Jimmy Carter's Renewable Energy Moment
Two years ago, many a proponent of 'business better' felt immeasurably more sanguine about the immediate policy and political future than such proponents of sustainability feel just now. This humble correspondent(THC) might send readers to several junctures that would permit 'I-told-ya-so' moments, but what's the point of that?
Recent articles here have also sought a deeper understanding of electoral politics than the presumptions of 'triumph' or 'travail' can possibly provide. So far as THC sees, practically speaking, between few and no 'established' sources even deign to question the underlying belief that 'democracy equals elections,' a contention that has repeatedly received a stern reprimand in these pages.
In pondering these points, and in the process of marveling last week at the incredible life and work of Hermann Scheer, THC couldn't help but reflect on a fairly fascinating American, who also happens to be the only U.S. President ever to have come into the world in Georgia. Jimmy Carter could have been America's solar power President, after all, and he won key elections forty years ago and thirty four years ago this week.
THC, preparing to travel South and studying, among other things, the Southlands H-bomb breadbasket in 1976, found Jimmy Carter's first Presidential bid particularly affecting. This was the first election in which THC would vote, though he had gone door-to-door for dear Senator McGovern four years before.
And 'Jimmy' fit with the idea of the 'paradoxical progressive Southerner;' even then, THC inclinations were much more socialistically inclined than the Democratic Party might ever countenance, but youthful idealism still burst forth in THC's heart, which President Carter and his killer smile broke into little pieces soon enough. His promises of a National Park near Atlanta and some generally progressive pronouncements on environmental matters notwithstanding, 'Jimmy' quickly aligned himself with the expected tendencies of his peanut-country roots in regard to unfolding developments in Latin America.
The proof of that arrived one day in one of the initial awesome seminars that THC attended in his first semester in graduate school; the professor, replete with pipe and wry grin, put on the table around which his acolytes had gathered a glossy photograph. He said something like, "So he believes in 'human rights,' does he?"
And there, megawatt grin resplendent, stood our diminutive President, one of the few who entered office shorter than the average bear, his right arm awkwardly draped over the shoulder of a shambling giant of a fellow whom I did not immediately recognize, thought his countenance did tickle a few brain cells, since I had been fairly closely following developments in Nicaragua. The print bore a caption that made all clear and brought that fleeting feeling of putridity to the stomach of one who had dared to hope for something different, for a 1976 version of 'change you can believe in.'
"President Jimmy Carter greets 'our good friend in Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza,'" read the text beneath the slick black-and-white images. As storied mass-murderers go, Señor Somoza, one of many homicidal Latino graduates of the School of the Americas--a profile of which lies just ahead in THC's queue--may not rank in most people's top ten. However, he's a 'shoo-in' for any 'Top-100-Butchers-of-All-Time' list.
And, given Carter's stated willingness to engage with Cuba, THC had hoped against hope that a more progressive and forthcoming attitude toward the liberating forces of the Sandinistas might find a grip in the imperial hallways in D.C. Admittedly, that is tantamount to expecting the tiger to lie down with the goat, outside of Edenic garden contexts, but such is the power of youthful belief.
As a result of this comeuppance, THC swore a promise to a God in whom he did not believe, but whose symbolic urgency he was still willing to utilize. He stated, without equivocation or qualification, never again to vote for a Democratic Party candidate for any chief executive office anywhere.
That vow, which THC upheld until 2008, now lies in tatters again, inasmuch as the record will show that Roy Barnes received his vote in a recent losing gubernatorial effort here in Georgia. Both two days ago, and two years ago in siding with Barack-the-Magnificent, THC knew that he was lying down with dogs. He fully anticipated fleas, as the written record over and over again demonstrates.
But there's the rub. A glossy smile, a few pithy slogans, and a sense of a popular bandwagon for honesty and progress in government are enough to make possibility seem like a rational concept, even in the realm of political experience that should teach otherwise.
This is especially applicable to the realm of energy in regard to Jimmy Carter, whose life and proclivities made him the perfect candidate for an 'energy President' who might light the pathway toward a non-radioactive future. Studying what actually transpired, in order to watch for patterns and learn a few lessons of political necessity, cannot help but serve a preparatory purpose in regard to citizenship.
