How Jimmy Carter Became a Post-White House Progressive Champion

Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency life has surpassed his time in the White House and has earned him the praise of the progressive left – a more dominant part of the Democratic Party 42 years after his presidency ended.

Carter, 98, is a darling figure for many Democrats in 2023 despite the difficulties his administration has faced. He is respected for making a mark as a global humanitarian peacemaker in a world so bitterly divided.

For liberals, his imprint on their movement is particularly profound.

“President Carter promoted progressive causes before they became mainstream,” said Joseph Jeffarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, a grassroots group formed with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign. “His lifelong interest in public service has laid the foundation for modern-day activists to take up issues from environmental justice to workers’ rights to universal health care.”

While Carter’s reputation as a one-term president has been marred by persistent domestic and international turmoil and what critics denounce as unstable leadership, his community service is widely considered altruistic and urgent.

It has allowed for a quiet renaming of the legacy of the 39th president that is unique in American history.

Progressives feel a special bond to his efforts.

“I love the guy,” said Cenk Uygur, the host of the left-wing TV show “The Young Turks,” who has had many conversations with Carter. “I think he is the most misunderstood president.”

Some of what liberal Democrats consider Carter’s most palatable priorities, especially the status of climate justice and the dangers of foreign fuel dependence on the nation’s consciousness, align with much of what they are pushing for today.

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“Although we don’t agree with all of his policy positions, he was ahead of his time on the now urgent need to protect the environment and expand the social safety net,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party. .

Carter’s humble beginnings as a dull, unassuming peanut farmer in Georgia make him an unlikely incumbent of the nation’s highest office and a sympathetic figure on the left.

Symbolically, some of today’s leading progressive figures reflect parts of Carter’s personal identity and unorthodox approach. It also laid the groundwork for dozens of rebellious candidates from working-class roots to enter government.

before then x. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) defeated the entire Democratic field in the Iowa caucuses, and before Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a real run for her money in the 2016 Democratic primary, Carter fared better than expected in the same rural area. Early nomination competition.

“In the post-presidential era, the creation of the Democratic Party has pushed for thinking outside the DC bubble,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn. “His legacy of progressive politics – people first – continues.”

Some argue that this reimagined model of campaigning and vision of what is possible has fueled the aspirations of many under the modern progressive tent, where underrepresented candidates can rise through unconventional means and test new ideas.

Back when the country was still reeling from Watergate and the end of the Nixon era, Carter had an alternative approach to addressing the country’s problems, including a convergence with Southern-style fragmentation politics. He persuaded enough voters to give a relatively unknown governor a shot at the White House, eventually winning the Democratic primary against all odds, fueled in part by the momentum of his home debut.

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“Jimmy Carter was really one of the first presidents at the grassroots level,” Epting said. His election in 1976 marked the end of the top-down primaries. It was a watershed moment to raise the voice of the people.”

Carter’s ability to attract praise later in life from both liberals and moderates, including President Biden, after a shaky presidency makes him an anomaly.

“Jimmy Carter’s legacy is complex and does not fit neatly into contemporary ideological frameworks,” said Mitchell. “Carter led by his instincts, regardless of the political consequences.”

Carter is a progressive from a different era and time, and his policies when he served in the White House haven’t all worked well for the liberal crowd in today’s climate—at least for some.

“After leaving office, he was wonderfully progressive, but while in office he was very conservative economically,” said Uygur.

His presidency was plagued by inflation and his approach to the economy and unemployment was criticized by many.

His tenure was marked by the hostage crisis in Iran, a shocking event for Americans living in that era.

But he also achieved great successes in foreign policy, including the Camp David peace accords with Egypt and Israel.

“He was brilliant at foreign policy in an underrated way,” Uygur argued. “He literally made peace in the Middle East and made Israel and Egypt a peace treaty that lasted for decades.”

The former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate in later years has consolidated global support around democracy reforms through the Carter Center and significant contributions to the housebuilding movement through Habitat for Humanity. Progressives say it has had a lasting impact on public health.

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“His life after the presidency was an exercise in service and selflessness. He was outspoken about injustices in the United States and abroad and was among the small group of government officials who were willing to be on the record when those inappropriate grievances were named,” Mitchell said.

All lives and presidencies are complicated and Carter’s life was no different. However, his commitment to living in a more environmentally just and sustainable world will continue.”

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