“You’ve got to do something about Jimmy Carter!” people say to me. (They say this knowing that I’ve been on his tail before.) I wish I could — but I can’t. It’s simply hard to keep up with Carter, with so much else going on in the world. Because we are all off covering other things, no one realizes how bad he is. He gets kind of a free pass. No one knows that he abides in the fever swamps of the hard Left. Most people think of him as a decent man — a Southern Baptist — who is perhaps a little naïve about world affairs, and whose presidency was hapless. Even many right-wingers believe that Carter is well-meaning but just a little flaky.
No. Actually the man’s hard as nails. The more you know Jimmy Carter, the less you can like him. At least this is true of me, and I — who started out as a Carter fan — have followed him for years.
Some of the truth about the recent Carter can be gleaned from Douglas Brinkley’s book, The Unfinished Presidency. This is an admiring book, but there are enough facts in there to damn its subject.
Many of my readers have noticed the piece on Carter in the Daily Mirror. What’s the Daily Mirror? It’s a London tabloid that has been viciously, and libelously, anti-war and anti-American. It does things like run an image of Tony Blair with blood dripping from his hands.
Carter met with the Mirror — you can see the story here — and said, “You’re doing a good job. I am glad about that. War is evil.” The title of the article was “Ex-President Jimmy Carter Backs Our Fight.” That is certainly true. Carter has endorsed the very hard-Left — and the very crudest — position.
He cited an opinion poll that rated the U.S. the greatest danger to world peace. He found this a “very embarrassing thing.” Why isn’t he embarrassed for the idiots who judge the U.S. the greatest danger to world peace, instead of the world’s best guarantor of the peace? Carter was always embarrassed about the United States. This was one of the most distasteful things about him, in my view. His wife is quite similar. Asked to explain Reagan’s election, she once said, “He makes us comfortable with our prejudices.” That’s the Carters.
Carter elaborated to the Mirror, “Some very embarrassing things have happened in this country.” He was referring to the Bush administration’s war on terror. I remember something that the first George Bush said, in his vice-presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro. That was in 1984. He said — in his closing remarks — “I can’t tell you what a joy it is to serve with a president who does not apologize for the United States of America.” Ferraro got the most perplexed look on her face.
I knew just what Vice President Bush meant. He didn’t mean that we were uncritical of America. Conservatives, Lord knows, have spent a lot of time railing about how things are (consider legal abortion-on-demand). But we know that, contrary to what the Left has taught us in our schools, the United States is, on balance, a force for good in the world. It’s no wonder that the masses from all over the world seek to live here.
I once wrote a piece about all this, having to do with my experience as a student abroad, and how it made me far more appreciative of my own country. (It’s called “Love on the Arno.”) On a train from Luxembourg down into Italy, an American girl sitting across from me said, “I’m hoping to pass for German” — that’s how ashamed she was of Ronald Reagan’s America.
And, of course, Americans in Europe now are lying about their nationality and saying they’re Canadian, if only to avoid a hassle.
Jimmy Carter seems to me a person perpetually embarrassed to be an American. In an ex-president, this is somewhat embarrassing. Mark Falcoff reminded me recently that people who are otherwise anti-American — I mean, hard-bitten anti-Americans — happen to adore Jimmy Carter. Well, not “happen to.”
The Mirror obviously soaked up Carter’s whole act. It wrote, “Unlike most of his successors, Carter . . . did not take up golf or take to the lucrative lecture circuit.” Carter himself is always saying this — about himself. It’s one of his most familiar talking points. I have to tell you, though, that the funding of the Carter Center in Atlanta is one of the great untold stories in America. We know from Brinkley’s book that the Arabs — particularly the Gulf Arabs, with whom Carter is in tight — fund it heavily. But to what extent, is unclear.
