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Presidents Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover



     The splendid C-SPAN series on American Presidents has reached Jimmy Carter and taken us to his hometown, Plains, Georgia, and to Atlanta, where the Carter Center is located. In preparing plans for the Center, President Carter visited the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University to get ideas for his Center. Did he realize how similar he and President Hoover were?
     Both were born of simple rural families, and both received a strong Christian education. Throughout their lives, both were motivated by a deep Christian desire to serve humanity. Both were engineers, albeit of a different kind. Both became successful financially, and entered the presidency with glowing reputations as men of integrity. After beginning their presidency with a bang of popular acclamation , both saw it end with a groan: Hoover with the great depression, Carter with the much less serious problem of inflation. After retirement, both devoted their efforts to building their library and archival collection, devoted to the cause of peace. Hoover's humanitarian work had concentrated on war-ravaged Europe, Carter's on disease-ravaged Africa.
     There were obvious differences. Hoover was a stern Victorian like Gladstone. He was not telegenic, and today he would never be elected president. Carter had difficulties with television, notably when a scurrilous reporter left the mike on when Carter thought it was off and tricked him into saying that he had known lust in his heart. However, Hoover was always grim; I never saw him smile. Carter had a friendly, sincere grin, and shook hands with delight, whereas Hoover was the opposite of a gladhander. Hoover was so bitter at the popular and academic hostility that he abandoned his Stanford home and library and retreated to his birthplace, West Branch in Iowa. Carter took his defeat in better spirit, although the one person he speaks of with evident dislike is his successor Ronald Reagan. "Dislike" is much too weak a word to describe Hoover's attitude toward his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
     Whereas the Hoover Institution is no longer devoted to the search for a Christian peace, the Carter Center carries on that ideal, and Carter is happy there promoting it with remarkable success. Hoover was a noble man whom we view with sad compassion, Carter with respect as he enjoys, in his own words, the best time of his life. He radiates Christian joy at doing good, which is a rare commodity nowadays.

Ronald Hilton - 12/6/99


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