The life of James Earl Carter(JEC) is iconic American stuff. A child of both privation, in the rural Depression South, and privilege, in that his family owned substantial property and lived in relatively prosperous surroundings, thanks to the tender and tough tutelage of his mother 'Miss Lilian,' he grew up with values that revolved around self-imposed rigor, personal integrity, and creative efficiency. Readers can gain tremendous insight into JEC, the man, by studying the life and work of his mother.
Carter just recently published a biography of his mom, A Remarkable Mother, in which he ascribes much of his feistiness and enthusiasm about taking chances at every stage of his life to her example. He focuses on his ongoing willingness to broach the subject of Palestine and the general topic of Mid-East peace as instances of this.
In a recent interview, he responded to an inquiry about being controversial. "(My mother) always liked controversy herself, and I think she would have approved completely. I think that would have added a little bit of spice or titillation to the fact that we were reaching out to people who were scorned and deprived and excluded from processes. I think in addition to that, the excitement of doing something that was somewhat controversial would have been an extra appeal to her."
In several of his books, which combine autobiography and memoir, he recalls his early times and the facts surrounding his youth: of growing up without personal bigotry, despite his father's conservatism; of experiencing a lack of amenities but seeing "real want" among his family's tenants; of being a son of the South, with all that entails that contradicted his own values and maternal influence. JEC exemplifies the pull of place, the succor of individual capacity that comes from community, and the best results of an advantaged existence that are possible to imagine.
One chronicler summarizes this mixture of family and place and the impact on a young JEC. "From earliest memory, Jimmy's life was a struggle to please a miserly, emotionally distant father who could be harsh and even cruel in his demands on his first-born son. But for the good fortune of having a mother whose instincts for justice were not stifled, Jimmy Carter might have become just a clone of his father: a decent man capable of occasional acts of kindness but who, in the main, accepted the casual cruelties of his time and place."
He came of age as the fifth generation on the same soil, extracted from the Native peoples and enriched by the blood and sweat of slaves. Nevertheless, he and many of his kin stayed fundamentally fair-minded, though all manner of psychological, social, and political factors form a rubric of a complex and multifaceted story that yielded a young farmer who, as WWII came to a close, won an appointment from collegiate work at Georgia Tech to the Naval Academy, where he studied until he graduated in 1946.
Prior to becoming a commissioned naval officer, an opportunity that reflected the relative perquisites of a propertied life, he proposed marriage twice to Rosalynn Smith. Her eventual acceptance "launched a remarkable partnership" that endures to this day.
In the navy, he gravitated toward submarine service, attending a school in small-reactor operation in preparation for service on one of the first nuclear submarines, "personally selected" by Admiral Hyman Rickover, 'father of the nuclear navy.' Before he could embark on this tangent, however, the strings that tied him to Southwest Georgia reeled him home, as his father was dying of the pancreatic cancer that also killed his younger son and two daughters. The duty to farm the family plot called JEC back to a political patrimony that his mother carried on as Jimmy matured into a model 'progressive' White Southerner.
In the early 1960's, political service for any but solid-South segregationists was practically impossible, and JEC appeared to lose his first bid for office, to act as a State Senator from Sumter County, as a result of being 'soft' on such issues and thus not the choice of the local political boss. He had a solid record of service on the local school board, however, and had, through "adroit management" and a favorable market increased his father's acreage and fortune substantially.
Thus, he had the resources and time to request a recount in the apparent electoral loss, using the deconstruction, which a months-old court holding allowed, of the age-old "county-unit" system that guaranteed one-party, top-down control of elections. Thanks to this landmark Supreme Court decision, Baker v. Carr, that established the principle of one-man, one vote, the retallying of the votes established Carter as a freshman Senator.
In Atlanta, he quickly gained a reputation as a powerful voice for reform and efficiency, running in the 1966 Democratic primary for Governor against arch-segregationist Lester Maddox and two others. When he lost this bid, he swore that he would try again and win in 1970, continuing his career as an advocate for the New South and Good Government in the legislature in the meantime.
In short, while his mother was running Lyndon Johnson's Sumter County Campaign, and he and his brother and assorted others were maintaining a thriving peanut farm and an attendant processing business, Carter himself developed his political persona and, for the day and time was a staunch backer of 'business...better,' a believer in the requisite of reform for a sustainable business culture to emerge in the South.
Readers should recognize that this brief telling cannot help but be superficial. Moreover, despite THC's doubts about much of JEC's political perspective, and a complete rejection of the former President's political economy, this narrative appears 'in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,' as it were, in this case Carter.
