Proud of Carter

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(Host) A few weeks ago, former president Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002. The decision came not a moment too soon, for commentator Philip Baruth.

(Baruth) I don’t know about you, but I find that I don’t much enjoy reading the newspaper anymore. It’s all too much like that last scene in “Pulp Fiction,” where everyone has their gun pointed at everyone else, and everyone’s screaming with fear, except in “Pulp Fiction” the Mexican standoff only involves one scene. But in the newspapers these days it goes on interminably, day after day: Al-Qaeda is threatening us, we’re threatening Iraq, Pakistan is threatening India, India’s threatening Pakistan, the Russians are threatening the Georgians, while the Chechens are threatening the Russians. And all of this threatening has the North Koreans so absolutely wigged out that they admit not only to possessing a secret nuclear weapons program but “other things more powerful as well.” I love that “other things more powerful as well.” This is precisely what happens when the world’s only superpower begins behaving like the world’s only superpower, when we begin targeting one country after another for “regime-change” other countries begin openly aspiring to a class of weapons above and beyond the nuclear.

And so it was just a beautiful thing the other morning to pick up the New York Times and see a picture of Jimmy Carter on the front page. He looks the same as always: the sweater, the Sunday school part in his hair, somewhere between three and four hundred teeth all jammed good-naturedly into his mouth at right angles to one another. He was standing by himself, by a folding metal chair, on a street in Plains, Georgia. It looked like a pancake supper, just Jimmy and a couple hundred regular folks from Georgia, out on the street in the early autumn. But of course, it wasn’t a pancake supper. Carter had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 and he was celebrating it with his people.

And the Nobel Committee weren’t shy about their reasons for awarding the prize as they did: 1) Only a technicality had kept Carter from winning the award a quarter of a century ago for the Camp David Peace Accord he hammered out between Israel and Egypt; 2) Carter had spent those 25 years building homes for the homeless, eradicating Guinea worm and monitoring elections in some of the world’s least credible democracies; and 3) they wanted to send George W. Bush a message, the message being that he should start acting less like George Walker Bush, Jr. and more like James Earl Carter, Jr.

And the thing was, I carried that copy of the New York Times around with me for most of the day, showing it to people, because I was just flat-out proud of Carter. Proud of us for having originally elected him, muckle-mouth and all, proud of the Scandinavians for having a peace prize in the first place, and for not being afraid to use it like a two-by-four on a mule.

It made me remember that the Mexican standoff in “Pulp Fiction” actually has a happy ending, when Samuel Jackson tells everyone in the restaurant that from this day forward he chooses righteousness, then he lays his big gun down on the table and he goes back to eating his breakfast.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont. His new book with Joe Citro is “Vermont Air: Best of the Vermont Public Radio Commentaries.”

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