Jimmy Carter's Lifelong Efforts to Atone for White America's Sins (Part 1)

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"Jimmy Carter." Art by Mr. Fish.

Jimmy Carter, America’s 39th president, is often seen as a one-term president who was unable to achieve much of note in his four years in office. Yet the Democrat’s legacy is filled with far more accomplishments than his critics like to admit — especially when his post-presidency is taken into consideration. In “His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life,” one of the most comprehensive biographies written on the 96-year-old to date, author Jonathan Alter offers an illuminating account of the former president’s incredible life, which, Alter argues, essentially spans three centuries: “His early life on the farm in the 1920s without electricity or running water might as well have been in the nineteenth; his presidency put him at the center of major events in the twentieth; and his efforts on conflict resolution and global health set him on the cutting edge of the challenges of the twenty-first.”

Alter joins host Robert Scheer on this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss Carter — the Southerner, the president, and the philanthropist. Scheer, who was interviewed for “HIs Very Best,” brings a unique perspective to the discussion based on his famous 1976 Playboy interview with the then-presidential candidate in which Carter admitted he had “looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times.” Speaking just days after Carter’s home state of Georgia elected its first Black senator, Raphael Warnock, Alter and Scheer extensively examine the former president’s civil rights record. The two note that while running for governor of Georgia in the Jim Crow era, he showed a reluctance to support the movement and leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Alter argues that Carter’s childhood experiences in the segregated South profoundly shaped him, but his early decisions to steer clear of civil rights were largely based on political expediency due to the stranglehold white supremacists held on Georgia. Once elected governor, Carter altered his tone with regard to racism, and throughout his presidency and post-presidency went on to show a strong commitment to civil rights, according to Alter.

Overall, while his legacy might be mixed and misunderstood by many, Carter revealed himself to be a “good man,” Alter tells Scheer, pointing to his efforts on everything from protecting the environment to fighting inequality. Listen to the full conversation as they consider how Carter’s life story is also the tale of a long-broken America and the bravery it takes to own up to its racist foundations.



Joshua Scheer