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February 4, 2008

In Which I Defend Jimmy Carter

I generally consider Jimmy Carter the worst president and the worst ex-president of the 20th century, and for a number of good reasons. I've written about them often enough not to repeat myself in this post; consider it stipulated. His track record is bad enough to allow conservatives merely to cite it without much argument, let alone distort it.

That's what the normally reliable American Spectator does today, though, in a passage about Carter and his understanding of faith. In taking it out of the context in which Carter wrote about Satan's offer to Jesus before the crucifixion, Shawn Macomber makes it sound as though Carter wished Jesus had taken the offer:

APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, to Carter's mind, the biggest trade-off of the Crucifixion may have been gaining eternal salvation while losing a potentially great bureaucratic overlord. During a meditation on the temptation of Christ, Carter muses over the attractiveness of Satan's offer to allow Christ to rule the world if he rejected God:
What a wonderful and benevolent government Jesus could have set up. How exemplary justice would have been. Maybe there would have been Habitat projects all over Israel for anyone who needed a home. And the proud, the rich, and the powerful could not have dominated their fellow citizens[.] As a twentieth-century governor and president I would have had a perfect pattern to follow. I could have pointed to the Bible and told other government leaders, "This is what Jesus did 2000 years ago in government. Why don't we do the same?"

That Carter assumes, first, he would be a worthy successor to Christ in political office -- what, Jesus returns to implement...term limits? -- and, second, that the Messiah would spend his post-presidency years doing precisely as Carter did -- building Habitat for Humanity homes, apparently -- tells you everything you need to know about the Man from Plains' outlook on this world and the next.

What a revealing moment! Carter wishes that Jesus and the Devil had reached across the aisle, found room for compromise, and created a bridge between Heaven and Hell! Well, except that wasn't what Carter meant -- and the next paragraph in Living Faith made the point rather plain:

But the devil stipulated fatal provisos: an abandonment of God, and an acknowledgment of earthly things as dominant. ... Anyone who accepts kingship based on serving the devil rather than God will end up a tyrant, not a benevolent leader.

Far from lamenting the weird Millenium of a Jesus-led kingdom of atheists, Carter makes the rather obvious point that what gave Jesus his singularity was the devotion to the divine. Carter offers the rather satirical notion of a deal with the Devil to reject it, not to embrace it. It's a point that practically anyone who reads the Bible can understand, as long as it's taken in context with Carter's final paragraph of the article.

Macomber owes his readers a correction and Carter an apology. If we want to debate Carter, let's stick to the already extensive record without reducing our credibility by distorting his words.

UPDATE: Macomber responds here. He's still wrong; Carter never thought the deal would provide "a potentially great bureaucratic overlord," nor does he state that one would be a good idea. In fact, the paragraph Macomber left out made it clear it would have provided a tyrant, not a benevolent despot.


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