By Steve Flowers
Earlier this month, our 39th president, Jimmy Carter, turned 90 years old. In my lifetime, he is the most ethical, moral and Christlike president to occupy the Oval Office.
Most, if not all of our presidents, have espoused to be Christians. However, Carter truly walked the walk. There is no specter of hypocrisy surrounding his life. Everything he did while in the White House was above reproach and his life after his presidential tenure has been an example of living your life humbly and being a true Christian servant.
Carter is the sixth of our past presidents to reach the 90-year-old club. President George H.W. Bush reached the 90-year-old milestone in June. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday with a parachute jump.
Four other presidents also reached or exceeded the 90-year-old plateau. John Adams, our second president, and Herbert Hoover, our 31st president, both lived to be 90. Two of our modern day Republican presidents, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, round out this 90-year-old elite club. Reagan, who was our 40th president, lived to be 93, as did our 38th president, Ford.
I always marvel at how much our presidents appear to age during the four or eight years they’re in office. Their before and after pictures are amazing. You can actually see them age right before your eyes. It’s distinct and telling how stress ages someone.
The Wall Street Journal did a study of the past presidents and compared their longevity to the average life expectancy of males during the same time period. Their research revealed that despite the stress related to being the leader of the free world, our presidents live longer than other men of their era. The Journal’s hypothesis is that the primary factor for their longevity was their financial affluence. The study noted that most of our presidents had considerable wealth and had access to the best medical care available.
In the case of many of our most recent presidents, they have parlayed their presidency into wealth. The prime examples are Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. Johnson didn’t wait until he left office. He began amassing wealth through his power as a U.S. senator. There must not have been any ethics laws or brave prosecutors willing to take on the ruthless LBJ. For example, as senate majority leader, Johnson got the Federal Communications Commission to grant a license to only one television and radio station in Austin, Texas. Guess who owned it? None other than LBJ. That was only the tip of the iceberg for Johnson.
In the case of Clinton, at least he waited until he left office. He has parlayed his presidency into garnering half a million dollar checks for speaking engagements here and abroad. His wife, former New York U.S. senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is following in Bill’s footsteps with speeches and books. Even the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, has a lucrative $600,000 contract with NBC simply because she’s a first family daughter.
The Clintons have become wealthy after leaving the White House. It looks like the Clinton reign may not end. Hillary is the odds-on favorite to win the presidency in 2016. Therefore, future studies of past presidents years from now will have to use actuarial data about men and women, not just men. Hillary is set to break the gender ceiling on the presidency.
Interestingly, an observation of our past presidents since World War II reveals two stark contrasts in presidential integrity. Using four Democratic presidents of the past 70 years, two of these men, Harry Truman and Carter, exemplified humility and a strong moral compass. Truman refused to take money for speeches or anything remotely associated with his presidency. The same has been true of Carter. Both these men’s character and time in office were scrutinized thoroughly, and their public service exemplifies a high level of moral character.
In contrast, the lives of two of their Democratic brethren, Johnson and Clinton, could be typified as not only immoral but more succinctly amoral.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.