Jimmy Carter on “60 Minutes:” America’s Presidential and Ex-Presidential Embarrassment

–Richard E. Vatz

When everyone, including ex-president Jimmy Carter, was shouting about George W. Bush’s being America’s “worst president,” I concurred with historian Thomas Fleming in his February 28, 2009 Wall Street Journal article that, in addition to others, President Carter was worse – far worse. In fact, if the United States had a Dream Team of Embarrassingly Terrible Presidents (DTETP), Jimmy Carter would be the starting quarterback, and “W” would be on the taxi squad.

Liberals – sorry: progressives – have sort of accepted this verdict, perhaps because of President Carter’s 1977-1981 incompetent superintending of the
economy over which he presided with, as respected historian Dr. Thomas Fleming put it, “the most horrible stagflation in our history…[and then] had the temerity to lecture citizens on their ‘crisis of spirit.’“

Or perhaps it was Carter’s fecklessness in foreign policy, as he imprisoned himself in the White House when Americans were taken hostage in Iran, only to claim when he failed to rescue them that the situation had stabilized so he could leave the building and campaign for president against Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 1980. The hostages were released on President Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration Day. Wonder why…

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On the “60 Minutes” show referenced below, President Carter perversely takes credit for the 52 hostages’ “safe return,” as he publicized his forthcoming White House Diary, revealing and analyzing selected entries made while he was president. Let’s give him some credit for the Camp David Accords and realize that there is precious little else he accomplished as president.

Back to the progressives’ take: Jimmy Carter may have been a not-so-good president, but he has been the crème de la crème of former presidents, a perception fostered by his work on Habitat for Humanity and various negotiations on elections and other trouble-shooting and charity initiatives.

Liberals have clung to this patently absurd, self-aggrandizing mischaracterization for decades. Historian John Whiteclay Chambers II wrote a little over a decade ago that “[…Jimmy] Carter has emerged as perhaps America’s greatest ex-president…” However, many of the ex-president’s rhapsodizers have retracted their opinion pursuant to President Carter’s tilt toward the Palestinians in his 2007 book, Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid, to put a friendly interpretation on that which caused over a dozen members of his Carter Center Advisory Board to resign. Then, additionally, his warm public entreaties toward the terrorist group Hamas were articulated a year later.

Now on “60 Minutes” Sunday night (September 19)comes his cowardly personal attack on Ted Kennedy, the first example he mentions of the “frankness” revealed in his book of which he is so proud, the nature of which had not publicly been made previously.

In one of his increasingly tawdry moments on that show, President Carter, who in the overly kind narrative of Lesley Stahl, is “harsh even now after his death” to Sen. Kennedy. “It was all his fault,” observes Carter plaintively and not-so-courageously, referencing the failure of comprehensive health care to pass decades ago. Observes the self-possessed ex-president of Sen. Kennedy, “He did not want to see me have a major success in that realm of life.”

Ms. Stahl does not ask for evidence of Sen. Kennedy’s personal animus, which allegedly motivated an opposition to Carter’s comprehensive health care plan.

The usually well-prepared Ms. Stahl anachronistically observes without qualification how popular President Carter has been in this country in the years following his presidency. She says “a lot” of his “critics” say he’s been “a fantastic ex-president.”

Is she unaware of all of the people who have re-evaluated their post-presidential praise of President Carter?

President Carter actually characterizes his administration as “successful,” wishing for President Barack Obama that his should be “as successful” as Carter’s.

Carter justifies unabashedly on the show one of his most appalling acts of his post-presidency: stealthily asking the U.N. Security Council “to vote against [President George H. W. Bush’s] resolution to go to war against Saddam Hussein.”

Ms. Stahl pursues the matter no further than to get the former president to say he doesn’t regret his action.

President Carter assesses his tenure as president as successful due to the amount of legislation he got passed – more than any president but Lyndon Johnson, he says. Stahl offers no challenge to that non sequitur either.

A virtually uncritical interview by “60 Minutes” of an ex-president who has no insight.

A perfect match.

–Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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