it.  (Can’t wait till some of my more humor-impaired critics get hold of that comment.)
We certainly have our disagreements — I voted against Mr. Carter in both of his presidential elections — but I enjoy the sort of encounters that I had in Atlanta in 2010 far more than I would enjoy confronting such people with hostile placards at a demonstration and/or shouting simplistic slogans at them.

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