Jimmy Carter and a Little Lesson in History

Former President Jimmy Carter has recently said: "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, [the Bush] administration has been the worst in history." Read that again, "The worst in history."

Besides the issue of denying the long historic role of ex-presidents, who have never engaged a current administration in this manner, Carter reveals an amazing ignorance and bias that is almost beyond belief. Even if President Bush has made huge mistakes in Iraq, and it appears that he has made a few, there is no way anyone, especially a former president, should be saying that this administration is "the worst in history." Especially when you consider the massive international mess-ups of Carter’s four years in office. As Mark Moyar recently wrote, "As president, Mr. Carter managed to alienate nearly every major country in the world and did so without asserting American power in ways that might justify that alienation." Do you remember the Sandinista takeover in Nicaragua and the Iranian hostage crisis?

Such an evaluation should be left to the work of serious historians, not angry ex-presidents. Second, it is still way too early to know many of the real facts about Iraq. Time will, as in all such cases, bring these facts to light. When Harry Truman left office he was viewed by many as one of the worst presidents in our history but today cover stories ask: "Who will be the next Harry Truman to run for the presidency?" John Kennedy is lionized by certain elites but his administration appears to have been mediocre at best. Richard Nixon was a sad and pathetic man, with serious emotional weaknesses, but he may have accomplished a great deal of good in the end. And the immoral Bill Clinton may not have been as bad a president as most conservatives think. Time will tell in every case and historians will continue this healthy debate. Books will be written and thousands of pages of once-private documents will be studied. Carter ought to know this better than any of us but he seems to have lost something over the past five years or so.

I believe Jimmy Carter should stick to teaching the Bible in Plains, building Habitat Homes for the poor and helping direct the Carter Center’s efforts for peace and reconciliation around the world. It was once said that he was our best ex-president. I am no longer sure that this can be said given the rash foolishness of his comments and his distorted perceptions of reality. I did not like Carter’s presidency. That was the widely held view at the time since only 21% of the people approved of his leadership at the end, lower poll numbers by far than Bush has presently. But I have always liked Jimmy Carter the man. I am losing what remaining positive respect I had for the man the more he keeps talking about these things in public. Is this another case of an old man’s syndrome, an aging man who needs to learn when to stop seeking center stage and to give himself up quietly to good causes in his final years. Gerald R. Ford had some strong opinions too, and some of these views opposed the Bush doctrines. But he never reduced himself to such banal and foolish nonsense as Jimmy Carter. Frankly, I find the whole thing very sad.

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