Until today, I've never seen a President in person. Since I'm a rather loyal Democrat and the Democratic Party has made a hobby of losing the presidency (well, or at least not getting their candidate sworn in), I'd really only have two opportunities: Clinton and Carter
Quick side story: my Republican music professor in college once met George W. Bush in 2000. He was visiting family friends out-of-state and the campaign happened to come through. He mentioned that he was a professor at Madison and was voting for him, and I think Bush quipped something like "I guess that's one."
Today, Jimmy Carter visited the 'Plex to talk about the Carter Center and talk about his bestselling book. I had told my mom he was coming--she said she was jealous. Last night, I dug through my old moving boxes in my room and got out one of the sentimental items I had brought with me: a 1976 Carter-Mondale button that I bought from an antiques store in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I wore it to the talk today.
I got down to the talk early to snag a good seat. At 81, he came across as very articulate and passionate. He's gotten a lot of flak for breaking the "unwritten rule" of the post-Presidency: no criticizing the current administration. He met with Fidel Castro in 2002. He's been pretty vocal in his opposition to the Bush administration, likening them to fundamentalists abroad.
He often brings up the topic of his own faith. It really gets to me.
(Just to point this out, now would be a good time to read that disclaimer on the left about me not speaking for my employer)
I'm a Democrat from a rural area. That's an increasingly rare statement. Somehow, in the last 25 years, the Democratic party has lost its position with hard-working, religious, rural America. My church growing up didn't have this rabid obsession with homosexuality and abortion (See the ELCA's statements on homosexuality, abortion, and the death penalty).
The Democratic Party has been doing terribly with religious groups. Partially, it's due to the galvanizing effect of Roe v. Wade, when socially conservative Christians really began to take an interest in the political process.
It bothers me that Christians can blindly follow the Republican Party while they're gutting social services, starting wars, stuffing cronies into the bureaucracy, and suffering lobbying ethics scandals. I'm no Biblical scholar, but I remember there being a lot more in there about helping the poor that what you would assume by the way the party is acting. So I'm glad Carter is saying something about it. Somebody has to.
Look out for developments in this area from Faith Voices for the Common Good -- an ecumenical liberal religious think tank and organizing advocacy group. It would be great to get the liberal religious movement out into the public sphere, reclaiming the purposes of religions, faith, and spirituality.