It’s time to remember two true things about Jimmy Carter. First, he was a bad president who undermined his own administration through his obsession with inflation, his governance well to the right of his congressional majority, and his personal management style. Horrible treatment by the press didn’t help. The rabbit story for instance was a grotesque attack on Carter, basically for being an outsider with a Georgia farm.
Second, Carter is easily the greatest ex-president other than John Quincy Adams. The models for ex-presidents aren’t all that extensive, since so many in the past were very old when they left office and died soon after. There was the elder statesman role that Jefferson and Madison took. There was the disappearance into irrelevance role because you were an irrelevant president that covers a lot of these people. In recent decades, we’ve seen more the global superstar route taken by Bill Clinton and which Barack Obama is following. And while one can legitimately argue that the Clinton Foundation has been unjustly attacked by a media that hates the Clintons, it’s hardly the global superpower of goodness that Jimmy Carter has created. Rather than be a global superstar by choice, Carter’s become one by putting his core beliefs into practice. Carter speaks out on current issues in a way that other recent presidents have not done. Obama rarely speaks on Trump because he respected that the Bushes didn’t come out against him, but given that this is Donald Trump we are talking about, it’s disappointing. But then there’s nothing Obama believes in more than the norms of politics, which always undermined his agenda since he didn’t take his opposition as seriously as he should have.
Carter meanwhile, despite his now very advanced age, continues to do what he can. Speaking out publicly against John Bolton may not shift American politics, but at least here is a respected senior voice–an ex-president no less–sounding the alarm on this horrible human being. And then there’s Carter expressed desire to outlaw the existence of guinea worm, a nasty horrible thing that he has done much to fight. And he may make it!
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, appears to have stopped Guinea worm disease within its borders, the country’s health minister announced Wednesday.
“Having known the suffering it inflicted, one is very happy today,” the minister, Dr. Riek Gai Kok, said. “Future generations will just read of Guinea worm in the books as history.”
Dr. Kok made the announcement in Atlanta at the Carter Center, a philanthropy founded by former President Jimmy Carter that leads the effort to eliminate the parasitic worm.
Only 30 worm infestations were detected last year, 15 in Chad and 15 in Ethiopia. When Mr. Carter began the eradication drive in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 21 Asian and African countries.
Global health officials are racing to make the worm or polio the second human disease — after smallpox — to be eradicated worldwide. Rinderpest, a cattle disease that for centuries triggered widespread human famines, was eliminated in 2011.
Guinea worm — also known as dracunculiasis, or “affliction with little dragons” — is a minuscule parasite found in ponds. Inside anyone who drinks the water, it grows to be a yard long and emerges after a year, usually from a leg or foot, by exuding acid under the skin to form a blister.
The pain drives the victim to dunk the leg in water, and the worm releases millions of larvae, starting the cycle anew.
It can take two weeks to carefully pull each worm from the body so it does not break and cause infection.
The Carter Center fights the disease by recruiting a volunteer in each affected village to pour a mild pesticide into ponds, distribute cloth filters that remove copepods containing worm larvae, and treat victims before they walk into ponds.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, triumphed despite having many worm-laden ponds, a long rainy season, poor roads and irregular spasms of warfare, said Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, a former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who for years led the Carter Center campaign.
South Sudan has not had a case in 15 months, which is longer than the worm’s life cycle. The country will be certified worm-free by the World Health Organization only after there have been no cases for three years.
This is an amazing advancement in public health. And it’s far from the only disease that Carter has worked on, with river blindness another major focus.
May Carter live as long as he wants! His obituaries should still be dominated by his highly disappointing presidency, but with a lot more caveats than were clear in 1981.