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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Comments

  1. Adam May 24, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    First a factual correction. Bush is currently at about 28 percent, which is the exact same as Carter was at his lowest point. I found this on three different websites that said that the current Bush numbers are the exact same as Carter’s lowest numbers.
    Second, I agree that Carter should not said what he said. But he has apologized for it and while that should not eliminate the fact that he said it, he said he was quoted out of context.
    Third, I would like to question your last premise. Carter was a president, and if presidents don’t have the right to question presidents who does? And while I don’t agree that he should have said it, I haven’t been able to come up with another president that really has been worse to international relations.

  2. John H. Armstrong May 24, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Adam,
    Your opinion and mine are not the issue here. We can and do likely differ on the virtues and values of these two men; e.g. Bush and Carter.
    The 21% number appeared in the Wall Street Journal today. It could be wrong but I am inclined to believe that their respective poll numbers are likely similar, as you point out. We can also agree, both presidents were/are immensely unpopular. The irony is that Carter grew in stature with many people after he left office only to have lost some of that standing during the last five years, as I attempted to point out.
    What is at stake here is Carter’s constant use of raw political emotion and visceral reaction against Bush. He truly seems to despise the man from all appearances, in much the same way many among the religious right despised Bill Clinton with a raw emotional anger. It does not serve the cause of either civility or respect for the office of the president to do this within our already coarse culture. Both of these are virtues previous ex-presidents, even Bill Clinton included, have honored much more than the recent Jimmy Carter approach.
    Disagree with Bush? Yes, by all means. Believe he is wrong about this war? Yes, have this debate and continue it since this is a free republic that protects such speech and debate.
    But believe, as 34% of Democrats do, that President Bush planned 9/11 for his own purposes, a unique conspiracy theory held by large numbers of people? An amazing thing to ponder really. This is the same reaction that haters of FDR used about the origins of America’s entry into World War II and Pearl Harbor and some still use to this day. They have no solid proof at all but you can still find the theory getting traction now and then among some on the far right who hate Franklin D. Roosevelt.
    What I am protesting here is Carter’s misuse of his position, that of an ex-president, in order to attack the present president as he does. (Retractions of Carter aside he has said and done this kind of thing for several years now.) LBJ did not do this to Nixon and Reagan did not do it to Carter, or vice versa. This pattern is a new one and that was the second point I was making in the blog. I do not think that it is a positive thing when a former president attacks a sitting president in this manner. There is no law about this but there are major cultural precedents which Carter is now throwing aside to become a verbal bomb thrower when he could have remained the gracious reconciler he once was before 9/11. Would it have been possible for him to have played that role and actually have served the nation, and maybe George W. Bush, with a real appeal for how to pursue peace? I think so since peacemakers are given great respect in general.
    I am not interested in debating Bush’s views, pro or con, as this is not a political blog. I am interested in political culture in general and how we work for a healthy society and for solid debate without this kind of political self-righteousness, which is not indicative of the Carter I voted for in 1976. I simply find him deeply disappointing, as I attempted to say.

  3. iranian May 25, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    There are many Iranians who believe that Carter’s mishandling of the ralationship with the Shah and misunderstanding of “human rights” in its Middle Eastern context led to the brutal Khomeni regime, the subsequent hostage situation in 1979, and paved the way for the mischeif by extreme Shiites in the region. It also emboldened our enemies (including Osama the Sunni), and led to a host of terrorist actions against the “paper tiger” who would never pose a real threat.

  4. John H. Armstrong May 26, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for this profoundly important comment. Sadly, I share the view of Iranians who believe this way and fear President Carter’s “peaceful” leadership led to more deaths and torture than real freedom and liberty. Being “a man of peace” (in purpose at least) and bringing about peace with justice and liberty are not the same.

  5. Stella Baskomb December 26, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    “I haven’t been able to come up with another president that really has been worse to international relations.”
    I think perhaps Mr. Carter is worried that he fits that very description and, consciously or not, James is struggling to escape the cellar in the standings.

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