Undoubtedly, a more nuanced, in-depth telling would churn up both silt to muddy the interpretive waters, and muck to sully the appearance of gentility and magnanimity that otherwise characterized 'Jimmy' in this and many other tellings. The upshot of all of this is that Carter stood for serious transformation when he ran for the Governor's seat again in 1970, and he was attracting notice far afield as a man who might mount a higher stage and play an even more central historic role.
A METEORIC RISE TOWARD TRANSFORMATION THAT CRASHES ON THE SHOALS OF IMPERIAL NECESSITY
Given his tough-mindedness and work ethic, one might imagine that Carter's triumph in 1970 was preordained, given the persistence with which he followed-up on the bitter loss of 1966. In the event, he nearly won the race among four contenders outright, with over 48% of the vote. At that point in Georgia's history, this primary victory was so "tantamount" to actual victory that, according to Carter, "(t)he word 'tantamount' was in fact in the vocabularies of even illiterate adults and small children."
Deconstructing Discrimination & Guaranteeing Efficient Good Government, with an Eye on a Larger Platform
Carter "shocked" his inaugural party audience with these words. "I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over... The test of a government is not how popular it is with the powerful and privileged few, but how honestly and fairly it deals with the many who must depend upon it."
He followed up on this promise too. Not only did appointments of Blacks to positions of power, and hiring of African Americans as well, increase markedly, but JEC applied the same 'fairness doctrine' to the tapping and employment of women. No one can suggest that Carter backed down on his promise of redressing past wrongs in this regard.
In relation to improving efficiency, within one month of assuming the mantle of power, JEC had ushered a "massive restructuring" of Georgia administration through the legislature that met with the approval of 'liberal' and 'conservative' alike.
Nor did a mere cheerleader ethic emanate from the Governor's residence in Atlanta. Carter reveled in both the big picture and in bedeviling the details of the program. As one summary view stated the case, "Carter improved government efficiency by merging about 300 state agencies into 30 agencies. One of his aides recalled that Governor Carter 'was right there with us, working just as hard, digging just as deep into every little problem. It was his program and he worked on it as hard as anybody, and the final product was distinctly his.'"
At the same time that these very local elements of his governorship predominated at home, Carter also accepted numerous regional and national leadership assignments that portrayed an ambitious political animal who nonetheless had a deep seated and heartfelt commitment to leadership that could reformulate and improve American governance. His official biography stated this in the following way.
"While in office, his fellow governors selected him to serve as chairman of the Southern Regional Education Board, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Coastal Plains Regional Action Planning Commission, and the Southern Growth Policies Board. In 1973 he became the Democratic National Committee campaign chairman for the 1974 congressional elections." Here was a man who wanted, if possible, ultimate responsibility.
When he garnered that highest office, he pointed out what he hoped would be the basis for his time in office. "Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for these societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights. We do not seek to intimidate, but it is clear that a world which others can dominate with impunity would be inhospitable to decency and a threat to the well-being of all people."
That this peanut farmer from Georgia, in fourteen years, rose from a 'hairsbreadth' victory in the Georgia State Senate to the Presidency of the United States constitutes something in the nature of a miracle. Then again, political 'miracles' are often orchestrated events.
Jimmy Carter became a member of the elite Trilateral Commission in 1973. In a sense, his 'inauguration' occurred before his election. The reasons for this are the basis for other essays and output. However, one long standing commentator on American political economy put in proper perspective this 'tapping' of James Earl Carter.
"In 1973, leaders of the Establishment were looking for a southern representative and invited Carter to join the Trilateral Commission. This gave Carter access to individuals who could aid his campaign with financial support, advice on strategy and policy positions, and favorable coverage in the mass communications media. ...especially crucial to Carter since he was one of the least known candidates in the field."
Victory Without Validation--Reorganization Without Reorientation; Symbolism Without Substance; Rhetoric Without Reform
Losing as a Democrat in 1976--Watergate and the economy represented a nearly insurmountable one-two punch--would have been difficult. And victory was Carter's, in a well-organized and simple campaign that did not deviate from its message of competence and reform. "A Leader...For a Change," his campaign slogan, in and of itself might have done the trick.
Energy policy was one of the key points of Carter's communication strategy in his run for the chief executive's office. In this regard, one of his first major speeches after he assumed office concerned what he perceived to be a transitional moment in world history.
