Evangelist-in-chief: Jimmy Carter redeemed the nation from the venality of the Nixon years

Jonathan Yardley in The Wshington Post:

RedeemerIn Randall Balmer’s admirably succinct if thematically debatable biography, Jimmy Carter enters the White House in January 1977, three years after the resignation in disgrace of Richard M. Nixon, on a high if not downright inspiring note. “Carter represented a clean break with the recent past,” Balmer writes, “an opportunity to redeem the nation.” More than 100 pages later, in his concluding paragraph, Balmer returns to the theme, calling Carter “the man whose improbable election in 1976 redeemed the nation from the sins of Watergate.”

Like Carter, Balmer is a man of strong evangelical convictions — he teaches at Dartmouth, with an emphasis on American religious history — and he has framed this biography around the themes those convictions suggest. Inasmuch as Balmer is reasonably objective and unsentimental about Carter’s record as president, it would be unfair to say that he views Carter as a savior (a view that Carter himself probably would happily embrace), but there is a willingness here to accept Carter’s religiosity on its own terms, to make token acknowledgment of his “strain of self-righteousness” and “fierce competitiveness.” Balmar lays greatest emphasis on what he clearly views as the depth and sincerity of Carter’s beliefs and the degree to which those beliefs shaped his public and private lives, carrying on the cause of those “progressive evangelists [who] in the nineteenth century interpreted the prophetic calls for justice as a mandate for racial reconciliation and gender equality.”

More here.