Jimmy Carter: Nice Guy or Sly Devil?

This is inspired by a thread about the so-called “October Surprise” theory.

In that thread, it was suggested that Jimmy Carter defeated Teddy Kennedy in the 1979 primaries by leaking false information that the Iran hostages were just about to be released.

Now, I’d always heard that Jimmy was a nice guy who would never stoop to dishonest tactics, and that in fact his niceness was a serious handicap.

On the other hand, my observations in the 80s and 90s suggest that you have to be pretty sneaky to get to be U.S. President.

Were the 70s a kindler, gentler era? Did Jimmy study his copy of “The Prince” when nobody was looking?

No, the '70’s weren’t in general a nicer era. (Remember Richard Nixon?) Jimmy Carter was a nicer person than most Presidents though. You can argue about whether he was a good President, but he was a decent human being.

I’d have to go with nice guy, probably one of the reasons he wasn’t such a hot president-he was too honest a person.

Say what you want, but the guy did have character.


Read you history a little more closely, folks.

“October Surprise” relates to the accusations that the Reagan-Bush campaign did what it could to sabotage Carter’s efforts to free the hostages in Iran and delay the release until such time as Reagan could claim credit.

It has absolutely nothing to do with Carter trying to scuttle a challenge from Kennedy; Carter, as the incumbant president, already had the nomination.

Jesus H. Were you guys sleeping during your U.S. history class?

JonScribe writes:

> Jesus H. Were you guys sleeping during your U.S. history
> class?

What do you mean, you guys? Please note that only lucwarm even mentioned the theory that Carter released information that wasn’t true, and it’s not clear to me that he actually believes this theory. Guinastasia and I were only talking about the question of whether Carter was a nice guy. In any case, I was in my twenties during Carter’s Presidency, so I could hardly read about it in history class.

Jon, the reason October Surprise was mentioned is that there is a thread about it-Did Reagan engineer the release of the hostages-that discusses the so-called October Surprise. THAT thread inspired the OP to make a thread about Jimmy Carter, and whether or not he was a good guy.

And in my opinion, he was. I have tremendous respect for him and for Rosalyn. I think the reason he wasn’t such a good president is that he was too nice, too decent and too honest.

Sad, isn’t it?

Carter did seem like a nice man, but he was rather jealous of other leading Democrats of his era…calling Vice-President Humphrey “Hubert Horatio Hornblower” during his 1980 nomination acceptance speech seemed to me like veiled venom rather than mis-speaking…unlike several later Presidents, no one accused Jimmy of being a moron.

And he positively LOATHED Ted Kennedy. Not without reason…remember Teddy calling for the 1980 convention to be an “open” con? And Carter had to make concessions to Kennedy on the party platform, which sure didn’t hurt Reagan. And Kennedy’s convention speech was generally regarded as a barn-burner, while Carter’s was tepid. And remember “I’ll whip his ass?”

Whatever else you can say about Jimmy, he had one of the best ‘presidential brothers’ in history.

In light of Carter’s activities since leaving office, I’d say he’s a decent guy, and a committed public servant.

The Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting international peace. Carter still travels to promote human rights and negotiation through this agency, and lends his presence to monitor fair democratic elections in other countries.

He also has been a vocal proponent of Habitat For Humanity.

In his late 70’s, he could easily retire and hit the golf course during his sunset years, but chooses to work for the public good. I really admire that.

I remember reading an article about Carter…wait…I think I have it…
Ah…here it is…People 25th anniversary

He used to go door to door for HFH, he would knock on the door, someone would open it, and slam the door in his face, only to open it up a few minutes later and say, “Mr. President, what can I do for you?” And the room would reek of pot.

It seems in 1999, he was still teaching Sunday School, and still actually helping to build the houses-pounding nails and holding boards.

Since I seem to be the one who inspired this thread, I’ll offer an opinion.

On the whole, I think Jimmy Carter is an extremely intelligent and highly decent man, one I’d be delighted to have for a next-door neighbor. As I’ve noted on these boards before, there’s some small irony in the fact that Christian conservatives who champion “family values” invariably voted for Ronald Reagan (who was divorced, never went to church, and is estranged from most of his family) rather than Carter (who’s a pillar of his church, and has been a devoted husband and family man for 50 years or so).