In a sense, the President did what few politicians are willing to do: he spoke truth to the people. "The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. It's a problem that we will not be able to solve in the next few years, and it's likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century. We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren. We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now we can control our future instead of letting the future control us."
In this presentation, he outlined his administration's planned creation of a Department of Energy(DOE), still the central promulgator of national efforts in the energy realm. His ten principles for this new bureaucracy were, quite simply, magnificent: the second principle linked job creation to rational conservation; the third principle insisted on environmental protection; the fifth principle called for equity, shared burdens and benefits; the sixth principle made conservation the "cornerstone" of the whole approach; the tenth principle called for innovation that his ancillary remarks made clear would emphasize renewable technologies.
He told folks, quite frankly, "Ours is the most wasteful nation on Earth. We waste more energy than we import. With about the same standard of living, we use twice as much energy per person as do other countries like Germany, Japan, and Sweden."
Today, thirty four years later, this admonition remains true. Renewable energy policy is still intermittent or nonexistent. Conservation, outside of Vermont and California and a few other jurisdictions and a substantial number of communities, is only a national benchmark of rhetorical ploys that add up to no more than any particular 'hill of beans.' Oil company profits approach the stratosphere. Utility profits more than keep pace with inflation. Working class consumers pay through every available orifice, in addition to their wallets--to suggest that equity prevails is, in the most favorable light, laughable nonsense. Jobs from sustainable aspects of this sector, which might also be stratospheric in their impact, are a paltry part of the national economy.
How this utter abrogation of promise and possibility came to pass is a complicated, historical, and political economic tale for another article, though THC has written on this matter before. In essence, the DOE never could have become what JEC's 'principles' outlined for various, relatively easy-to-follow reasons: its subsumption of the Atomic Energy Commission's tasks and agenda meant that DOE was, at a bare minimum, half devoted to being an H-bomb and nuclear energy factotum; its orientation to big-business retained the typical 'revolving door' of other government agencies, so its primary constituency was the plutocrats; and the list goes on.
As this inevitable deflation of whatever potential existed in the President's lofty words unfolded in predictably grotesque fashion, as the ram-rodding of nukes as the ticket for America ran into Three Mile Island and vast cost overruns, as JEC's Presidency unraveled in cynicism and profit-taking, Jimmy delivered another speech. Again he was stern and sought to portray himself as a soothsayer.
"This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them."
The people were having none of it, however. Carter was one of only three President's to flirt with numbers as low as those experienced by 'W.' THC remembers very well, in grad school in the South, Yankee compadres referring derisively to JEC as 'that redneck from Plains, flipping, Georgia,' or 'the man who gave up a successful peanut farm to ruin a country,' and so forth.
For good reason did folks reject JEC's argument. It simply didn't fit the facts. The political economic crisis was not about energy, but about capitalism. If they were going to need to deal with that, electing a spokesman for General Electric may have seemed like a good idea, even if THC was all hot to trot for the Citizen's Party.
People really hated JEC's apparent sanctimony. "And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism."
Meanwhile, JEC was talking 'human rights' while cozying up to dictators hither and yon, welcoming a cancer-ridden Shah of Iran to the country for treatment while excoriating liberation forces throughout Central America. If these sorts of things weren't outright hypocrisy, they certainly stood out as contradictions. JEC even caved in on the MX missile, obliterating even a pretense of nuclear arms reduction in the face of DOE's pork-barrel priorities.
In short, James Earl Carter's administration began to look very much like Barack-the-Magnificent's apparent experience of pillory and plunder just about now. Arguably, on the one hand, the lack of community engagement or even a semblance of participatory democracy, the then-as-now extant Republicrification of the Democrats and Democrablification of Republicans, and other typical frauds of America's farcical electoral democracy were at work.
On the other hand, just as Barack-the-Magnificent warned that he could only be 'as good a President' as we were diligent in holding him to progress, JEC warned folks in his first speech as President to the nation. "This inauguration ceremony marks a new beginning, a new dedication within our Government, and a new spirit among us all. A President may sense and proclaim that new spirit, but only a people can provide it."
In another vein, on the one hand, indelible interconnections among imperial murder and imperious energy policy defenestrate all hope that, good intentions and lovely words aside, a long-term shift in U.S. energy policy might prosper unless a similar deconstruction of empire were, miraculously, also to transpire. Quite simply, in this manner of thinking, Jimmy Carter could no more have fulfilled human rights promises than he could have fulfilled energy vows. The two depended on each other, and the ruling class depended on an SOP incompatible with fundamental reform.
