>Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, Jimmy Carter, 2005.
Former President Jimmy Carter’s latest book presents the argument that the effect of the current ‘conservative’ movement in American politics undermines the values upon which America was founded and is taking the United States on a radical departure from core democratic values. Carter states up front that political values cannot be separated from one’s moral belief system. He is unapologetic about his Christian beliefs defining him; these beliefs, he explains, are the foundation of his political views. His traditional Christian view — a perspective he argues is mainstream — is very different from the minority Fundamentalist view that dangerously dominates today’s political landscape. Rather than ‘conservative’, Carter posits, it is a radical attack on the beliefs the Founding Fathers presented in the guise of traditional values and righteousness.
In a series of essays Carter addresses the often volatile and polarizing political issues of our time: abortion, equality regardless of gender, race or sexual preference, separation of Church and State, terrorism, human rights, nuclear proliferation and the environment. In each essay he presents a traditional Democratic stance and describes how his personal Christian values support that position. Intertwined with summarizations of the religious values that constitute his moral center is discussion of relevant events from Carter’s presidency and his humanitarian work at the Carter Center during his post-presidential years. After establishing his framework for each issue, he presents the actions and decisions of the Fundamentalists and Neo-Cons that are counter to this position. Rather than present the opposites as Republican or Democrat, he argues that his position is ‘traditional’ while the current Republican party has moved to a radical Fundamentalist position that is contrary to mainstream Judeo-Christian beliefs. The difference between the two positions is clear.
While Carter at times writes in detail about the issues, presenting both facts and antidotes to support his argument, the book falls short of making its point fully. Too much attention is paid to events Carter has been personally involved with and how those efforts are at odds with political decisions being made today. While the contrast is evident, Carter’s book fails to present the long view. The effect of this is that the book feels like merely an attack on the policies of the Bush administration and the efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention, rather than an argument that the underpinnings of American democracy are at stake. The reader can’t help but understand that this was Carter’s goal, but he doesn’t provide enough insight or historical perspective to convince a “non-believer” — or maybe even a centrist who doesn’t see all issues as Red State vs Blue State — of the errors of the ways of the Neo-Cons. In an effort to make the book a readable, accessible work, Carter is often too superficial and thus seems only to present the liberal Sky Is Falling line that a few misguided ideologues are the source of the imminent downfall of America.
Carter’s position is not flawed; it simply doesn’t go far enough to pinpoint how our values are ‘endangered’ and that the consequences of current political decisions are not something that might be easily reversed by the next political wind to take hold in Washington.