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Carter Shines as World Statesman - 2002-12-12

Twenty-two years after losing the presidency to Ronald Reagan, former President Jimmy Carter found a measure of political redemption this week in Norway. Mr. Carter became the third U.S. president to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and was honored for his efforts in pursuit of peace and human rights.

Jimmy Carter has experienced the highs and lows of the American political experience. As the virtually unknown governor of Georgia, he came from nowhere to win the U.S. presidency in 1976, promising to restore the faith of the people in their government in the wake of the Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon from office.

But four years later, beaten down by a hostage crisis in Iran and economic turmoil at home, Mr. Carter lost his bid for re-election to Ronald Reagan and seemed destined for a quiet retirement in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.

Once again, though, Jimmy Carter decided to confound the conventional wisdom. He established the Carter Center near Atlanta and committed himself as a crusader for world peace, human rights and helping the poor. It was the beginning of a transformation of Mr. Carter from a political figure to a world statesman that culminated with his Nobel acceptance speech this week in Oslo. "I am not here as a public official, but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of suffering and the rule of law," says Mr. Carter.

For many of his supporters, Mr. Carter's Nobel prize was long overdue. They believe he should have been recognized in 1978 for his Middle East peace efforts, but his nomination came too late for consideration by the Nobel Committee.

Public opinion polls over the years indicate most Americans still believe that Mr. Carter had a failed presidency. But large majorities support his efforts as an international peacemaker and human rights crusader. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss says the Nobel Peace Prize and Mr. Carter's record as an activist former president may help his standing in history. "Despite the frustrations that he did have, especially not getting re-elected, this is a person who at least in terms of his personal character was very admirable and I think it might lead historians to look at him somewhat more kindly when they are looking at that presidency," says Mr. Beschloss.

In his acceptance speech this week, Mr. Carter made a fresh appeal for peace in a world that has become what he called "a more dangerous place". He also pressed developed countries to do more to alleviate poverty around the world. "Tragically, in the industrialized world, there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness," says Mr. Carter. "We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth. This is a necessary and potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume."

Jimmy Carter is the third U.S. president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Woodrow Wilson was honored in 1919 for his efforts to establish the League of Nations and Theodore Roosevelt won the award in 1906 for helping to end the war between Russia and Japan.