Shifting Sands

In my brief appreciation of Jimmy Carter on the occasion of his 90th birthday, I noted that he was an “impossible president” because two of the chief elements of his winning coalition in 1976, southern conservative evangelicals and traditional liberals, “violently broke communion” during his one term in office. I’ve never had much occasion to explore exactly what happened, but I’m very excited to learn (however belatedly) that that great historian of American religion and politics, Randall Balmer, has published a book about Carter (Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter) which appears to be focused on that very subject.

Here’s a brief snippet from an interview with Ballmer at Religion Dispatches:

This is the first biography of the thirty-ninth president to take seriously Jimmy Carter’s faith as a motivation for his actions. Carter ascended to the presidency in part on the resurgence of progressive evangelicalism, an understanding of the Christian faith that takes seriously the words of Jesus to care for “the least of these.” One of the many paradoxes surrounding Carter and his presidency is that evangelicalism itself shifted seismically beneath him during his time in office. The progressive evangelicalism embodied by Carter (albeit imperfectly) gave way to the Religious Right….

I wanted to call it Redeemer President, but the publisher wanted to shorten it to Redeemer. I also considered His Own Received Him Not, a reference to the dramatic reversal of evangelical sentiment toward Carter between 1976 to 1980.

When I finish my own book project next month, I’ll head straight for Ballmer’s book.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.