Jimmy Carter a delivered a farewell to the nation reminiscent of the qualities that helped put him in office four years ago. The President has always been at his best enunciating, is quiet, low-key style, his deepest ideals and vision for the world. So it was that his call Wednesday night for a continuing national effort to prevent nuclear war, to protect the earth's environment and resources, and to enhance human rights was effective and moving. Perhaps in singling out "single-issue groups" and "special interests" as an obstacle for presidential leadership, Mr. Carter was absolving himself of some of the blame for defeat in office. But the point is well taken and deserves thoughtful attention. The global problems cited and the earnest of their solution -- a willingness of Americans to unite and work for the common good -- indeed sum up the challenge before the new administration.
As Mr. Carter thanked the american people for the opportunity to govern, the American people, too, might pause to appreciate the accomplishments of his presidency. True, these did not loom large enough in the public mind to reelect him. But this should not obscure some solid progress made at home and abroad. We believe the Carter years will be assessed more positively through the lens of history than they have been in the heated political climate of the moment.
Learning from lessons of the nation's recent past, the President sought to place the tools of diplomacy above the use of military force. The peace obtained between Israel and Egypt after thirty years of conflict alone stands as an extraordinary personal achievement. But there were other controversial steps forward: the Panama Canal treaties, the normalization of relations with China, the multilateral trade agreement, an effective new policy in Africa, and -- for all the drawbacks in its implementation -- a human rights policy that lifted America's image and gave new hope to peoples throughout the world. On the domestic fron Mr. Carter often floundered. But even so his legacy includes an energy program (at long last), the beginnings of civil service reform, deregulation of key industries, and greater sensitivity in government to women and minorities.
Doubtless the record could have been better. It would have been better, perhaps, if Mr. Carter did not have to deal with a fractious Congress, if he had better understood the workings of Washington, if he had surrounded himself early on with wise advisers, if certain traits of character had not prevented him from adapting and growing. All this will some day be the subject of serious historical study and judgment. But the President need not leave the Oval Office with a heavy heart or without the satisfaction of knowing that he gave much to his country.
The American people, perceiving only slightly the burdens of presidential office and reflecting on the gains as well as failures of the past four years, can surely say a word of thanks before the y turn their attention to the next chapter.