However, I wouldn’t vote for him for dog catcher. That’s largely because he and I are diametrically opposed on every issue that matters. But it’s also because the guy has MAJOR streak of meanness and pomposity, and has always seemed convinced that he’s smarter and holier than anyone who disagrees with him.

As a right-winger, I was HAPPY to see Carter “whup Ted Kennedy’s ass.” The fact remains, however, that Carter USED the hostage situation to bolster his own position. His “Rose Garden strategy” allowed him to manipulate the hostage crisis to bolster his own candidacy whenever things weren’t going well in the primaries.

Does that make him evil? Nah. It just makes him a politician.

I admittedly know very little of American politics. I like it that way.
Come on, though. Look at the guy! Habitat for Humanity and various other worthy causes? One more vote for decent all around guy.

Bill Maher’s best joke:

Jimmy Carter was a nice man, but there’s a difference between a nice guy and a great man.

For example, General George S. Patton was a great man.

Dick VAN Patton was a nice guy.

But you wouldn’t send him to whup the Germans.

Sorry, the joke loses something without the verbal delivery.

Victor Lasky wrote a book on this subject you might find interesting called “Jimmy Carter: The Man and the Myth”:

It’s out of print, but I bet you can find it in a library somewhere.

In it among other things, he implies that Carter had a dubious record on civil rights, being from Georgia and all. It is important to keep in mind that he wrote similar books about JFK and RFK, and Lasky seems to make liberal icons the target of his barbs.

I have read in more than one place that Carter had a mean streak in him, if you were on his shit list, look out.

As President, I think Carter was one of the worst. That said, his contributions to Habitat for Humanity and his efforts as an ambassador-at-large for the U.S. in international diplomacy over the past 20 years will rehabiltate his place in history as true humanitarian and peacemaker.

I think Uke already mentioned how Carter secured the '80 nomination. He refused to release the delegates pledged to vote for him at the convention, despite a tangible downturn in his popularity by the time the convention rolled around.

Releasing the delegates would have turned the convention into the sort of circus that the primary system seeks to avoid. Carter no doubt saw this, and the fact that he had a lock on the nomination, and said, “screw you, Ted.” I think virtually anyone in the same position would have done the same.

Sofa and Uke, Carter had already won the nomination in '80 in the primaries. It was Kennedy who refused to release his delegates, for a reason he never made convincingly clear (allowing pure ego gratification to be and to remain the default public interpretation). Kennedy also, tellingly, did not ask them in his own speech to work for his party’s nominee (an incumbent President, at that), in what was at least an expression of poor manners, and at worst permanently damaged his own party. Remember that Carter was under no obligation to give Kennedy a prime-time speaking slot at all, but did so in the hope that there would be some unification and reconciliation coming out of it.

What happened therefore wasn’t Carter saying “Screw you, Ted”; it was Kennedy saying “Screw you, Jimmy.”

That said, I’ll jump on the bandwagon that says Carter was too fundamentally decent a person to have been an effective President (and that’s different from just being unwilling to get his hands dirty, as is my view of Bill Bradley). OK, he may have been a little too priggish for my tastes, too, but so what? I don’t think he was quite as naive as some believe, but he wasn’t able to be the cynical manipulator that a chief executive must sometimes be.

In any other year than 1976, or perhaps 1928 or 1880, with the electorate seeing its duty as cleaning up a toxic waste dump in the White House, he’d have had no chance at election instead of looking like a savior. As it is, I suspect he’s content to be thought of as “one of America’s greatest ex-Presidents”, as I’ve heard him called.

Oh, lest we forget, Kennedy’s attempted sabotage of President Carter’s election in 1980 might well have been inspired by Reagan’s similar sabotage of President Ford four years earlier. Recall that Reagan took his prime-time speech to rally his own base for a 1980 run, and pointedly did NOT ask them to support Ford.

Reagan’s act, both contemptuous and contemptible as was Kennedy’s, was at least understandable as part of a long-term strategy, though. Getting the GOP primed for a conservative takeover would have required discrediting the then-controlling moderates first, and Ford was an obstacle to that happening. Not that the Reaganauts would have ever admitted that, though - they didn’t explain their actions any more than Kennedy did.

