Jimmy Carter was surely one of the most decent and admirable American Presidents in the 20th century. While his presidency was not entirely without faults and failures, he and his government certainly showed the better sides of the country to not only its people but also billions of people around the world, and, above all, he has still been regarded as a living symbol of faith and goodwill thanks to his numerous humanitarian activities during last four decades.
To be frank with you, I thought Carter was just a plain good person despite admiring his decency and integrity a lot, but Mary Warton’s documentary film “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” showed me that he has actually been as cool as, say, Barack Obama. Starting from how his unlikely political rise was begun in the 1970s, the documentary mainly explores his interesting associations with many prominent musicians during that period, and it is really inspiring to see him still being the ardent keeper of flame even though he had the 96th birthday several months ago.
Via a number of various interviewees including Carter himself, the documentary shows and tells us a bit about Carter’s humble early life in a small town of Georgia. Because more than 50% of the population of his hometown was African Americans, he was pretty familiar with their life and culture, and that made him regard them with far less bias and prejudice compared to many other Southerners during that time. As your average faithful Christian who also loves music a lot, he was particularly drawn to the gospel music performed at those African American churches of his hometown, and that led to his wholehearted embrace of other music genres including jazz, country, and rock and roll.
After getting more education and experience through college and the US Navy, Carter became more interested in civil and human rights, and that eventually made him go into local politics. Although he was not that well-known compared to his competitor when he ran for the gubernatorial election of Georgia in 1970, his modest campaign was boosted a lot by his close associations with various famous musicians ranging from Bob Dylan to the Allman Brothers Band, and he eventually became elected as the new governor of Georgia.
Right from the beginning, Carter was determined to bring some significant social changes into his state as he promised during his campaign, and the governor’s mansion was constantly filled with the fresh sense of change as he often invited his various musician friends. When he subsequently decided to give a shot to the upcoming 1976 US Presidential Election, they were all willing to support and promote his campaign, and there is a little touching episode on how he willingly stood by one of the members of the Allman Brothers Band when that member got himself into a legal problem associated with drug. He could have just distanced himself from that member because of the possibility of getting his campaign ruined, but he chose to be there for his close friend anyway, and that surely shows us what a man of integrity and compassion he was even at that time.
In the end, Carter became the Democratic candidate for the 1976 US Presidential Election, and, as all of you know, he came to win the election. During his inauguration, he showed warm and sincere appreciation to what his predecessor Gerard Ford had restored and maintained since Richard Nixon’s disgraceful resignation, and Ford gladly nodded to Carter’s praise. As watching this honorable moment of political transition, I could not help but reminded of how petty and dishonorable the current occupant of the White House has been to his rightful successor during last few months.
As he did during his gubernatorial years in Georgia, Carter invited many different musicians to the White House, and they willingly performed for him and many other politician guests. Some of these politician guests disagreed a lot with him on many issues, but they and others were all delighted and excited for a while along with Carter, and Carter even attempted to sing a bit in front of his guests during one evening.
Meanwhile, Carter and his government officials also worked really hard to bring more peace and stability into the world, though they did not always succeed. Against all odds, he pulled out a monumental diplomatic success from arranging the private meeting between Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in September 1978, but then there came the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, which unfortunately led to his landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan in the following 1980 US Presidential Election. Although he could have chosen more aggressive tactics for his political benefits during that time, he put the safety of the hostages above all else, and he was certainly happy to learn that the hostages were finally released on the very last day of his presidency.
After his White House period, Carter has kept going on as achieving more and more during last 41 years. Since establishing the Carter Center in 1982, he and his wife Rosalynn have passionately devoted themselves into a number of humanitarian activities including the eradication of Guinea worm in Africa, and he deservedly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
On the whole, “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President” did an exemplary job of illuminating the cooler aspects of Carter’s life and career, and I will not deny that I often smiled with amusement and interest during my viewing. Although he recently had several health problems including a serious case of cancer in 2015, Carter still looks lively in front of the camera while effortlessly exuding his natural decency as usual, and I hope he will continue to spread more of his goodwill for a while at least.