[Co-written with James Boyce, originally at Huffington Post]
Jimmy Carter is not remembered as a great President. Most folks might even consider him a failure, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia. But why exactly do we hold one of the two Democratic Presidents of the last 38 years in such low esteem?
Isn’t this the man that held the country together in the years after Watergate? Didn’t he bring decency and honesty back to The White House?
Isn’t it a great American success story for a man to come from such humble beginnings, serve in defense of his country and then ascend to the highest office?
Isn’t it remarkable that back in 1979 he declared “The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.” Isn’t that leadership and vision?
Yes. But it was legacy destroying as well. Our memories of Jimmy Carter are memories laced with the poison of a right wing smear campaign because when Jimmy Carter encouraged us to face the facts of the energy crisis, he faced off against the Oil Companies and as the decades passed, it has become sadly clear that the nuclear physicist Naval Officer peanut farmer came out the worse for it. He was portrayed as naive and as a simpleton. He was routinely mocked. A good man’s legacy was taken down.
What some would view as terrific achievements, such as reducing America’s oil imports by 1.8 million barrels a day or getting the Crude Oil Windfall Profits tax passed to help fund his energy policies (Any spare copies of that bill around by any chance?) others viewed as terrific challenges to their businesses.
According to AmericanPresident.org, a “comprehensive non-partisan resource available on the history and function of the American presidency,” Carter accomplished a great deal as President, particularly his energy packages, but:
“Carter gained a reputation for political ineptitude, even though his actual record in dealing with Congress belied that image. His success rate in getting presidential initiatives through Congress was much higher than that of his predecessors Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and successors Reagan and Bush. One might expect a president with a majority in Congress to do better than presidents facing the opposition party majorities. But Carter was also close to Johnson’s success rates, and higher than Kennedy’s record. Carter did not like to bargain and remained arrogant and aloof, but at the end of the day, he usually wound up with much of what he sought from Congress. His major problem was that the perception of his leadership did not correspond with the reality of his performance.”
Let’s repeat that: “the perception of his leadership did not correspond with the reality of his performance.” Millions of dollars of smears and attacks will do that to a man. We see the same happening to others, over and over again, to this day. Ask Michael Dukakis or Al Gore or John Kerry or any of the multitude of victims of the right’s $mear machine.
We know now that companies like ExxonMobil have created what investigative author George Monboit has called The Denial Industry, consisting of PR attack firms, phony grassroots “astroturf” organizations, think tanks, political front groups and others, all well-paid to confuse the public over the facts of global warming. According to Monboit,
“By funding a large number of organisations, Exxon helps to create the impression that doubt about climate change is widespread. For those who do not understand that scientific findings cannot be trusted if they have not appeared in peer-reviewed journals, the names of these institutes help to suggest that serious researchers are challenging the consensus.”
We can see all around us the effect of this kind of operation and the tragic consequences of the resulting delay in dealing with problems like global warming. We can see the effect of similar operations on our health care policies, our disappearing pensions, our low minimum wage, our campaign finance system, our reduced job security and so many other areas.
With this in mind the question has to be asked: Does our negative perception of Jimmy Carter come from the same kind of corporate-sponsored manipulative operation? Does it come from the same kind of smear operation as the one that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the “swiftboating” of John Kerry? Was our preception of Carter formed by an attack campaign from the then-newly-forming web of right-wing “conservative movement” organizations funded by extremely wealthy individuals, corporations and foundations?
Jimmy Carter has spent his years since The White House as admirably as any former President. He’s focused on hunger and poverty and promoting democracy around the world. He spent years far from the public view.
But now, Jimmy Carter has again been doing interviews and press. Now, at age eighty-two, he seems to have been moving towards a respected elder statesmen role.
So just this week, an anonymous caller called into a C-SPAN interview and ranted at Jimmy Carter, calling him “a bigot, and a racist and an anti-Semite.” The caller continued, accusing Carter of “cozying up with every dictator, thug, Islamic terrorist there is.”
The rantings of a lunatic who made it through the pre-call screening somehow right? Time to check the systems and make sure it never happens again? No. This was the result of a coordinated smear where the charges of Jimmy Carter being an “anti-Semite” echoed through the right wing blogs and straight to Drudge Report.
This attack was amplified by numerous current right-wing online attacks on Carter at sites such as www.frontpagemag.com. From the right came a wave of attacks, Carter’s been “trying to (expletive) the Jews.” He’s friends with terrorists. He’s this and this and isn’t it a little pathetic?
Not to the far right. Not to those who have spent forty years developing a machine that sells us the myth of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and Rudy Guiliani while giving us the smearing of Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry.
No, even if Jimmy Carter is eighty-two years old, a dedicated public servant and American hero in the twilight of his career, if people are actually listening and liking what they hear, it’s time to smear.