In the 1980 presidential election, the American people did the best they could with President Jimmy Carter, given the limitations imposed on them by our Constitution: They retired him from office (44 states participated in the ceremony). Looking back, however, on how the scamp has abused his retirement, I, for one, wish we could have done better. Perhaps he could have been put in a jar. He has, in the succeeding 27 years since his exit from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., remained almost as ruinous a nuisance out of office as he was in office. That cannot be said of any other president.
Just before Jimmy was given the heave-ho, the Misery Index, an index combining rates of inflation and unemployment, was at an all-time high of 21.98 percent — up from 12.68 percent when he was elected in 1976. After his last full year as president, inflation was at 12.5 percent and unemployment at 7.2 percent. Today the Misery Index is at 8.83 percent, though the Democrats have not a nice thing to say about Jimmy’s Republican successors. In Jimmy’s day, the prime rate moved from 7 percent to 20 percent, and the home mortgage rate was almost 18 percent. Think about those figures this autumn when you are asked to choose between Sen. John McCain and either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton, two Democrats with even less experience than Gov. Jimmy Carter in matters economic.
As for foreign policy, Jimmy presided over a steady decline in American influence, as the Soviets went on a worldwide offensive while the American military atrophied. American diplomats were jailed in their own embassy in Tehran, Iran, and the military rescue mission mounted by Jimmy to free them was one of the few American military embarrassments of the 20th century. Incidentally, Iran’s present president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, played a major role in holding our diplomats, according to retired FBI agents who monitored Ahmadinejad’s communications from Tehran to fellow conspirators then in New York.
Yet Jimmy remains quite full of himself. In fact, his sense of moral superiority has grown as the memory of his failed presidency recedes into history. Rather than retire to a library to read, as former President Harry Truman did, in the hope that he might understand what went wrong during the Carter administration, Jimmy founded The Carter Center for "waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope." Perhaps it is his intention to spread the failure of his presidency throughout the world. Think of it, a worldwide Misery Index of 21.98 percent!
There was a time when former presidents were reluctant to criticize their successors and absolutely refused to do so while on foreign soil. Jimmy broke from that discipline years ago. He attacked the Reagan administration from Cairo, Egypt, in 1984 by scoffing at the president for being "more inclined to form a Contra army to overthrow the Sandinistas or inject the Marines into Lebanon or use American battleships to shell villages around Beirut" than to negotiate. In the run-up to the Gulf War, he interposed himself, warning that if the George H.W. Bush administration attacked Iraq, the United States "would reap great and very serious deleterious consequences politically." To the consternation of Clinton administration officials in 1994, Jimmy popped up in North Korea to work out a nuclear agreement with President Kim Il Sung that proved utterly futile. The North Koreans detonated a nuclear device 12 years later.
Now against the wishes of the George W. Bush administration, Jimmy is in the Middle East, holding meetings with Hamas and laying a wreath on the grave of the deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Hamas regularly lobs rockets and mortars into Israeli neighborhoods and is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Arafat was a famously corrupt leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and was responsible for the deaths of Americans and Israelis alike, as well as hundreds of other innocent people. Of course, the Bush administration’s opposition to Jimmy’s arrogant journey only encourages this impudent man.
The Israelis are ignoring his visit for the most part, after making it abundantly clear that they do not favor it. They are right to snub him. That he has been greeted by Hamas speaks volumes about the public life of Jimmy Carter. A failure as a president, Jimmy is appraised as a useful tool by our enemies.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator, a contributing editor to The New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.