Former President Jimmy Carter, who celebrated his 97th birthday on October 1, 2021, has the distinction of becoming the oldest living president in the history of the United States. We had the good fortune of meeting Carter on several occasions.
Our most memorable encounter was interviewing him in his Atlanta office in 2007 for a magazine story on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Carter Center, the impressive and unprecedented non-profit organization that has spearheaded humanitarian and peacemaking projects around the world.
We discussed a many issues—ranging from Middle East peace prospects to United States electoral reform. It was the easiest interview we’ve ever conducted. Carter was brilliant, straightforward, and engaging.
In our opinion, Carter’s achievements were never given their due: Seventy percent of his domestic legislation was passed; he doubled the size of the National Park System and established the Department of Education. He was the first president to remind the public of the dangers of climate change and significantly reduced carbon emissions by lowering the maximum speed limit to 55. Moreover, he doubled the number of African Americans on the bench and in government service.
His foreign policy accomplishments were just as impressive. He normalized relations with China and passed the Panama Canal Treaty. And he arranged the unprecedented Camp David Peace Accord between Israel and Egypt. He consistently emphasized diplomatic over military solutions and managed to avoid war altogether—not insignificant given how America has squandered its resources as a consequence of incessant, unsustainable wars of choice abroad.
In 2002, The Nobel Committee awarded Carter the Nobel Peace Prize, citing “his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
Granted, the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, an unfortunate convergence of circumstances, was the primary cause of Carter’s failure to get re-elected for a second term as president. Nevertheless, he negotiated the release of the hostages by the time Ronald Reagan, his successor, took office in the White House.
In a 2015 Vanity Fair interview, when asked what he disliked most, Carter responded, “seeing our democracy subverted by money.” His concern has proven well-founded.
President Joe Biden’s birthday greeting to Carter expressed the essence of the man: To my dear friend, Jimmy Carter, a humble servant of God, a beacon of light and moral clarity and a leader of extraordinary character, honor, and integrity.