Then again, JEC's warnings do continue to have resonance among those who are listening to the clue phone. "If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions. But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time."
Perhaps the most pertinent note that THC takes away from any consideration of electoral and legislative narratives is that whatever transpires there can have at best limited actual impact on citizens, except inasmuch as they engage passionately and persistently in their own democratic agendas. Put most simply, those who are high and mighty cannot deliver the goods to the salt of the earth.
Hence, despite JEC's indisputable hankering for efficiency--something, moreover that he demonstrated a real knack for instrumentalizing, his envisioning and operationalizing the DOE, for example, accomplished little or nothing to instantiate energy transformation. Even if, dollar for dollar, all of DOE's efforts achieved some precisely identifiable greater productivity than the prior scheme, the outputs were still H-bombs and other highly capitalized technologies, instead of the more "distributed approaches" available in solar power, wind-mills, or in Don Harris' growing, grassroots micro-hydro business on the other side of the continent.
The White House displayed a penchant for innovation that the bureaucracy, which JEC shepherded through Congress, did not. Therefore, despite a hypothetical fifteen year start over Germany, which under the auspices of Hermann Scheer's more politicized and socialized leadership only began systematically to boost solar and renewable techniques in 1991, Germany's growth and overall proportion of renewables has far outstripped America's.
The most plausible--arguably the only--explanation for this disparity is the German insistence on getting to the root of the issue by providing equivalent backing for renewables, equivalent both in resources and in political consistency, as it had theretofore proffered for nuclear reactors and fossil supply and production networks. This effective commitment to the creation of an alternate grid, if not yet to dismantling the former grid, has proved possible in Europe but only a fantasy in the United States.
This divergence flows from the distinction between a political choice for transforming energy policy and a management decision to seek improved efficiency. JEC's reforms may have accomplished the latter, but, all rhetorical flourish and Executive Orders to the contrary, barely touched the former. Germany under the Social Democrat and Green umbrella impelled the former to achieve even greater results in the latter.
Anyone who doubts this need only note the hideous backwardness and inefficiency of U.S. delivery and consumption of electricity, compared to Europe's, not to mention the laughable, or perhaps sad, lack of conservation measures here vis a vis the 'old world.' In this vein, one might view the Carter Presidency's bid to upend U.S. energy policy as a 'tragedy of good intentions.'
Then again, perhaps that is too generous. Once more, one can simply not overlook the way that the Atomic Energy Commission and the entire weaponized aspect of 'energy' formed the foundation for the Federal Department that would putatively guide the United States in the direction of progressive policy and innovative technology.
In the context of an H-bomb orientation, the comprehension that the sun highlighted the path to follow--which, after all a sitting President intuited, and a former genius-advocate for nukes by the name of M. King Hubbert had come to recognize as a matter of empirical analysis--was simply outside the frame of DOE possibility. Hopefully, readers can nod that the same dynamic of disvalidating the potential for a renewable transition is a foregone conclusion at today's DOE, just as validating a 'nuclear renaissance,' death sentence though it might be, is equally much a sine qua non in terms of the present rubric.
The failure of JEC's much touted moment-of-reform in the energy sphere is thus at once a failure of analysis and a failure of political possibility. Analytically, a consistent refusal, or at least resistance, to systemic overall comprehension of the energy sphere in political economic terms, in dialectically historical materialist terms, has characterized both scholarly and policy assessments of the field.
This is most obvious in terms of history, which, in establishment forums and processes, has rarely amounted to more than simple timelines of people, places, and things. On the other hand, the work of Gar Alperowitz and others have evinced a progressive, even occasionally a Marxist or social democratic interpretation of aspects of energy history, even if no overall annals have provided such analytical depth. The failure of JEC's much touted moment-of-reform in the energy sphere is thus at once a failure of analysis and a failure of political possibility. Analytically, a consistent refusal, or at least resistance, to systemic comprehension of the energy sphere in political economic terms, in dialectically historical materialist terms, has characterized both scholarly and policy assessments of the field. This is most obvious in terms of history, which, in establishment forums and processes, has rarely amounted to more than simple timelines of people, places, and things.
