The words “progressive” and “evangelical” may no longer be thought of together, yet in combination, they shaped Jimmy Carter as a man and president.
So argues academic and Episcopal priest Balmer (Arts and Sciences/Dartmouth Univ.; The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond, 2010, etc.). Carter has never been shy about his beliefs, the author notes, pointing to the way the then-governor of Georgia positioned his campaign for the presidency: “I'm a born-again Christian…and I don't want anything that's not God's will for my life.” Balmer organizes this biography to show that Carter's religious views are the foundation of his politics and continued to set a standard that guided the way he shaped his life after leaving office. Illustrations drawn from the former president's life and numerous writings highlight his discordance with the conservative religious fundamentalism allied to the tea party. As a businessman, for example, Carter refused to join the White Citizens' Council's opposition to school integration; he stood alone, defying boycott of his business and ostracism. However, he was also a fierce competitor who did what he thought necessary to win, as in the Georgia gubernatorial election in 1970. “You won't like my campaign…but you will like my administration,” he told Vernon Jordan. Carter's single-term presidency was characterized, according to Balmer, by the interplay between his ambitious competitiveness and service. Differing from those who attribute Carter's 1980 defeat by Ronald Reagan to foreign policy or economic issues, the author contends that Carter was undermined and out-organized by former supporters of segregation like Jerry Falwell, who birthed what is now known as the religious right by rallying a defense for the tax breaks of private schools.
A sympathetic account of a president too often overlooked, embedded in a rethinking of the rise of the religious right.