People hate Jimmy Carter.
Not the eyeball-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive dislike you might expect to find directed at a man that irritated you 30 years ago, but foaming-at-the-mouth, sputtering, viscous-dog-straining-at-the-limit-of-his-chain, carotid-artery-busting apoplexy. The kind of anger you would usually reserve for the person who is at this very instant shitting on your head or raping your cat.
I stumbled into this lake of bile in the comments section of a Reuters article detailing some unusually blunt rhetoric Carter directed at Dick Cheney in a BBC interview. I should have known better. Reading visitor comments rarely edifies, even when most of the participants are bright and perceptive enough to share my views, and I avoid reading them for the same reason I eschew man-on-the-street interviews on the local news. Because the man on the street is invariably an idiot.
So as my better judgment failed me and I naively allowed my eyes to drift towards the comments section, I knew some shrillness would be in the offing. But I was stunned to see just how much shrillness was being offed.
I expected comments to run about half and half between Carter/liberal haters and a choir of amens that seems to accompany any public figure critical of the Bush administration these days. The Reuters site is shared public space after all, attracting pie-eyed socialists, goose-stepping neo-fascists, and everyone in between. It is the virtual analog of the Department of Motor Vehicles–the place you will meet everyone that lives near you, regardless of their race, gender, affluence, or commitment to personal hygiene. But apparently I forgot to carry a zero when I did my calculations. Hardly one in twenty commenters had anything nice to say about the former President, and each member of this timid minority was swiftly disemboweled by the frothing mob.
What is it about Jimmy Carter that evokes such visceral disgust? As a people, we are renowned for responding to the personalities rather than the substance of our political leaders. Shouldn’t this work to Carter’s advantage? He is–at least in my childlike estimation–kind and decent. Yet he is assaulted for his rudeness towards Dick “Go fuck yourself” Cheney. He is a devout Christian–a Sunday school teacher for crying out loud–yet he is upbraided as an apostate. He has worked his whole life for peace, yet he is disdained for effeminacy and held responsible for not only the violence that occurred during his term of office, but for most of the violence that has occurred since. Several visitors even assigned blame for the Iraq war to Carter!
What gives? Let’s hear from some of our incisive commentators…
Posted by laoh0441
There are just two types of people that are likely to comment on the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Those that don’t believe he was absolutely the worst president in history, and those that were actually forced to endure the gas lines, 21% interest rates, wearing cardigan sweaters to stay warm in our homes and being held hostage by Islamo-fascist terrorists in Iran…
Laoh was not alone in tagging Carter with culpability for the numerous economic and foreign policy challenges of his presidency. I could summon a host of facts to debunk this assault, however doing so would require that I break a profuse intellectual sweat at a time when I am without a ready change of intellectual underwear. Suffice it to say that blaming Carter for oil prices, interest rates, and the blossoming of a popular revolution in Iran is like mailing someone a rubber chicken and then blaming them for not receiving a cupcake. In economic matters above all, a one-term president can do little more than reap what was sown by his predecessors or eat whatever wild bounty is furnished by the natural fortunes of drought and flood.
Other commenters lambasted Carter for breaking with the tradition in which former presidents refrain from criticizing their successors.
Posted by jdle0384
Carter needs to act like a real man and a real former president and SHUT THE HELL UP. Up until him there was a professional courtesy among presidents. But that’s too good for old Jimmy…
Touché. I will allow a point scored and an additional half point for the left handed swipe at Carter’s virility and the judicious use of CAPITAL LETTERS! It is a tad unseemly for a former president to call a sitting executive to task. In the Georgian’s defense however, I would argue that the tradition of restraint applies to disagreements regarding policy or management style, and that Dick Cheney’s penchant for wiping his ass with the Constitution falls outside those categories. Perhaps I am puritanical in this regard?
But neither Carter’s policies nor his post-presidential deportment are the source of the hatred he attracts. Rather, they are opportunities for his detractors to express a more fundamental anger. It is no coincidence that Jimmy Carter was the least presidential President of this century. He was elected because, at that unique moment in history, the electorate wanted a figure of the most human scale. A neighbor. A simple, honest farmer.
In our history, we have elected Presidents that are fatherly, or heroic, or powerful, or patrician. That in this instance we submitted willingly, eagerly to someone small is best rationalized as a reactionary act of self-abasement. Exhausted by more than a decade of inconclusive war in Asia, weighed down by economic malaise, repulsed by the small-time criminal antics of Nixon and his cohorts, America was ready to do penance. I’m not saying we willingly performed a rite of contrition; the word “sorry” does not appear in the American lexicon. Rather, we subjected ourselves to the rule of the meek in a subconscious act of self-flagellation. It was absolution via masochism.
And like an arrogant prom queen who, in a fleeting moment of weakness, sleeps with the school’s biggest loser, we despised ourselves in the morning. And we unburden ourselves of that self-loathing by heaping abuse upon that poor, geeky, acne-ridden kid into whose arms we so willingly fell. Jimmy Carter became our secret shame. What if we are meek, indecisive, vulnerable, credulous and softhearted like Jimmy?
If only we could find a President who is overbearing, infallible, callous, cynical and cruel. Then we’d never have to be ashamed again.