President Jimmy Carter is My Hero. ‘Hail’ to the First Commander-in-Chief I Knew
- For a man who promoted peace, may he in kind, rest in peace, whenever that time comes.
As a kindergarten student in Boston, Mass., in the year 1976, I recall a day when our teacher called us to the reading rug. She showed us a picture of two men: one was then-President Gerald Ford and one was then-Governor Jimmy Carter.
“Which man do you like better?” my teacher, Mrs. Denehy, asked. My instinct gravitated toward Ford, but when I saw most of the other kids point to the Georgia Governor, I held back. The teacher then told us, in age-appropriate terms, what a president did and what elections involved. It was the 70’s, after all, and talking about politics didn’t get parents all riled up about “wokeness” and “radicalization.” In fact, those who are yelling and screaming about these matters today most likely weren’t even born at this time.
Either way, for a daughter of an Indian immigrant family, it opened a whole new door. I asked my parents which of these two men they liked and they said “Carter.”
I forgot about the elections until January when the news outlets covered the inauguration and featured President Carter’s daughter, Amy, who’s in my age group. I idolized Amy and thought it would be cool to live in the White House! About two years later, my family and I made a trip to Washington, D.C., now my hometown, to see the White House, and I became fascinated by the nation’s capital.
As I better understood what role a “president” played, I started following the news and got captured by the Iran Hostage Crisis. I also remember Sen. Ted Kennedy running against him in the primary.
Then, the 1980 election came around. My elementary school newspaper team asked us who we would vote for if we could vote: Carter, Reagan, or John Anderson?” I, along with two other students raised our hands for Carter, while the majority of kids raised their hand for Reagan.
At the time, my father was the only voter in our household and a newly minted-U.S. citizen. He was displeased with Carter but most certainly didn’t like Reagan. “He’s a bad man who loves war,” my father said. Dad voted for the independent candidate John Anderson, not realizing that a vote for Anderson was a vote for Reagan. Nevertheless, I, along with my mother, still rooted for Carter. (My brother was a toddler, so he didn’t have an opinion then, but now says Carter is his favorite president.)
Sadly, Carter lost. I remember the inauguration day two months later. I watched it on TV, in India, where I had gone on a trip. Seeing the pain in Carter’s eyes, I felt despair too. My cousin who was watching with me made a crack at how big Carter’s ears were, but I didn’t find that funny. I didn’t know why then, but it was a tragic day. Now, I know.
As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who also served in the Carter Administration wrote in his recent column, Carter had a grand vision. This included “ending funding for the B-1 bomber, seeking a comprehensive consumer-protection bill, proposing broad-based tax reform, opposing traditional ‘pork barrel’ spending, establishing a “superfund” to clean up toxic waste sites, etc.”
But inflation and other matters opened the door for Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan. Reagan spoke in poetry, while Carter governed in prose (an adaption of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo’s quote, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”)
After his devastating loss, Carter became but a footnote to history, or so it would seem. I moved to Florida and then Texas, incubators of modern Trumpism. For the next decade or so, Carter was relegated to the “corner” at best and as the “lonesome loser” at worst.
Yet, Carter refused to be relegated to the corner. Or, as this Gen Xer would say “Nobody puts Carter in the corner.” By the time I moved to Washington in the late 1990s, he had redefined himself as the epitome of service. His charitable work and service to the community made headlines.
I never him President Carter in person. However, I did have the privilege of listening in on a call between him and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings. I was serving as the Congressman’s press secretary at that time, and they discussed voting rights in the aftermath of the 2000 Election debacle.
As the life sunsets on this great man, I say “what a life!” Having had many setbacks and disappointments in my own life, President Carter is my hero. If I could do half of what he’s done, I would have a well-lived life.
Though history tried to write him as a loser, he rose above the ashes — Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights advocate, peacemaker, election monitor, and a man who served the disadvantaged, even while recovering from cancer.
I think of Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise,” and though it intends to describe the story of people of color, I think it’s fitting for President Carter.
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
As of this writing President Carter is still with us but is expected to transition to the next world soon. For a man who promoted peace, may he in kind, rest in peace, whenever that time comes.
Devika Koppikar is a communications strategist and international educator. She’s also the host of her own YouTube Channel “Global American Konkani.” In the early 2000s, she worked as the press secretary/speechwriter to U.S. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings. She currently works in Asia but is transitioning back to the States.