WASHINGTON – After losing the presidency 25 years ago to an underestimated opponent named Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter finally admitted it Thursday.
“I can’t deny that I’m a better ex-president than I was a president,” the nation’s 39th chief executive told reporters with that broad Georgia smile.
For Carter, 81, the past quarter-century has been a model of what former presidents can accomplish. He set up the Carter Center in Atlanta to help countries around the world, working for peace, promoting human rights and elections, and providing assistance. He helped presidents out of jams as a personal international emissary. And in 2002, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts.
With all that behind him, Jimmy Carter is returning to politics again – not to run for the presidency, but to comment on it in a bold way that he has never done before. In a new book, titled “Our Endangered Values,” he lashes out at a religiously based “fundamentalism” in the Bush administration and in the Republican Party and says it is putting the country at risk.
It is likely to make him a much more controversial figure, something of a risk for a man who has engendered good feelings outside of politics. “It was (a book) that I wrote with some hesitation and trepidation,” he said.
In the new book, and in book-tour interviews, Carter said fundamentalism is responsible for the administration’s policy of pre-emptive strikes against a potential enemy, such as the war in Iraq, for relaxation of environmental regulations, for favoring the wealthy over the poor in economic policy, and for torturing prisoners. It represents a merger of politics and religion unhealthy for the republic, he said.
“My guess is that the people who have executed these changes (in the administration) don’t disagree with what I have written in the book,” he said. “They think they are absolutely right. That’s one of the characteristics of fundamentalism – `I think I am right because I am close to God and anybody who disagrees with me is inherently wrong and therefore inferior.’ “
Carter, a Baptist who describes himself as a evangelical Christian, said he is neither doubting nor criticizing President Bush’s Christian beliefs, but had to speak out on “radical” changes in U.S. policy.
“I don’t have any doubt that he is very sincere about his Christian faith,” he said. “There are differences in interpretation. Certainly all Baptists are different. I have a commitment to worship the prince of peace, not the prince of pre-emptive war. I believe that Christ taught us to give special attention to the plight of the poor.”
And then he dispensed this political advice to Democrats who want to win back the presidency: “Read my book.” He urged them to favor a strong national defense, identify with working people, protect the environment, push human rights abroad and civil rights at home, reduce the federal deficit and de-emphasize abortion as a political issue.