Monday, September 21, 2009

Jimmy Carter -- how I hate thee!

A couple of days ago I posted a Facebook status update saying: "Max Gross wishes Jimmy Carter would get the memo. You know -- the one that says that he's a liability to the Democratic Party and nobody likes him."

This was something I assumed that my friends recognized as true. I thought most people recognized him as the crazy uncle in the basement -- pay him no mind. But as it turns out, before the day was out I had messages from friends defending Carter as a great "statesman" who worked "tirelessly" to bring peace to the Middle East and alleviate poverty.

People, people, people... Get a grip!

For the moment, let's forget the fact that Jimmy Carter was a terrible president. Let's also forget that his recent jihad against Israel has been grossly one-sided and demagogic. (For a wonderful take on Jimmy Carter's stumbling first two years in office, look at James Fallows' article in The Atlantic "The Passionless Presidency" written thirty years ago. As for takedowns on Carter's book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief does an admirable job.)

But for the sake of argument, let's stick to the current issue at hand.

In case you missed it, the 39th president said that congressman Joe Wilson's "You Lie!" incident was based on racism. He then went on to opine that his fellow Southerners were still not comfortable with the Obama presidency because Obama is black.

Do I think there's some truth to this? Well, sure. But it was nevertheless an extraordinarily dumb thing for a former President to say.

Yes, yes, yes... I'm pretty firmly convinced that all the controversy about the President's birth certificate is rooted in racism. What white candidate has ever been challenged on such nonsense? (Heck, John McCain actually was born in a foreign country -- an army base in the Panama Canal Zone -- and nobody seems to give a shit.)

Moreover, plenty of the Glenn Beck dittoheads who showed up at the 9/12 rally in Washington last weekend were pretty comfortable with their racism. (More than one person held up a sign saying, "The zoo has an African lion, and the White House has a lyin' African" -- nary a glimmer of shame about them.)

But to say that every person who showed up at the 9/12 rally is a racist is ludicrous.

There are plenty of reasons one could hate Obama that have nothing to do with his skin color. He is enacting the most ambitious liberal agenda since the Great Society (maybe since the New Deal). If I were a Republican, I'm sure I'd hate him, too.

And Barack Obama is hardly the only Democrat who has received such unhinged treatment. Bill Clinton was accused of far more deranged, criminal -- and just plain loony -- things than Obama has been accused of. In addition to the completely baseless Whitewater investigation (which consumed tens of thousands of man-hours and tens of millions of dollars) Clinton was accused of being a rapist (including of his wife!) and the murderer of Vince Foster.

The thing to take away from that, I think, is that the right wing is equal-opportunity crazy. (And, for the record, the far left is, too. How many Hitler mustaches appeared on George Bush's lip during the 2002/2003 antiwar rallies?)

But here's what Jimmy Carter did:

He changed the debate from healthcare (which Obama was just starting to do better on) to race (which is not the thing that Democrats should be talking about right now).

If I were a Republican nothing would delight me more than a phony charge of racism. "Racism?" I would say. "The President is enacting a program that will change 17% of the U.S. economy and cost a trillion dollars... and I'm not allowed to ask questions? I'm a racist for questioning him? What the hell kind of charge is that?"

And they'd be partially right.

Moreover, given just how fraught the debate has been over healthcare, accusing the enemies of reform of being racist is one way to make them even crazier and angrier -- not less so. That was the great trick in Obama's speech before Congress: When he comes out seeming so sensible and nice, it calms everybody down. When Joe Wilson can't control himself and screams that the president is a liar, it makes the right wing look like the party of kooks.

And Jimmy Carter just made the Obama supporters also look like kooks.

I stand by my FB assessment.