Saturday, September 18, 2010

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

As strange as it may sound, we actually owe a debt of thanks to the Associated Press. Someone in the wire service's Washington bureau apparently drew the short straw, which meant they had to read Jimmy Cater's latest memoir and write a story about it. The good news is that the rest of us don't have to.

Instead of wasting $30.00 on the book, we can simply read between the lines of the AP piece and discover that the former president's new book is little more than an exercise in excuse-making and score-settling.

At the ripe old age of 85, Mr. Carter apparently feels an urgent need to take shots at fellow Democrats like Tip O'Neill or Ted Kennedy, who are no longer around to defend themselves. There is also a predictable effort at image repair; 30 years after he left the White House, Carter is still trying to paper over his tattered reputation as the worst president of the 20th Century--or any other century. In any event, "White House Diary" seems to be an exercise in vitriol and little else.

Still, there are some rather revealing thoughts in President Carter's book, and they depict him as a petty, bitter man. A few examples:

He described his difficult relationship with O'Neill, saying the most unpleasant experience of his presidency was a breakfast at which O'Neill was "extremely abusive" toward him and others in the room. Carter had a rocky relationship with the House speaker throughout his term.

Carter also reveals his thoughts at the time about Kennedy, D-Mass., his 1980 rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. He writes that he first learned Kennedy would challenge him when briefed in early 1978 by then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, now vice president. He also praises Biden as his "most effective supporter" in the 1976 presidential campaign.

After a 1979 meeting with Kennedy that included a discussion of health care, Carter wrote that it was almost impossible to understand what the senator was talking about but it was obvious their approaches differed

Sure, we're stating the obvious, but it's worth remembering that Tip O'Neill, Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy were members of the same political party. And, it's also worth remembering that the same Speaker O'Neill got along much better with Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan. Both were proud partisans who never asked for (nor gave) quarter in the political arena, but at 5 o'clock they could bury the hatchet, sit down for drinks in the White House residential quarters and swap stories--just a couple of Irish pols.

While Reagan and O'Neill had their battles, there is no record of the Speaker being "abusive" towards the Republican President during any of their meetings. Wonder why? Could it be that Tip O'Neill actually respected for Mr. Reagan, who he recognized as a leader of strength and character --a man who kept his word?

Besides, what President worth his salt lets a Speaker of the House, a member of his own party, "abuse" him in front of others, without so much as a peep. Maybe the same kind of chief executive whose term in office was defined by weakness and incompetence, at home and abroad.

Remember, it was those same "qualities" that helped convince Ted Kennedy that he could beat Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980. Readers will note that Mr. Carter claims he "couldn't understand" what the Senator was talking about during a 1979 meeting with the Senator; that appears to be a veiled reference to Mr. Kennedy's drinking problem. Nothing revelatory about that, just another gratuitous shot from Jimmy Carter.

Incidentally, President Carter also claims America could have implemented national health care during his administration, if only we had listened. Predictably, he doesn't bother to assess the impact of that scheme on a staggering economy. Remember, the misery index was created to measure the impact of the Carter economy, with double-digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates. At that juncture, national health care would have represented the final nail in our economic coffin.

And, if your mind isn't already reeling from Mr. Carter's revisionist tome, consider this anecdote: reflecting on the Iran Hostage Crisis, the former president observes that his rescue attempt "should have worked," except for a "strange series of mishaps, almost completely unpredictable."

Again, the words are Jimmy Carter's, not ours, and they are also illustrative. To be fair, mishaps in military operations cannot be fully anticipated, or accurately forecast. But the problems that led to the cancellation at Desert One can be traced (in part) to the man in the White House. The military budget was slashed under Mr. Carter, leaving the armed services with less capable equipment and fewer trained personnel.

The impact of the Carter cutbacks was readily evident in fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter units. Not only did experience levels decline (as trained pilots and aircrew members left the armed forces); maintenance crews had to frequently cannibalize parts to keep a small number of aircraft in the sky. Squadrons tapped for the rescue attempt had to overcome significant maintenance challenges just to get ready for the mission.

Against that backdrop, it's little wonder that three of the helicopters suffered maintenance problems that forced Carter to scrub the mission. The withdrawal became a debacle when a chopper collided with a C-130 in the Iranian Desert. Obviously, that failure cannot be directly blamed on Mr. Carter, but his defense and diplomatic policies clearly helped set the hostage crisis, and the aborted rescue mission.

Judging from the AP dispatch, President Carter has little to say about his own failures. That is unsurprising; Mr. Carter has been attempting to salvage his reputation for more than 30 years. So, it's little wonder his White House "diary" is anything but an honest examination of history--just another attempt to re-write it.


johnh said...

re: Remember, the misery index was created to measure the impact of the Carter economy, with double-digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates.

Heh! Actually, George, the story is even better than that! It was Carter who made the "misery index" an election year gimmick when he was running against Gerald Ford. When Carter was running against Ford the "misery index" peaked at 13.57%. By the end of Carter's first term he had run it up to 21.98%.

TOF said...

Shoulda deduced that a long time ago. Nothing has changed.

Corky Boyd said...

Carter's worst legacy was in not supporting the Shah or a pro-western alternative to Khomeini. Allowing a religious zealot to go unchallenged, especially when holding our diplomats hostage, was the height of naivete. To Carter the Ayatollah was a man of God, and should be trusted.

So we now have Iran run by an nutcase and about to posess nuclear weapons.

Carter was a bitter man when he lost overwhelmingly to Reagan. He as spent the last 30 years attempting to reshape his image. There simply aren't enough Habitat houses in the world to do that.