Though only paltry resources have been available, in various guises and formulations, THC has sought to bring to bear this deeper and more politicized analysis, which, he would contend, is the only way to achieve a potent operational understanding of how energy policy has come to be and hence what are the parameters of how it might evolve along different lines. Though nascent, such approaches must become standard if reform or transition are the desired outcome.
In terms of political possibility, as any number of interlocutors here have repeatedly remonstrated, the 'alternative energy,' 'clean energy,' and 'climate-friendly' rhetoric of both administrative and legislative arms of the United States have been weak or non-existent. The problem is not merely that the presumption of nuclear-as-salvation underlies everything, but in addition that no 'outside-the-box' or reframing sort of dissection is ever welcome--the analytical failure just mentioned--nor does a political economic or socioeconomic space exist to prove that renewable energy has already demonstrated its viability.
The current manifestations of energy, though they grew out of JEC's arguably great and undeniably large heart and mind, can no more deliver transitional thinking and action than King Harold's council of knights could deliver a people's army to resist the Normans. And this brings both THC and his readers back to the question of community.
Vast majorities say they want transformation. Vast majorities insist that they favor renewable energy. Vast majorities long for better jobs, more meaningful policy input, and more fulfilling lives. Here's a clue. Nobody is going to give away the immense profits and perquisites of the present system. The words of Joe Hill, Mother Jones, and all sorts of other radical models for the present pass are apt.
'Stop complaining and organize!'
Readers may recall THC's recent dissection of Federalist #10, and his brief presentation regarding #51 as well. Since the origin of those two guidebooks, both of which in large measure seek to eviscerate majority rule, their promotion of divide and conquer has become standard-fare for the U.S. ruling class. Nevertheless, countervailing ideation has also been accessible, for those who care about such things in any event.
"The Nature of Community Organizing: Social Capital and Community Leadership" introduced a recent compilation that provided access to such democratic forms.
"People have always organized," the authors said. "They get together for mutual support, to help others, or to improve local services, either by developing their own provision or lobbying existing providers. People also get together to try and influence decisions that affect their neighbourhood or, as Hunter suggests in Chapter 1 of this Handbook, to mobilize against developments that threaten them."
Such practitioners of strong and direct democracy have always maintained some operational capacity in the U.S., though the present paradigm arguably militates powerfully against such local potency. Various foundations and community-based-organizations still regularly promulgate different versions of such participatory means of learning, development, and empowerment.
Jimmy Carter, in some senses, has aligned himself with these more democratic thinkers. Since leaving the White House in 1981, JEC has maintained a regular stance in favor of many of history's underdogs, in particular in the Middle East. His Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid ranks as one of the most controversial books of the new millennium. This doggedness in relation to his areas of interest suggests that principles rather than opportunity guide the ex-President's thinking.
In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Carter reaffirmed the necessity of power sharing, mediation, and dialog. He praised Martin Luther King, Jr. as "Georgia's greatest leader" and mentioned other bottom-up demonstrations of people power on the planet. He also criticized, albeit elliptically, nations that 'acted alone and preemptively' against problems such as 'terrorism.'
In closing, he stated that "the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. ...and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them. The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world's unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unnecessary illnesses... .I have come to admire (in struggling communities) their judgment and wisdom, their courage and faith, and their awesome accomplishments when given a chance to use their innate abilities. ...But tragically, in the industrialized world there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness. We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth."
Of course, this simple passion overlooks the complicating factors of rich nations' internal disparities that reveal chasms nearly as wide as those that divide imperial centers from former colonies. Moreover, Carter, in extolling such an imperious bigot as Woodrow Wilson, who schemed to involve the U.S. in WWI prior to winning the Nobel Prize himself, purveys an at best anomalous notion of peace and justice. He also refers to his own Presidential leadership, atop the largest nuclear stockpile in existence, as seeking a peaceful balance--without, in so doing, the smallest hint of irony.
In fact, a fair-minded observer might stringently criticize a 'leader' like JEC even as the critic would acknowledge 'Jimmy's' compassionate rhetoric and democratic language. One such caviler aptly synopsizes such a view.
"(D)espite a rhetoric that espouses the substantive values of the ‘grass roots’, the decision-making process is confined to a dominant coalition of elite participants that promotes the rationality of a technocratic society. ...(T)he language of such a coalition excludes a significant section of the community through the vagueness,ambiguity and equivocalness of key concepts" that underpin the dialog at the outset. Clearly, the 'technocratic elite' acts on the basis of special and superior knowledge, to the extent of expressing indubitable certitude about the policy pathway in question, whether the underlying concern is poverty or nuclear energy.
