Prophet from Plains: Jimmy Carter and His Legacy

Prophet from Plains: Jimmy Carter and His Legacy

Prophet from Plains: Jimmy Carter and His Legacy

Prophet from Plains: Jimmy Carter and His Legacy


Prophet from Plains covers Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter's major achievements and setbacks in light of what has been at once his greatest asset and his greatest flaw: his stubborn, faith-driven integrity. Carter's remarkable postpresidency is still in the making; however, he has already redefined the role for all who follow him.

Frye Gaillard, who wrote extensively about Carter at the Charlotte Observer, was among the first to take the Carter postpresidency seriously and to challenge many accepted conclusions about Carter's term in office. Carter was not an irresolute president, says Gaillard, but rather one so certain of his own rectitude that he misjudged the importance of "selling" himself to America. Ranging across the highs and lows of the Carter presidency, Gaillard covers the energy crisis, the Iran hostage situation, the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal and other treaties, and the new diplomatic emphasis on human rights.

Carter's established priorities did not change once he was out of office, but he was far more effective outside the strictures of presidential politics. Gaillard's coverage of this period includes Carter's friendship with Gerald R. Ford, his work through the Carter Center on disease control and election monitoring, and his association with Habitat for Humanity.

Prophet from Plains locates Carter in the tradition of Old Testament prophets who took uncompromising stands for peace and justice. Resisting the role of an above-the-fray elder statesman, Carter has thrust himself into international controversies in ways that some find meddlesome and others heroic.


Not long after Jimmy Carter left the White House, Frye Gaillard became one of the first American journalists to write a serious retrospective on his presidency. Gaillard’s groundbreaking series in the Charlotte Observer, published in the summer of 1985, drew praise from a wide variety of sources. Jack Nelson, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, called it “a great contribution to the literature of the presidency.” The songwriter and novelist Tom T. Hall, a close Carter friend, called it “near genius.” And James Wall, editor of the Christian Century magazine, in a letter to Gaillard, summarized the series this way: “You certainly had to note the failures, and I think you are on target with the reasons for the failures. But you have done something few other journalists have done. You have identified Carter’s strengths and have properly put his religious faith at the center of his being…. I trust that this will be a first step toward restoring Carter to his proper place in world history.”

Wall’s comments proved remarkably prescient; Gaillard’s retrospective became one of the earliest and most important reassessments of Jimmy Carter’s tenure in the Oval Office, a bellwether of subsequent scholarship on the thirty-ninth president and his legacy. Not insignificantly, Gaillard was also one of the first to . . .

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