Carter’s nice-guy personality wasn’t what made him a bad president. The state of the ecomony at the time certainly didn’t help matters any, and whole Iran thing was a thorn in the side of the Executive office.

However, the main thing that killed Carter was his insistance on maintaining the “Washington Outsider” role that he ran on during his campaign. He had that wholesome, down-home, personality that didn’t cotton to the citified, old boy network, and crooked politicians of D.C. While it might be fine to ride that train on the campaign trail, the reality is that after the inauguration, the President MUST play ball with those Washington insiders. The President MUST attach himself to the old boy network. The President MUST play politics. After all, he IS a politician.

Carter didn’t do this. He and his cabinet built a wall between them and most of Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. Bad move. Support was hard to come by. Opposition was plentiful.

Bye-bye Jimmy.

Carter was a highly intelligent, deeply honorable man, as well as one of the worst Presidents in history.

He did not fail because he was too decent. He failed because he ran on a platform that claimed that a complete lack of experience was what qualified him for the job as President, against an opponent who self-destructed on Poland.

He thought being President was going to be like being governor of Georgia, only more so. Remember him taking a speed reading course so he could read every word of every bill he signed? He wound up getting bogged down in stuff like designing the uniforms of the White House doorman and filling out the schedules for the tennis courts.

Then he was going to solve the energy crisis by going on TV in a sweater and scolding the American public for its malaise. It was the “moral equivalent of war” - aka MEOW.

He was one of those people Joseph Heller referred to as having “lots of intelligence but absolutely no brains”.

He once said he and Rosalyn (the original Iron Magnolia) nearly divorced while he was writing his book about being President because they argued about what to say. P.J. O’Rourke said his favorite line from the Carter book was from Rosalyn - “I became aware of the need we had to help the mentally handicapped while I was helping Jimmy in his run for governor.”

And Carter promised to serve out his term as governor and not run for President, too - oops.

Poor guy - he is never going to get that Nobel Peace Prize he lobbied so hard for, either.

A sweet, sweet guy - but not a clue in the world as to how the big boys play.


What got Carter elected is eventually what killed him. Americans were disgusted with Watergate, and Carter told the American people “I will never lie to you” and the people bought into it and that, among other things, got Jimmah elected.

Unfortunately for Jimmah, while many Americans were ready for new leadership, they also were sick of crime and taxes and America getting bullied by OPEC and the Soviets. Many Americans were also sick of the 70s “I’m okay your okay” mentality, and Ronald Reagan represented that backlash.

As for the economy, I think there’s only so much a President can and should do, but inflation and high gas prices seemed to be just spinning out of control, and as Truman said, “The buck stops here.”

In terms of foreign policy, Carter was a bonafide disaster. He cut off aid to long time allies because of human rights violations. While universal human rights should always be a pillar of American foreign policy, the correct way to pursue this is by being loyal to our allies AND encouraging them to do better. It’s not a perfect world.

The message that this sent to third world dictators who sided with the U.S. against communism was that they could no longer rely on us for help, and perhaps they should look to Moscow for new friendship lest a Marxist coup overthrows them.

The most notorious example of Carter’s failed international relations directive was in Iran. Carter turned his back on the Shah, a long time U.S. ally who shared a border with our arch-enemy, the USSR, and also a powerful force against the tide of anti-U.S. Muslim fundamentalist sentiment in the Middle East. This allowed the Khomeini regime to step in and overthrow him, take our people hostages and put the final nail in the coffin of the Carter administration with the embarrassing 400+ day standoff.
I do admire Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages, and cite this as yet more bad luck (my father hated Cater, but actually felt bad for the guy when the mission crashed in the desert). Nonetheless Carter put human concerns above real politick. We lost a valuable ally in the middle east who was replaced by an even more cruel regime, and one that has not only helped fuel more widespread anti-U.S. radical Muslim fundamentalism, but that has also supported terrorist groups in attacks on Americans. Also, because of Carter foolhardy vision, America faces the very real threat of a radical zealot theocracy that could one day launch a nuclear weapon at the United States or one of it’s allies.
You know, looking back, I do think the guy’s heart was in the right place, and a streak of bad luck really did hurt his Presidency. But when you combine bad luck with bad decisions, it spells disaster.