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Regardless of our opinions about President Carter and his legacy, his Farewell Address is worthy of our attention and study.
On Presidents Day 2021, I invite you to read/watch President Carter’s Farewell Address from 40 years ago. As a Washington outsider, Carter was relentlessly mocked and undermined by the Establishment, as insiders’ loathing of outsiders knows no bounds.
In a similar fashion, the loathing of the corrupt and self-absorbed for the faithful aspiring to better world despite our weaknesses and flaws also knows no bounds, and so the establishment insiders that run the nation had no use for Carter other than as a handy whipping post.
President Carter was not the only outsider president reviled by the Washington elites, of course; outsiders of both parties draw the fierce fire of a corrupt Establishment fearful of exposure.
Although many reckon it good sport to make fun of President Carter’s initiatives (along with his grin, hair, accent, etc. etc. etc.), a strong case can be made that he was the first and only 21st century President the nation has elected. Every president since, regardless of party or ideology or canned speeches (Soaring Rhetoric (TM), has been embedded in a continuation of the 20th century economy, politics and Imperial Project.
Carter was the first and only president to address DeGrowth, though the word had yet to be coined:DeGrowth is the idea that resources would eventually become scarce and thus unaffordable, and rather then pursue the insane fantasy of eternal growth on a finite planet, a new arrangement that did more with less would be needed.
“There are real and growing dangers to our simple and our most precious possessions: the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land which sustains us. The rapid depletion of irreplaceable minerals, the erosion of topsoil, the destruction of beauty, the blight of pollution, the demands of increasing billions of people, all combine to create problems which are easy to observe and predict, but difficult to resolve.
But there is no reason for despair. Acknowledging the physical realities of our planet does not mean a dismal future of endless sacrifice. In fact, acknowledging these realities is the first step in dealing with them. We can meet the resource problems of the world–water, food, minerals, farmlands, forests, overpopulation, pollution if we tackle them with courage and foresight.”
President Carter was also prescient in his understanding that a nation’s greatest strength is its social cohesion, a cohesion that America’s unprecedented wealth/ income /power inequalities has undermined. Consider this excerpt from his Address:
“Our common vision of a free and just society is our greatest source of cohesion at home and strength abroad, greater even than the bounty of our material blessings.”
President Carter recognized that civil rights / liberties are not just fatuous PR to be trotted out in Soaring Rhetoric (TM) lip-service; they are the foundation of our national identity:
“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it’s the other way around. Human rights invented America. Ours was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded explicitly on such an idea. Our social and political progress has been based on one fundamental principle: the value and importance of the individual. The fundamental force that unites us is not kinship or place of origin or religious preference. The love of liberty is the common blood that flows in our American veins.
We have no cause for self-righteousness or complacency, but we have every reason to persevere, both within our own country and beyond our borders.”
President Carter recognized the fatal consequences of special interests dominating the political order, a danger that has now reached full flower in 2021:
“Today, as people have become ever more doubtful of the ability of the Government to deal with our problems, we are increasingly drawn to single-issue groups and special interest organizations to ensure that whatever else happens, our own personal views and our own private interests are protected. This is a disturbing factor in American political life. It tends to distort our purposes, because the national interest is not always the sum of all our single or special interests. We are all Americans together, and we must not forget that the common good is our common interest and our individual responsibility.”
Regardless of our opinions about President Carter and his legacy, his Farewell Address is worthy of our attention and study:
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