Tag Archives: Jimmy Carter

Study your history, Sen. Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio needs a refresher course on 20th-century American history.

The Florida Republican — quite naturally — was critical the other day of President Obama’s decision to begin normalization of relations with Cuba, a nation with which we’ve had zero diplomatic contact for the past five decades.

Rubio ventured into Fox News Channel’s right-wing echo chamber and declared that Obama is the “worst negotiator since Jimmy Carter.”

I heard that and thought, “What in the world is that young man saying?” Chris Matthews noted correctly that Rubio was 7 years of age when President Carter worked some diplomatic magic.

Worst negotiator, eh?

To the young senator, here’s a bit of history for you to ponder.

President Carter summoned two enemy heads of government to the White House in 1978. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to hammer out a historic peace treaty between the ancient enemies.

They went to Camp David, took off their jackets and ties and worked day and night to agree to a peace treaty. Carter reportedly got along much better with Sadat than he did with Begin. Sadat and Begin couldn’t find their way past their ancient differences, dealing mostly with how their people could live together in places like Gaza.

Finally, after several days in the Maryland mountains, Carter got the two men together and the three of them agreed on a peace treaty that holds up today, nearly four decades later. It’s now known as the Camp David Accords.

The deal ended up costing Sadat his life when Muslim extremists assassinated him during a parade. An Israeli extremist would kill Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for hammering out a peace deal with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.

For the young Florida Republican senator to suggest Jimmy Carter is a terrible presidential “negotiator” is to ignore the historical record.

Hit the books, senator, before popping off.


Looking peachy for Democrats in Georgia?

So many interesting political races around the country … it’s difficult to focus on just one.

Let’s look briefly at Georgia.

Democrats think they have a chance of recapturing a U.S. Senate seat and the governorship there. How? With two familiar names running in that state.

One of them is Michelle Nunn, candidate for the U.S. Senate, and daughter of the great former Sen. Sam Nunn; the other is Jason Carter, grandson of the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter.


According to Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, Nunn and Carter are running ahead of their Republican opponents, David Perdue and Nathan Deal, respectively.

Can they turn the tide? Well, time will tell.

Neither Nunn or Carter represents what conservatives are fond of calling the “radical left” of the Democratic Party. If Nunn is anything like Daddy Sam, she would be able to work nicely across the aisle with Senate Republicans, provided they are willing to reciprocate. Indeed, Michelle Nunn was a soldier in President George H.W. Bush’s “Points of Light” program.

As for young Carter, who’s running for governor against a wounded incumbent, he too represents a more centrist core of his party. Grandpa Jimmy, one must remember, was elected in 1976 partly on the strength of his appeal to middle America. He lost re-election, of course, to Ronald Reagan in 1980 after the economy tanked and after suffering through that 444-day hostage siege at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Jason, though, is no flaming liberal that is such a popular target for right-wing Republicans.

The Georgia political landscape might be ripe for a change. Carter vs. Deal is going to feature some discussion about the governor’s business dealings, which have caused him some grief at home.

As for the Senate race, the GOP might rally from its bitter primary runoff between Perdue and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. I’ll say this, though, about Nunn: She comes from a conservative pedigree herself. No one ever accused Sam Nunn of being soft on defense — or soft on anything or anybody, for that matter.

Like father, like daughter? Democrats hope so.

Tax cut … with no spending offsets?

I’ll have to admit that I’m a little slow on the uptake at times.

Folks have to explain some things to me on occasion to help me make sense of trends and decisions.

This decision by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives falls into that head-scratching category.


The House has approved a $287 billion business tax cut. It hasn’t included any spending offsets to pay for it. Speaker John Boehner boasts that the House is working to create jobs. Maybe it will. Then again, maybe those businesses benefiting from the tax cuts will take that money straight to the bottom line. That’s been happening quite a bit lately, you know?

What’s got me puzzled is why the House GOP keeps insisting on spending offsets whenever the Obama administration proposes job creation ideas. Infrastructure spending? Can’t afford it unless we cut spending in other places.

Another thing needs noting. The deficit is coming down in rather dramatic fashion. A tax cut of the size just approved by the House is going to blow up the deficit yet again.

My memory isn’t perfect, but I do remember a time when Republicans belonged to the party of “fiscal responsibility.” They loathed deficits, while Democrats blew them off. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 partly because President Carter and Congress ran deficits of a whopping $40 billion annually; there was some other stuff also that contributed to Carter’s defeat.

Memory also reminds me of how quick congressional Republicans were to share in the credit for the balanced budget and the surpluses run up during the final years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. They made sure we all knew that their spending restraints were more responsible for the surplus than the modest tax increases proposed by the president — and, oh yes, approved by Congress.

The new age of Republicanism, though, sees the party in control of one half of one branch of government talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Spending offsets only count when the other guys want to do something. Tax cuts for business? Who cares?

In the meantime, President Obama is asking for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to help deal with that crisis along our southern border. The GOP response? It costs too much money.

Go figure.

Third time a charm for Mitt?

The political chattering class is clattering these days about a possible Mitt Romney run for the presidency — again.

The more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

History might be on Mitt’s side.

