NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Homecoming in Plains Is a Summit of Two Giants

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Carter Exemplify America's Best

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Editor’s note: CMT Homecoming: President Carter in Plains premieres Saturday (Dec. 4) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

There have been two instances in my lifetime when I was genuinely galvanized by the results of a presidential election. The first was in 1960, when I was too young to vote but sensed that the nation was on the threshold of a bold, beautiful new future with John Kennedy at the helm.

The second was in 1976, when I was not only able to vote but also to campaign. I worked for Rolling Stone magazine at the time, and we threw the magazine’s resources — such as they were back then — behind the campaign to elect Jimmy Carter. We also held a huge Rolling Stone fundraising party for Mr. Carter in New York City, and then we all went on to the triumphant inauguration and inaugural balls in Washington — along with the likes of Charlie Daniels, Gregg Allman, the Marshall Tucker Band, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali and many other rock ’n’ rollers.

You know what happened to both the Kennedy and Carter administrations. Events beyond anyone’s control killed one president and stymied the other. That doesn’t mean hope can’t still exist or that cynicism will always triumph over goodness. Some of that hope for the future is resurrected in CMT Homecoming: President Carter in Plains, in which country music’s president, Willie Nelson, joins with his good friend Jimmy Carter at celebrating small town America and country music in Plains, Ga.

Since leaving office, Mr. Carter has dignified the status of being an ex-president as no one else has. His Carter Center in Atlanta is a buzzing hub for worldwide education and activism. With Habitat for Humanity, he has pioneered the idea of providing homes for those who need them. His role as a worldwide election observer has elevated that function to the crucial role that it deserves. No international figure has fought harder for human rights than he has.

A former Navy submarine officer, he has dedicated his life to solving conflicts by peaceful means — by negotiation, rather than by threats and saber rattling. He brokered a peace between Egypt and Israel. In 2002, he received the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development.” He asked Willie Nelson to accompany him to Oslo for the award ceremony and to serenade the dignitaries there with “Georgia on My Mind.” In general, Mr. Carter has made the function of former president a proud and honorable one.

I was fortunate to tag along during the taping of the CMT Homecoming show, and it was a remarkable experience to listen to these two old friends and giants among men talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They walked the streets of Plains and toured the farm where Mr. Carter grew up. The farm is open to tourists, and as we were leaving, a tourist couple bumped into Nelson and Mr. Carter at the gate. The woman was startled into tears of joy at suddenly seeing “my two true heroes.”

Nelson’s concert at the Plains High School was a joyous celebration of America and its values and its music. His performance of “Living in the Promiseland” delivered the optimism inherent in a basic belief: Living in the Promiseland/Our dreams are made of steel/The prayer of every man/Know how freedom feels/There is a winding road/Across the shifting sand/And room for everyone /Living in the Promiseland.

Mr. Carter is, I think, the last truly decent man to hold the office of president of the United States. The most remarkable thing to remember about his four years in office is this: During those four years, the United States dropped no bombs and fired no bullets intended to kill another human being. Say what you will, Mr. Carter vowed to serve the Prince of Peace. He did so, honorably. And he continues to do so.