Where does Jimmy Carter live? Well, close your eyes and imagine the kind of house an ex-president of the United States might live in. The sort of residence befitting the former leader of the most powerful nation on earth. Got it? Right, now scrub that clean from your mind and instead imagine the sort of house where a moderately successful junior accountant and his family might live.
It’s what in America is called a “ranch house”, or, as we’d say, “a bungalow”. There are no porticoes. No columns. No sweeping lawns. There’s just a small brick single-storey structure that Jimmy and his wife, Rosalynn, built on Woodland Drive back in 1961 when he was a peanut farmer and she was a peanut farmer’s wife, right in the heart of the town in which they grew up. Though Plains, Georgia is barely a town. A street, might be a more accurate description. A single road going nowhere much…
Strictly speaking, he’s still Mr President, but it’s hard to give the office its true gravitas in what looks like my mum’s living room. And there’s a plain, homespun quality about him that’s reminiscent of that other great Jimmy, the patron saint of small-town American life: Jimmy Stewart. He’ll turn 87 in October, and is recovering from having both his knees replaced this summer, but the dazzling smile that once captivated America is still there. Though it’s a terrible cliché, not to mention patronising and ageist, to describe any octogenarian as “twinkly”, he undeniably is.
He leads me slowly into the family room at the back of the house. Photographs of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren line the walls, and an old throw covers an even older sofa. Mary, the housekeeper who’s been with the family for 40-odd years, brings Carter coffee in an ancient plastic cup, so old that the “Royal Caribbean” logo on it has faded nearly clean away. (Mary first came to work at the governor’s mansion as a convicted murderer on day release, and – how’s this for living your liberal beliefs? – the Carters asked her to look after their three-year-old daughter, Amy.)…
Jimmy’s early years on the family farm just outside Plains coloured his entire life. As a boy during the Great Depression, he recalls, “streams of tramps, or we called them hobos, walked back and forth in front of our house, along the railroad”. Even more influentially, it was a mostly black community. “I learned at first hand the deprivation of both white and black people living in a segregated community, which was then not challenged at all.” Except by his own mother; thanks to her liberalism all his earliest playmates were black.
RTFA. Long, detailed, even though I never voted for Carter [and didn’t vote for that corporate pimp, Reagan, who followed] my respect continues to grow for the man who stands better by his principles year after year since he left office. Criticisms of foreign alliances that he wouldn’t have made in office – that still stand as rote in the Democratic Party – grow and change, altered by events and more understanding.
Commitment to the needs of ordinary working people worldwide guides his life and style. Again, more than it did when he was constrained by representing one of our two corrupt political parties. That headline up top is not something that gets you elected to office – just the respect of a nation that wearies time and again of lying politicians who take advantage of nationalism and patriotism in the game of pillage and profit.