By MARSHA MERCER
Jimmy Carter, who turns 94 on Oct. 1, swung a hammer this week at a Habitat for Humanity project in Indiana.
Sweating in the hot sun while doing manual labor may not be most people’s ideal activity for their 90s, but the former president and his wife Rosalynn, 91, have helped build homes for poor families for the last 35 years.
Carter says they “get more out of it than we put into it.”
As we mark Labor Day by taking a day off, let us also celebrate former President Jimmy Carter, working man.
When voters in the 1980 election sent Carter packing after one lackluster term in the White House, his peanut business in Plains, Ga., was in shambles. He had to create his next act.
An ex-president longer than anyone else, he long ago proved his character and redeemed his reputation by living modestly in the same ranch house in Plains he built in 1961, by refusing to trade on the presidency, and by performing good works.
“The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want `to capitalize financially on being in the White House,’” Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan wrote in a profile of “The un-celebrity president” in the Aug. 17 Washington Post.
Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle reportedly landed a $65 million joint book deal last year. Bill and Hillary Clinton command hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single speech, and daughter Chelsea isn’t far behind.
"I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter told the Post. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”
Carter set to work writing books – and has turned out about three dozen. He founded
The Carter Center in Atlanta, a nonprofit that prevents and resolves conflicts, fights disease and promotes freedom and democracy around the world. He still teaches Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.
Studies show volunteering helps the volunteer live longer, but Carter’s long life is also testament to medical innovation. Three years ago, his future looked iffy.
In August 2015, he said his melanoma had spread to his liver and there were four cancerous spots in his brain. He had surgery to remove the small tumor from his liver, and doctors then used a relatively new immunotherapy and radiation treatment. Four months later, he was cancer free.
Maybe you saw news on social media in this month that Carter’s cancer was back. A tweet shared 26,000 times and then another tweet with 156,000 shares asked for prayers for Carter.
Fortunately it wasn’t so.
The Carter Center tweeted on Aug. 22: “Stories in the last day on social media stating that Jimmy Carter has cancer again are based on old news reports in 2015. There are no updates to our last statement about his health, and a recent scan showed no cancer.”
Carter has mostly refrained from criticizing the current president; he says he prays for him.
But, he allows, President Donald Trump is “very careless with the truth.”
This especially matters to Carter because during his 1976 campaign he closed nearly every speech with a pledge never to lie to the American people. The country was bruised and battered by the lies that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Reporters groaned when they heard the pledge, but the unknown Georgian impressed voters with his sincerity. Carter says he stuck to his pledge.
“I think I went through my campaign and my presidency without ever lying to the people or making a deliberately false statement,” he told John Dickerson Tuesday on “CBS This Morning. “And I think that would be a very worthwhile thing to reinsert into politics these days.”
In contrast, the Post Fact Checker tallied 4,229 false or misleading statements by Trump in 558 days.
Carter has inspired many to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, including talk show host David Letterman, who was in Indiana with him this week.
Seeing Carter and working on the projects “is such a lovely break from the cynicism of life,” Letterman told Dickerson.
We could all use a break from cynicism. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.