With the sad news that Jimmy Carter has cancer, it is time to take a look at what Carter, and another former president, chose to do with their lives after leaving the White House.
Seen the latest front-page Carter Center scandal? Hear about the six figure fees former president Jimmy Carter pulls in from shady foreign companies? Maybe not.
Take a moment to Google Jimmy Carter. Now do the same for Bill Clinton. The search results tell the tale of two former presidents, one determined to use his status honorably, the other seeking new lows of exploitation for personal benefit.
Carter's presidency carries an uneven legacy. Yet his prescient but unwelcome 1979 warning that the country suffered a crisis of confidence, preventing Americans from uniting to solve tough problems, anticipated the faux bravado and true spiritual emptiness of Reagan's "Morning in America."
Many feel Carter has been a better ex-president than he was a president. His Carter Center focuses on impactful but unglamorous issues such as Guinea worm disease. When Carter left office, the disease afflicted 3.5 million people. Now it's expected to be only the second disease, after smallpox, to ever be eradicated worldwide.
Carter, 90, still donates a week of his time each year to Habitat for Humanity. Not a photo-op, Carter goes out without the media in tow and hammers nails. Carter also tirelessly monitors elections in nascent democracies, lending his stature as a statesman to that work over 100 times already. Summing up his own term in office, Carter said "We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war."
He is the last president since 1977 who can make that claim.
Bill Clinton pushed the NAFTA agreement through, seen now by many as a mistake that cost American jobs. He pointlessly bombed Iraq and sent troops into Somalia (see Blackhawk Down.) Clinton is remembered most of all, however, for his oral affair with an intern, then fibbing about it, and ending up one of only two American presidents ever impeached as a result.
As a former president, Clinton is nothing if not true to his unstatesman-like form. Bill makes six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning as much as $50 million during his wife's term as secretary of state alone. TD Bank, the single-largest shareholder in the Keystone XL Pipeline, was also the single-largest source of speaking fees for Bill Clinton. He used a shell company to hide some of the income.
His own charity, humbly known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, is a two billion dollar financial tangle. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. Instead of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Bill takes his big donors on executive safaris to Africa. Many of those same donors also give generously to the Hillary Clinton campaign and its constellation of PACs.
Voters should judge a candidate not just on examples of past competency, but with an eye toward the core things that really matter: character, values, honesty, humility and selflessness. Perhaps this tale of two presidents has a lesson in it for 2016.