Jimmy Carter, now 90, is reputed to have the best post-presidency ever. He has been enormously productive during the three and a half decades since he left the White House, fighting tirelessly for human rights, nearly eliminating at least one dreadful disease that most of us didn’t even know existed (Guinea worm), and writing a slew of books (at last count 29), a number of which are very good.
But for all his post-presidency accomplishments, what makes him great is not what he does, but who he is. Jimmy Carter is a man of such unimpeachable integrity, of such unusual modesty, of such simple tastes and plain habits that he seems to have dropped from another planet. If there is another American of his stature who has remained so determinedly what he was when he was young, a farm boy from Archery, Georgia (population 150), I can’t think who.
In most of the important ways, Carter’s life is little different from what it was before he entered politics. He has been married to the same woman, Rosalynn Carter, for 69 years. He and Rosalynn have lived in Plains, Georgia for 62 years. He and Rosalynn have lived in the same house in Plains for 54 years. Plains is only 2 miles from Archery, where in 1928, Earl Carter, Jimmy’s father, bought 360 acres of farmland on which Jimmy was raised.
By his own testimony Carter is a born again Christian. He not only professes his faith, he lives it. His life, his work, his demeanor, the content of what he says are all deeply informed by, influenced by, his Christian beliefs. Carter has long taught a Sunday School Class in Plains – and he still does. Go to the web site of the Maranatha Baptist Church and you will see that he is scheduled to teach Sunday school four times this August, and three times this September. He teaches whenever he’s not traveling, which he still does, regularly.
Finally while Carter is in some ways an intellectual – well-educated, deeply informed, and relentlessly curious – he is also, in the American tradition, a man who prides himself on working with his hands, on crafting things by the sweat of his brow. Both he and his wife have long supported, physically as well as financially, Habitat for Humanity, a Christian Housing Ministry dedicated to providing poor people worldwide with “simple, decent, and affordable housing.” And when he and Rosalynn are home, and he’s not at his computer, writing, he’s in his wood shop out back, painting and making furniture.
An extra-ordinary man who has chosen to live an ordinary life – which is extra-ordinary. Which is exemplary. Which is a welcome rejection of the restless materialism characteristic of our leadership class.