Dear Jimmy Carter,
Well, that was rather informal of me. Perhaps I should have started with Dear President Carter instead. But you’ve always seemed pretty informal to me, as American presidents go. Maybe it’s because you’ve always been called “Jimmy,” maybe it’s because you’ve got the most goofy, honest smile in politics, I don’t know. You just look so freaking nice.
Which is part of the reason I feel so bad for writing you off for so long. You were President of the United States when I was born, on Labor Day 1977, but I don’t remember your presidency. My first memory of a president belongs to Ronald Reagan. By the time I was old enough to even kind of get the big deal that presidential elections are, my family was staunchly into Reagan and Bush, and I just thought, since you’d been vanquished by Reagan (whom my grandmother adored), that you must be bad.
Of course I was a kid, and didn’t know any better. But by the time I was a teenager in the 1990’s, I firmly knew that Democrats were terrible and since you’d been one of them, you were probably best forgotten. No one ever explicitly told me this, but it was understood. I mean I HEARD that you were a staunch Southern Baptist (you and I had that in common), and a Sunday school teacher, but I couldn’t understand how you could be a Democrat and a real Christian, so I pretty much thought your faith wasn’t genuine, or that you were super misguided. Like, even if Jimmy means well, he’s waaaaaaay on the wrong team. No wonder he didn’t get re-elected! God was like, ‘nope, sorry Jimmy, you’re confusing people by saying you’re a Christian AND a democrat. You gotsta GO! You can still come to heaven one day but you need to get out of the white house, STAT.”
As a young adult I still just voted Republican because that’s what good Christians did in the late 90s/early 2000s, and once in awhile I’d hear about you building a Habitat for Humanity house or something and I’d be like, “that’s cool, Jimmy’s still sweet but how can he still be a Dem though?” I didn’t really bother to think about it or ask why. It didn’t matter. I knew which side was right and you stubbornly still weren’t on it.
Jimmy, I know we don’t know each other very well, so I’ll tell you something about me: I love history. I love reading stories that I don’t yet know. At some point a few years ago I became interested in the Iran hostage incident that plagued your Presidency. So I read a couple books about it. Watched a movie. Eventually, l even listened to a podcast about it. It was through learning about that story that I learned more about you, and the terrible situation you were in as President during that time.
I cannot imagine the weight that must have been on your shoulders. That whole debacle, the foreign policy stumbles, the lives lost and in the balance—I realize that took a terrible toll on you as a man, not just on your presidency. And I began to see, that your not being re-elected probably didn’t have much to do with God thinking Democrats are bad.
But I have come to see that what happened while you were in office contributed to evangelical Christians dumping you in droves. You weren’t manly enough, weren’t tough enough, didn’t fight abortion hard enough perhaps, and you never did get those hostages released. The Iranians waited until 2.2 seconds after you were out of office, just to spite you.
Mr. President, I am sorry for how all that went down. It must have hurt when your fellow Christians kicked you to the curb. But the proof is in the pudding, now: your character has remained after all these years, fully intact, your marriage a beautiful picture of love, your efforts on behalf of the poor and oppressed world-renowned. Like, Nobel Peace Prize renowned. You have done well, and proved yourself a good and faithful servant of the Christ you claim.
Dear, no, dearest Jimmy Carter, I’m sorry I thought your party affiliation was your identity all those years. I’m sorry I wrote you off and never bothered to take a closer look at your actions and character until you were an old man and I was nearly forty. Now I know you’re a national treasure, our oldest living president, and one whose legacy of love and service will live on and be properly lauded after you take up residence in heaven. I hope you can accept my apology and forgive me.