Wendell Berry epitomizes a point of view antithetical to the varied types of certainty that show up among 'leaders' today, from the moral suasions of a JEC to the tough-minded pragmatism of Barack-the-Magnificent to the opportunistic thuggery of a George W. Bush. All such perspectives depend on one assertion or other of certain knowledge, over and against any contrary emanation of knowing from the grassroots or otherwise.
Berry admonishes all such certainty. In his preface to The Way of Ignorance, he weighs in as follows. "Creatures who have armed themselves with the power of limitless destruction should not be following any way laid out by their limited knowledge and their unseemly pride in" their partial truths.
And at least at the level of conceptualization, at the juncture of language and dialog, Carter would probably applaud Berry, even though a plethora of caveats and critical commentary are applicable to JEC's own efforts. In some fashion, he has kept up this insistent emphasis on something resembling social justice and respect for the downtrodden.
Even as he has persisted in his avowals of human rights, however, energy issues also circumscribed his term in office. So much was this so that one descriptor for his tenure has been 'energy President,' and yet JEC has not continued to emphasize issues surrounding energy policy. Thus, in one view, the disappearance of openings for progress--for renewable energy, for conservation, and so on, after JEC's departure--may appear as primarily due to an absence of effective national leadership.
A more probing examination, however, would likely yield a different estimation. Such a deeper analysis would, in the first place, discover the many ways in which improving human rights, especially in the Mid-East, dovetails completely with making energy policy more Gaia-friendly.
Several of THC's presentations have highlighted this sort of idea. Herman Scheer, bless his memory, throughout his career pressed home the notion that 'gunboat diplomacy' and other assaults on basic equity and human decency inevitably accompanied a fossil-fuel energy system.
For all sorts of reasons, many revolving around the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation, the same sword of Damocles hangs over the world so long as nuclear reactors are the primary source for electrical current. The present threat of action against Iran is merely the most recent exemplification of this truism.
In such a view, however sweetly JEC sticks up for the underdog, however insistently he posits that 'we' need to share power and wealth, with Palestinians or other populations, the actual potential for an emergence of the submerged sector, the actualization of social democratic redistribution, will remain dependent on dismantling empire. And JEC has never confronted that essential need; he probably would deny its existence, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
In the second place, a more perspicacious assessment of the decline of progressive energy policy would see the ensconced agenda inherently in opposition to progressive policy and renewable technology. THC has written on the 'opportunity costs' associated with obligating a program to a nuclear component. In general, advocates of renewable energy have also recognized the fundamental incompatibility between renewable energy and just the sorts of business-as-usual networks that Jimmy Carter supported.
In the third place, one would have to acknowledge the key role of empowered communities vis a vis any sustained move in the direction of renewable energy. Mike Ewall and the citizenry of Vermont are just two among a score of examples that this humble correspondent has introduced, which speak to this inherent necessity of democratic engagement.
David Orr, another Southerner and a putative subject of an upcoming profile, has written recently of "U.S. Energy Policy and the Political Economy of Participation." Rather than a reliance on recondite expertise, he avers "that energy policy most directly involves politics and ethics. In particular, much of the debate of the past several years about a national energy policy concerns which risks we as a society accept, which we avoid, who decides, and by what process. These issues, however, are seldom addressed explicitly."
This final point is the true lesson of James Earl Carter. That he states many progressive ideas is dandy but insufficient. That he frequently supports regressive positions is troubling but not dispositive. That, on balance, he represents an established coterie of wealthy companies and families, for which the governments of the world, from Sumter County to the United Nations, often run interference or serve as interlocutors, is painful but not crushing.
The most elegant expression of the political reality of the second decade of the twenty first century would propound that Jimmy Carter matters much less than whether majorities of citizens have organized themselves in communities, regions, and nations. Whether JEC stands for progress or reaction is immaterial: if communities have little or no power, nothing in their favor can come to pass; if communities have gained capacity and networked among themselves to bundle that strength, then the chants, "this is what democracy looks like," and "the people, united, will never be defeated," will rule the future.
Only in this latter context, of course, will an upsurge of renewable energy be mandatory. Only in such a world will 'business better,' or any salient signification of sustainable business be plausible. As THC's granny was wont to intone, 'a word to the wise is sufficient.'