What started as an innocent, nerdy obsession turned into a long-running bit and has now become an emotional touchstone of a failing system. I am, of course, talking about my love for former President Jimmy Carter.
I would consider myself a history nerd and American politics lover, but I don’t think anything encapsulates that love more than my pseudo-obsession with Jimmy Carter. Not because I think he was a perfect president by any means, but because of what he has come to represent for me about American politics.
This obsession all began in seventh grade when, for a reading assignment about biographies, I decided to read Jimmy Carter’s most recent memoir, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety.” Carter wrote this memoir as a final reflection on his life and as a look back at his political career, ending with the news that he had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, or brain cancer.
At the time, I remember feeling crushed that this figure I had just learned so much from and about was potentially going to be gone soon. Even at 13, I felt like he was what politicians should be. That was over eight years ago, and he beat brain cancer.
It’s worth noting that I only knew Carter through the eyes of Carter. I didn’t know anything about his politics from an outside perspective. I only saw a peanut farmer from Georgia who fought a grassroots campaign to bring humanity back to Washington.
The obsession intensified in my junior year of high school when I took AP U.S. history. My teacher was from Plains, Ga., the birthplace of Jimmy Carter, so she only fostered my love with her personal facts about Carter’s visits to Georgia and work for the Plains community.
However, this is also when I started to see the other side—his presidency started tumbling downhill the second he got into office. First, he couldn’t pass legislation because he didn’t have connections in Washington. Unable to lower gas prices, he fumbled the energy crisis. Then, of course, he ended his term with the hostage crisis, essentially handing the election to Reagan.
Still, all I could see was a man who, at 95 years old, came to my hometown in Nashville, Tenn., and worked for Habitat for Humanity building houses. This visit was part of an annual project he and his wife have done since the 1980s.
While some could easily argue that I have been swept up by a biased media portraying him as the hometown hero he wants to be seen as, I would say that I am just a product of a hopeful, younger generation. I am in a generation where the politics that I see are screaming matches on live television and our former president’s comments demeaning any identity that’s not his own.
It is no coincidence that this obsession began in 2016.
So, when I heard the news that Carter was admitted into hospice earlier this week, I was expectedly crushed. Not just for the loss of a great man, but for the loss of what that man represents to me. He ran on a platform of homegrown politics and won. He ran as a Southern Democrat a decade after the Civil Rights movement and won.
In the era of politics that we find ourselves in now, where capitalistic gain and political connections are everything, that man from Plains, Ga., could never win. That may be a good thing, considering his performance in office, but I believe we should have a system in place that uplifts good people like Jimmy Carter to succeed when they are in office.
While his legacy will live on even after his passing, I can’t help but mourn a time when I believed that all it took to succeed in this world was to be a good person and to represent yourself and your home as authentically as you can.
I feel slightly embarrassed writing this as a random student in Brunswick, Maine, who wasn’t alive when Carter was president, but thank you, Jimmy Carter, for fostering in me a love of politics and igniting a passion to create a better system.
Janet Briggs is a member of the Class of 2025.