Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Book Review: OUR ENDANGERED VALUES by Jimmy Carter

This past summer, I had a chance to read Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. I recommend it to all Americans to read--especially younger Americans who cannot recall there was a time when U.S. Presidents gave more than lip-service to issues like peace, democracy and human rights. By knowing or recognizing what has been lost, especially over the past six years, (or is being lost) one can better strive towards recovering from the current off-course direction that has world opinion rating America and American government lower than at any previous time in the previous 230 years.

Here are a list of some of the values and standards Carter claims have been rejected and neglected in recent years:

[1] Power and influence are to be used for advancement of peace for others as well as ourselves.
[2] In addition, other uses for power and influence include:
--promoting "economic and social justice"
--raising "high the banner of freedom and human rights"
--protecting "the quality of our environment"
--alleviating "human suffering"
--enhancing "the rule of law", and
--cooperating "with other peoples to reach these common goals".
[3]Media and government are expected to provide its citizens "with accurate information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, and accommodating free and open debate on controversial issues."
[4] National politicians support state and local autonomy as well.
[5] All politicians are expected to attempt "to control deficit spending", avoid "foreign adventurism", minimize "long-term peacekeeping commitments", preserve "the separation of church and state", and protect "civil liberties and personal privacy".

Throughout this book, Carter also pointed again at the lack of courtesy and tolerance in the national and international debates which Americans and their government find themselves in globally. In multicultural America, he particular laid the blame for this downturn in tolerance in the U.S. at the feet of fundamentalist Christian leadership, like Pat Robertson, who have been more bent on creating among their followers a fifth-column of likeminded spouters of party-line rather than promoting brotherly love and real dialogue of any ecumenical nature.

Carter notes that Washington has changed so much since the 1970s when he worked so often with across the aisle with Republicans. He says that now "almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact."


Throughout his work, Carter focuses on the short-term problems in the U.S. and in its U.S. foreign policy. So, sadly, Carter does little apologizing for any of his foreign policy foibles during his own presidency--either in the Middle East (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or in Central America (Nicaragua) in the 1970s.

On the other hand, over the last 3 decades Mr. Carter has become more and more astute at anticipating problems and offering to help settle political fires before they do more damages. In this recent book, published at the very end of 2005, Ex-president Carter noted that he had been planning to go meet with the head of Syria in November of that year to persuade the Syrian leadership to become more supportive of the Middle East peace process.

However, Carter relates that as his departure date for Syria approached in November 2005, the George W. Bush White House began to call him up and asked him specifically not to go to Syria at that time. In retrospect, such official isolation of the Syrian government by the U.S. eventually (certainly) helped lead to the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. This destructive Israeli-Lebanese War saw a billion dollars of destruction and thousands of casualties before the U.S. state department finally called on Syria to intervene in order to promote a cease fire.

In short, through his actions and words, Carter represents an America which is willing to rationally look at the world and reach out to many other lands—regardless of ideology—to attain and maintain peace. This contrasts significantly with the failed confrontational and go-it-alone-against-the-world of U.S. policies throughout the 2001-2006 era.

Further, one of Carters other main goals is to persuade Americans to stop allowing themselves to get runover by the Bush Administration and out-of-control fundamentalists. He says it is time for us all to fight for tolerance and support all of our endangered values, such as (1) giving up our cherished liberties and(2)making unnecessary wars on peoples preemptively.

Thanks, Jimmy, for speaking up AGAIN!



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