Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When Ex-Presidents Attack

In case you missed it, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter blasted current President George W. Bush on Saturday, May 19, 2007.

During a telephone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Mr. Carter said that the Bush administration "has been the worst in history" in terms of international relations. Lots of folks inside and outside the Beltway were surprised. They weren't surprised that he has this viewpoint (Mr. Carter has been consistently opposed to the war in Iraq and other elements of the current administration's foreign policy), but rather that he breached one of the unwritten rules of presidential etiquette by coming right out and saying it.

I know that great athletes have historically made some pretty disparaging remarks about succeeding generations. In 1959, Mr. Carter's fellow Georgian, baseball great Ty Cobb was asked how he would fare against the current crop of pitchers. Cobb had retired from the game in 1928 with a lifetime batting average of .366. He responded that he thought he'd hit only .300. When asked why, Cobb responded "You've got to remember, I'm 73." I got the sense while watching an interview with Wilt Chamberlain during the 1997 NBA All-Star Game that Wilt the Stilt still felt that he was capable of a 100 point night if someone could just find him a jersey and a pair of shorts.

Ex-presidents are apparently held to a higher standard.

I can see the reasons for this. These guys belong to an incredibly elite club. Only 43 men have held the office. Of those 43, only 4 remain among the living. We all know that these guys do not march in ideological lock-step. In addition, we're aware that there are all sorts of personal rivalries at work. The Carter-Mondale ticket was defeated by a ticket that included President George H.W. Bush. Bush 41 was defeated by Bill Clinton. Clinton's veep, Al Gore, was in turn defeated by Bush 43.

Although we usually have to read between the lines or learn the information third-hand, it's not as if former presidents have never sniped at current ones. Teddy Roosevelt was not shy about making derogatory remarks about Presidents Taft and Wilson. Of course, TR didn't use phrases like "worst in history" he just called Taft a "fathead". Then again, TR didn't try to "clarify" his remarks either. I wonder what TR would have called that sort of backpedaling.

Mr. Carter appeared Monday on "Today on NBC" to try to add some context to his comments. He denied that he was talking personally about President Bush. He further stated that his remarks were "careless or misinterpreted."

I was a little bit disappointed by this semi-retraction. I found his initial honesty refreshing, and not just because I think his statements were accurate. No, I like the notion of a former president adopting the role of the curmudgeonly retired superstar, not hesitating to say that the current crop of players couldn't carry his jockstrap in a suitcase. I think that a feud between Bush 41 and Bill Clinton would be a whole lot more interesting than Rosie O'Donnell vs. Donald Trump.


Anonymous said...

oba, i'm just really not sure where to start with this one. first off, i think your closing analogy would be more cutting edge if you'd referenced elisabeth hasselbeck rather than the donald. second, if you really do believe that jimmy carter's presidency was a better testimonial on how to conduct international relations than what junior bush has done, then maybe i'm confused and really reading your new smallville entry about bizzaro (sp?).

while not to try to make a statement like that and then duck out the side door, i think the proof for this will be in the pudding. and while america was fortunate to have a man like the gipper come in a clean up the mess left behind by a rural peanut farmer, it remains to be seen who will come in after junior bush and whether they will make even more of a mess.

as an example of what the world really thinks about american diplomacy recently, witness the recent french elections where they passed on another anti-american cheerleader / terrorist financier (please see any WSJ editorial about how france & germany are using taxpayer dollars to prop up iran...) and instead elected someone more in the vein of the much-maligned tony blair, who will try to align france more with america. better late than never, eh ?

and also juxtapose that against the cut and run democrats who are trying to set an example for the troops by virtually tripping over themselves in their haste to announce our surrender to the terrorists. about the only thing our troops can take away from that dispacable and possibly treasonous spectacle is how to move as quickly as possible for the doors should the full retreat call ever be given by a democrat president in 2009.

and on that note.......


oba said...


I actually thought that people wouldn't get an Elizabeth Hasselbeck reference. I need to stop underestimating you guys.

Keep in mind when analyzing my opinion of the Carter administration that "better" doesn't necessarily mean "good".

I agree with you that history will be the ultimate judge of the Bush administration's record in terms of foreign policy. Prospects don't look all that good at the present time, however.

Thanks, as always, for reading and posting your comments.