"Pot calling the kettle black" is how we might feel tempted to characterize Jimmy Carter’s embarrassing assault on George W. Bush and Tony Blair for their part in liberating Iraq: "overt reversal of America’s values," "abominable," "subservient," blah, blah, blah.
Giving way to such a temptation would amount to putting Bush and Blair on the same level as Jimmy Carter. No way. When it comes to incompetence, Carter stands splendidly alone among modern presidents.
It was never the way of James Earl Carter Jr., to keep his moral pronouncements to himself, but this past weekend’s tirade — petty, vain, spiteful — is bad even by Carter’s low standards. In conversing with BBC radio and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he shows not the least concern for the spectacle of a former U.S. president calumniating one of his successors, together with a loyal American ally.
We really shouldn’t wonder. Jimmy Carter is better, purer, nicer, holier and, especially, smarter than just about anybody you ever heard of, and we might just as well get used to it.
So, in "adverse impact on the nation around the world, [the Bush] administration has been the worst in history"? So very Carter-esque, a declaration like this. However did our onetime moral leader hold back so long from wising us up?
The Dallas Morning News, back in the ’70s, called Jimmy Carter "the worst president in U.S. history" — or words of like import. About right, I would judge. It wasn’t that James Earl didn’t try to be a good president. It was a lot of things; first, his capacity for moralism.
We weren’t adverse to that after Watergate, nor were Carter’s Southern inflections unpleasant when he was speaking the language of right and wrong. With Carter, nonetheless, you always got the impression that the right side was his side. He might be Southern Baptist, but he resonated most often as hard-core Calvinist, in the 17th century, sword-swinging style. You wouldn’t have wanted to see those pale eyes staring at you from beneath a magistrate’s wig.
With all that moralism went an almost unexampled capacity for naivete. If Richard Nixon was too crafty by half, Jimmy Carter was so wide-eyed you wondered if the town con man couldn’t have talked him into buying that wallet the two of them just happened to find lying on the sidewalk. Carter knows everything except, apparently, the things worth knowing.
Came the energy crisis of the late ’70s, caused in large part by government punishment of the energy companies via regulation and taxation. How did Carter propose to lead us out of this crisis? By further punishing the companies — confiscating their "windfall profits" from the higher oil prices that supplied the capital requisite to finding more oil and gas.
The moralist-in-chief had diagnosed the problem. It was less an economic or foreign policy problem, he told the American people, than it was a "crisis of the American spirit." We Americans "needed to have faith in each other." And the government needed to order utility companies to use less oil.
Then there was foreign policy. We cut adrift the Shah of Iran, a reliable American ally, because presumably the clergy trying to overthrow him were more moral than he. Then the Ayatollah Khomeini took over, and the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis followed. The Carter administration twisted, turned, agonized — and failed utterly to retrieve the hostages. Almost the minute the tough-talking Ronald Reagan took over the reins, Khomeini decided the game was up. He set the hostages free.
Carter’s psychic need for post-1980 redemption must be profound beyond reckoning. He was a good boy for a while, promoting fair elections and democracy abroad — for which he got the Nobel Peace Prize (in part probably because the judges wanted to show up Bush).
Why, then, the ant-Bush tirade? With Jimmy Carter one never knows. It suffices, perhaps, to know that he’s smarter than all of us put together. That much you figure out just by listening to him.