- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES Leaders of the Democratic Party yesterday saluted the man they once yearned to forget.

President Jimmy Carter was honored last night with a film tribute at the Democratic National Convention, 20 years after his crushing re-election defeat prompted his virtual banishment from party politics.

The roughly five-minute film, "Jimmy Carter: President and Peacemaker," presented his rise from humble beginnings as a Plains, Ga., peanut farmer to his come-from-nowhere election to the White House.

But the tribute omitted the well-known woes that plagued his four-year term, from the energy crisis to the Iranian hostage debacle, focusing instead on his successful negotiation of the Camp David Middle East peace accord.

Speculation had it that the Democrats were moved to honor Mr. Carter after the Republicans feted former presidents Gerald R. Ford and George Bush at their convention in Philadelphia. The only living former Democratic president, Mr. Carter is also a longtime friend of presidential nominee Al Gore.

"I've been watching it [the tribute], and it's nothing but a copy of ours," groused California Republican Party spokesman Stuart DeVeaux.

But delegates yesterday said recognition of Mr. Carter's service to the nation was long overdue. Many praised Mr. Carter, a born-again Christian, for his high moral character and dedication to human rights.

"He's probably the most honest person who ever held the White House," said Washington delegate Ed Barnes, a retired electrical worker. "Probably the most religious, too."

Other delegates lauded his contributions since leaving office in 1980, notably his work as an international peacemaker and with the house-building charity Habitat for Humanity.

"He's such a man of moral courage. I could never understand why people didn't get solidly behind him," said Colorado delegate Margaret Atencio. "Jimmy Carter was a man who walked the walk."

For years, Democrats blamed the Carter administration for giving them a reputation as the party of the idealistic but inept. His presidency is often remembered for the energy crisis, gas lines, the Olympic boycott and the Iranian hostage crisis.

"I'm convinced Jimmy Carter was a much stronger president than we've previously realized," said Oklahoma delegate Jim Davis, an American politics professor at Oklahoma State University. "And since his presidency he's been a major peacemaker around the world. We really should acknowledge this man."

Mr. Carter, a superdelegate with the Georgia delegation because of his past office, praised Mr. Gore yesterday for his high integrity, saying the candidate shouldn't be tainted by President Clinton's moral and sexual "escapades."

"I've known Al Gore for 25 years… . he's a man of absolute integrity," Mr. Carter said on CNN-TV. "He's just as loyal to his wife as I am to Rosalynn."

Mr. Carter was elected president in 1976, the same year Mr. Gore won his Tennessee congressional seat. The former president credited Mr. Gore with aiding his "entry back into the White House" during the Clinton administration.

As for the tribute, Mr. Carter said his primary reaction was one of "gratitude," especially since he wasn't required to make a speech.

"I was grateful when Al Gore asked me to come to the convention in that fashion and not having to make a speech," he told NBC-TV's "Today" show.

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