A Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose humanitarian work includes the near eradication of Guinea worm disease. A fearless and peerless defender of democracy who oversaw more than 100 elections worldwide. A woodworker who swung a Habitat for Humanity hammer well into his ninth decade. A painter and poet and author of 32 books, his main source of income instead of corporate boards or speaking fees. A devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. A Sunday school teacher living his faith in a vital life and in acceptance of death by opting for hospice in his 98th year.
Jimmy Carter, by all accounts, has had an extraordinary post-presidency.
And a re-examination of his White House years suggests his presidency was extraordinary, too.
"I believe it was the most consequential one-term presidency in modern American history," said Stuart Eizenstat, Carter's chief White House domestic policy adviser.
Eizenstat, author of "President Carter: The White House Years," listed a litany of reasons, starting with a noted Minnesotan: Walter Mondale. The Democratic duo of the "Minnesota liberal" and "southern moderate" created "the modern vice presidency" and in the process had a record of congressional success second only to Lyndon Johnson, Eizenstat said.
Domestically, many of the legislative victories were on issues especially salient today, like energy ("three major energy bills that really put the United States on the path to energy security we enjoy today," Eizenstat stated); conservation (Carter "literally doubled the size of the national park system" mostly through the Alaska lands bill); deregulation of the trucking, railroad, airline and other industries ("he really democratized air travel"); as well as establishing the departments of Energy and Education.
On balance, "was Jimmy Carter a huge political dynasty figure?" historian Douglas Brinkley rhetorically asked. "No," he answered, but added: "Can we pull back and say: 'out of the one term, look at how much he accomplished?'" Counting the accomplishments, Brinkley concluded "It becomes quite a list of successes."
Brinkley, author of books on Carter as well as several other 20th century figures, added foreign-policy successes to the list of Carter-era accomplishments.
"You can't do the history of the Middle East without saluting Carter's epic diplomacy between Egypt and Israel," Brinkley said, referring to the landmark Camp David Accords that ended enmity between Egypt and Israel.
Carter's approach, Eizenstat said, wasn't diplomacy delegated to his secretary of state and the other countries' foreign ministers, but 13 days of 23 separate peace agreements he drafted himself, negotiating directly with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
"It was an agonizingly difficult negotiation," Eizenstat said, with Begin packing up near the end and saying, "I can't compromise anymore." Carter, who had extensive intelligence on each leader, knew how much Begin loved his grandchildren. So before the summit the president had a photo taken of the three grandkids, had them sign it, and as Begin began to leave handed it to him. "He saw Begin's eyes tear up and his lips quiver and take and put his bags down and said, 'I'll give it one last time.' And that's what made Camp David possible."
But the framework needed finalization. So, against the advice of his key aides, Eizenstat said, Carter, this time a diplomatic carpenter, headed to the Mideast to frame out a peace treaty. "I think it's the greatest feat of personal presidential diplomacy in American history," suggested Eizenstat.
"Where Carter succeeded was through his willpower and tenacity," said Brinkley. "It was best exemplified by the  campaign, but of course where he kept Begin and Sadat in Maryland, wouldn't let them leave the room. And that alone, in my mind, the greatness of Camp David, means to me that Carter has been a really important president."
The willpower and tenacity was focused on other foreign policies, like the Panama Canal Treaty, a strong stance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, including a politically unpopular grain embargo and boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Carter, an Annapolis grad, also moved to modernize armaments. "Everybody says, 'Reagan is the one who did all the major weapons systems, the MX missile, the intermediate nuclear missiles, the stealth bomber, the cruise missile;' all these were started by Jimmy Carter," said Eizenstat.
Similarly, said Brinkley, "He recognized the People's Republic of China, even though Richard Nixon gets the credit, and although Eleanor Roosevelt's the one who injected human rights into our national parlance, outside of her Carter is probably as closely associated with those two words as anyone in history."
Politically, Carter's policies on inflation paid off for his successor as well. It was Carter, after all, who appointed Paul Volker as chairman of the Federal Reserve "over all our objections," said Eizenstat, since Volker's tough fiscal medicine would "lose the election." Carter told the staff "I'd rather lose the election than let my legacy be inflation," Eizenstat said.
In the end, both happened: Carter did lose the 1980 election, and his legacy includes inflation. In fact, rising prices was just one of "three I's" that ended his hopes for a second term, Eizenstat said, naming Iran and intraparty splits as the others.
Iran was the most profound, and indeed reverberates today with the enduring hostility between the theocracy and the democracy. The 1979-81 hostage ordeal "felt like America was being held hostage," said Brinkley, and the failed rescue effort, in which eight U.S. servicemen were killed, "sealed his fate," Eizenstat said, "because it gave us a sense of failure and weakness."
Republican Ronald Reagan certainly sensed it — and pounced. And for this and other reasons, liberal Democrats did, too, with Sen. Ted Kennedy's primary challenge putting Carter "in a much weaker position," Eizenstat said.
Carter "was very wounded personally that Kennedy never reconciled," said Eizenstat. But that didn't keep Carter from acting on Kennedy's pick for the U.S. Court of Appeals. So Carter, putting country, not politics, first, elevated Stephen Breyer, just as he later promoted Ruth Bader Ginsburg before both eventually ascended to the Supreme Court.
Both Brinkley and Eizenstat noted Carter's reluctance — refusal, even — to politically position (or pander). "He seemed tone deaf to our media culture," Brinkley said. "By not pandering to the cameras, or doing stem-winding speeches, he kind of flatlined as a communicator, and presidents that have been successful in recent years like Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Obama — you have to use oratory as your ally."
But when he did speak, Carter lived up to his '76 "I'll never lie to you" campaign mantra. "Jimmy Carter never lied to the American people," said Brinkley. "There's an integrity factor that is sky high."
That matters all the time, but particularly resonates amid today's "Big Lie" era. "I cannot think of two human beings more opposite in demeanor and approach to living than [former President Donald] Trump and Carter," Brinkley said.
That admirable demeanor and approach to living are mostly viewed by the public through a post-presidential lens. "When people say, 'he's the greatest ex-president,' well that's true," said Eizenstat. "But the underlying message is that he was a failed president. And he was not a failed president. He was the most impactful one-term president in modern times."
Nowadays, concluded Brinkley, "There aren't people around America today saying, 'I'm a Carter Democrat' the way they would say, 'I'm an Obama Democrat, or Clinton Democrat, or Kennedy Democrat.'"
Maybe they should.
Or better yet, maybe they should just say "I'm a Carter citizen," reflecting the 39th president's life of selfless service.