Incidentally, the Mirror ran — in addition to its article — an editorial titled, “Heed a U.S. President We Trusted.” The first line? “Jimmy Carter was not a flashy or showy President, but history judges him as one of America’s greatest.” Well, maybe mindless European leftists do. I think he has a share of responsibility in the brutal situation that is our lot today. He’s always bragging about how he never went to war — what a peaceable fellow he was. But, on his watch, the Soviet Union ran amok. Who had to take care of that? Carter refused to confront Islamic fundamentalism, as in Iran. Desert One was not merely a joke, but an invitation to brazen challenges to the United States. The world is a dangerous place, and, by weakening our foreign policy, our military, our economy, and, arguably, our spirit, Jimmy Carter made it more dangerous.
Nevertheless, I believe that he was a far better and more reasonable man as president than he is today. Once more: No one realizes how Chomskyesque Carter is capable of being today. No one. To try to tell people is to be dismissed as some kind of hater or McCarthyite quack.
But check out the following from the Daily Mirror: “In private Carter makes his views about the government known, as a friend of his revealed. The friend said: ‘The former President is far too discreet to go mouthing off [oh, yeah?]. But people round here do remember him saying, ‘Our State Department never gets upset about anything unless white skin or oil is involved.’ His words have rung true again.”
I happen to believe that Carter said this, and believes it. And if this is true: In what way is he different from the hard-Left sloganeers in the streets? Again, most of us have always believed that Carter is a basically decent, well-meaning, perhaps slightly misguided man. But I have learned far too much about Carter to cling to this view. I know too much about his love — I don’t use the word lightly (read Brinkley’s book) — for Arafat. I know too much about his almost awe-inspiring disdain for Israel. I know too much about the raw hatred that he feels toward Reagan and other U.S. conservatives. I know the comfort he has given to tyrants all over the globe: in North Korea, in Ethiopia, in Somalia, in Nicaragua, lately in Venezuela — virtually everywhere. I just have a deuce of a time agreeing with the consensus that, political views aside, Carter is decent and admirable — hammering up those houses and all.
A last word. When the Nobel committee gave him its peace prize, it said, outright, that it was entering a protest against the Bush administration and its policies on terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism. I believe that an American patriot would have rejected the prize, on those grounds. I think a patriotic ex-president should have done so even if he had agreed with the committee and disagreed with the current president. An ex-president should not allow himself to be a tool of those wishing to trash his country — perhaps especially when his country is at war, having lost thousands of lives to emboldened, Gulf-funded terrorists.
No, my adolescent happiness over Jimmy Carter is long gone.
For a magazine piece I did on this subject — in May 2002 — go here. (That piece is called “There He Goes Again.”) For an Impromptus romp, here is the Carterpalooza.
Did you get a load of Jacques Chirac, socking it to those Eastern Europeans, for daring to side with the United States? “It is not really responsible behavior,” he said. “It is not well-brought-up behavior. They [the Eastern states] missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.” And so on.
I cannot remember an equivalent outburst on the world stage. This is . . . well, “not really responsible behavior,” to quote someone. If an American president had acted like this, we’d never hear the end of it. The arrogance, people would have said — and they would have been right.
Remember this the next time a European gripes to you about how “arrogant” Washington is. At least our officials pay lip-service.
But no one — not even Chirac — is as bad as the Belgians. Their idea of a service to the world is to prosecute Ariel Sharon. Of all the world’s miscreants? The democratic prime minister of Israel? But then, to be Israeli — in the eyes of many Euros — is to be half-guilty already. So does that continent try to soothe a troubled conscience.
Rep. Vito Fossella, the New York Republican, has some interesting thoughts on the U.N., expressed in a recent New York Postop-ed. He says, “I have introduced legislation to withhold U.S. funding for any U.N. commission that is chaired by a country that the State Department classifies as a terrorist nation.”
At least someone’s thinking.
Speaking of thinkers: My friend Ross Douthat — a former NR intern, a contributor of ours, and an all-around stud — has started a blog called “The American Scene.” He does this with Steve Menashi. Do check it out.
Finally, I’ll end this too-serious Impromptus with a little language. In an article published in the current issue, Newsweek magazine says, “Now Americans can witness the spectacle for themselves when ‘Da Ali G Show’ premières on HBO this Friday night.” “Premières”? With that accent? My, Newsweek — humble, garbagey old Newsweek — has gotten fancy!