Correction to This Article
A Dec. 10 Style article about former president Jimmy Carter incorrectly said that the nation was introduced to gas lines during his administration. A few years earlier, there were gasoline shortages during the Nixon administration.
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Peace Provocateur

"Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," the latest book from the former president and Habitat for Humanity booster, has triggered angry reactions in some quarters for the title alone. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

His goal for the book, as he'll later tell a scrum of camera-wielding press, was simple and jaw-droppingly ambitious: "just to rejuvenate the peace process, which has been completely absent for the last six years."

Six lost years: It's a theme he comes back to over and over. "I consider that this administration in Washington now," he says to a Borders questioner, "has really failed or defaulted on its obligation" to orchestrate negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And this isn't just a problem for those two peoples. The absence of effort by the United States to resolve the conflict, Carter says, has been "the most serious cause" of the moderate Arab world's turn against us.

"Failed," of course, is the harsh judgment often applied to Carter's one-term presidency by Republicans and Democrats alike. They see him as the man who gave us President Ronald Reagan, though their attitudes toward that outcome naturally differ.

But that was a quarter century ago.

Right now, Jimmy Carter is a man being interrupted by sustained applause.

Plenty of Work to Do

Fourteen hours later, he's a man talking to a reporter at 8 a.m. He's in his Ritz-Carlton suite. It's not his first interview of the day.

He's shorter than you might remember, white-haired now, but with the same toothy smile displayed in four years of White House photos, beginning in 1977, not to mention souvenir mugs and Jimmy Carter "Happy Mouth" bottle openers.

The smile tightens when he's asked if the 1980 election results still hurt. That and a short burst of laughter -- hah hah hah -- signal that they do. Then he explains, appearing entirely sincere, why he thinks his life has been "much more full and gratifying" than it would have been had he won a second term.

At 56, involuntarily retired, he felt "somewhat frustrated." Statistics suggested that he had 25 more years to live, "and what was I going to do with those 25 years?" Absent that frustration, he believes, "I would not have formed the Carter Center" -- the activist, Atlanta-based institution that he and his wife, Rosalynn, determined to build instead of the usual presidential library/shrine.

The center's success, and Carter's with it, makes it hard to remember what damaged goods he was in January 1981.

He'd had his share of accomplishments, most notably the brokering of the Camp David accords, an unprecedented peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. But during the Carter presidency, inflation rose sharply and the nation was introduced to the concept of gas lines. Contemptuous of Washington insiders and more conservative on defense and spending than many Democrats, he alienated his party's establishment and drew a damaging primary challenge from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Asked if the senator -- given the 12 years of Republican ascendancy that followed -- has ever expressed regret about splitting the party, Carter's answer is prompt: "Not really." He mentions that Kennedy, onstage at the Democratic convention, refused to shake his hand.


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