When an American president is nearing the end of his term, pundits often ask “How will history remember this president?”
Today, there are four former presidents alive. They come from across the political spectrum, and even though their service to the American people has ended, they continue their service to the world. For Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, international service has shaped their lives in the post-presidency, and the world has a chance to learn from their wisdom, successes, and failures gained during their time in the Oval Office. However, Carter's service stands above all others based on his accomplishments and broad missions.
Not one of these four presidents escaped their terms without controversy. Because of this, perhaps international philanthropy has been a way for them to get back on the good side of karma.
Clinton allied with the Bush's in the wakes of terrible natural disasters: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the earthquake in Haiti. With their fundraising powers combined, these three have channeled millions of dollars in crucial support to organizations working on the ground in disaster-affected areas. They have supported a wide range of projects from funding production and distribution of prosthetic limbs, to earthquake victims to microfinance.
Clinton also heads the Clinton Global Initiative, an organization that facilitates connections between private sector, public sector, and civil society leaders to design and implement a range of philanthropic projects around the world. In many ways Clinton has provided the glue that binds fomenters of change and humanitarianism.
However, the award for Best Post-Presidential Do-Gooder belongs to Carter.
Leaving the Oval Office in 1982, Carter would enter the next phase of his life as a diplomat for charity, peace, and understanding.
Along with his wife Rosalynn, Carter is a major proponent of Habitat for Humanity, a member of The Elders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, and the recipient of numerous awards for charity, peace, and international citizenship. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He has personally brokered agreements with North Korea, where he recently secured the release of an American Christian missionary. Through the Carter Center, his organizational skills have brought much-needed transparency in democratic elections taking place in nations experiencing tense periods of transition, and he works extensively in peace-making and global health issues.
More than any other president, Carter has been able to exercise his accrued wisdom, free from the constraints of the election cycle, partisan politics, and media spin machines. He has brought attention, insight, and balance to debate on a range of topics, including torture, the drug war, the death penalty, and U.S. policy in the Middle East. Guided by his faith and his belief in the founding principles of the United States, he has criticized the policies of Democrats and Republicans, alike, and continues to do so.
Though his own term in office ended in disappointment, Carter remains a relevant figure whose knowledge and wisdom have contributed to a plethora of causes for the greater good, in the United States and abroad. Through Carter, we see the value of learning from one’s mistakes, dedication to one’s ideals, and the realization that we are all global citizens.
Photo Credit: Beverly & Pack