I think I’ll refer, incidentally, to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee by his first name from now on, given the media’s insistence on referring to the presumed Democratic frontrunner as Hillary.


Mitt captured nearly 61 million votes in 2012, the highest total ever for a losing presidential candidate. He cut into President Obama’s electoral vote count from four years earlier. He had a serious chance to win the White House two years ago, but then stumbled badly when he was overheard talking about that dreaded “47 percent” of the population who’ll vote for Democrats no matter what, as they depend on government to do everything for them.

Some other stuff got in the way, too, such as Hurricane Sandy — which provided Barack Obama a chance to do some highly visible presidential things, such as go to New Jersey and put his arm around Gov. Chris Christie while promising all kinds of federal assistance.

History may foretell another Mitt candidacy.

Richard Nixon lost narrowly to John Kennedy in 1960; two years later he got thumped in the race for California governor and declared the media wouldn’t have “Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” He came back to win the White House in 1968, got re-elected in a landslide in ’72 and, then, well, resigned because of that scandal called Watergate.

Ronald Reagan became president on his third try. He threw his hat into the ring at the 1968 GOP convention. He then challenged President Ford in 1976 and nearly took the nomination away from him. He came back in 1980 to be nominated and then went on to defeat President Carter in a blowout.

Republicans seem willing to give their show horses second and third chances.

Mitt’s capable of running a stellar campaign. He’s got the pedigree, the money and now the experience. He lost the GOP nomination in 2008, won it against a field of Republican weirdos — e.g., Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain, to name just two of them — in ’12.

The 2016 field might not be so tough to conquer if he were to try one more time. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie? They all have soft spots in their armor.

Bring on Hillary vs. Mitt in 2016!

LBJ legacy shines brightly

Fifty years ago this week, a long, tall Texan who was new in his job as president of the United States, signed a landmark bill into law that changed the face of the nation — and changed the political landscape in this country.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It guaranteed the rights of all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.


He had become president under grievous conditions just six months earlier. President John F. Kennedy’s murder was still fresh in our minds and our broken hearts. The new man in the Oval Office took office and took charge of JFK’s unfinished legislative agenda, which included the Civil Rights Act.

It took a master legislator such as LBJ to finish the job. Prior to becoming vice president, Sen. Lyndon Johnson served as majority leader and had built a reputation as, shall we say, a supreme negotiator. He was unafraid to lay his hands on fellow senators to persuade them to vote his way … or else.

He took that skill to the presidency. Meanwhile, he had to persuade southern Democrats who weren’t as keen on the Civil Rights Act as many northern Republicans. LBJ did the deed and was told by one of his best Senate friends, arch-segregationist Richard Russell, D-Ga., that the bill would “cost us the South.”

Johnson perhaps knew what the political stakes were at the time he signed the bill, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

He put his name to it.

The LBJ Library in Austin this week is honoring the late president’s achievement. Four of his presidential successors — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — will be on hand in Austin to speak to the greatness of the Civil Rights Act.

What’s more, the Johnson family along with the library administration, are working overtime to burnish LBJ’s legacy to include far more than the tragedy and heartache of the Vietnam War.

Let’s hope they succeed. Lyndon Baines Johnson deserves high praise for enacting this law.

Carter surprises on 'Meet the Press'

Former President Jimmy Carter amazes me.

He’s 89 years young. His voice is still strong. His mind is still sharp. He apparently can still pound a nail with a hammer while building houses for Habitat for Humanity. He also surprises folks with candid answers to difficult questions.

He did so twice today on a “Meet the Press” interview with NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell.


First, he said he fears the National Security Agency is monitoring his e-mails. So, when he corresponds with foreign leaders, he does so the old-fashioned way: He writes notes with pen and paper and mails them via the Postal Service. He is concerned about people’s privacy being harmed by NSA snooping.

Frankly, I believe the former president — being who he is and the job he once held — might have reason to be concerned far more than, say, yours truly or almost any other of the 300 million American citizens.

The second thing he told Mitchell was surprising, and disappointing. Does President Obama consult with the 39th president on foreign policy matters? Mitchell asked. Carter said no.

He noted that other men who succeeded him as president — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — all have sought his counsel over the years during difficult crises. Barack Obama hasn’t done so.

It’s disappointing to learn that about Obama. It’s not entirely surprising, given what some of his critics have said about his go-it-alone strategy in thinking through some stressful problems. Others in Washington have noted that President Obama doesn’t prefer to dicker and negotiate with legislators and that, too, is in keeping with what President Carter said in the interview broadcast Sunday.

The ex-presidents’ club is one of the most exclusive “organizations” in the world. So few of them are alive at any given time. In Barack Obama’s case, he’s got four of them with whom he can consult. Few men have made decisions as monumental as these men have made and their counsel should be welcome.

I have no knowledge, of course, about who the president calls when the going gets tough. It does sadden me to learn he hasn’t bothered to call one of them with a good bit of knowledge and life experience upon which to lean.

Political foes can become friends

These kinds of stories give me hope that all may not be lost in U.S. politics.

Former first lady Barbara Bush says she “loves Bill Clinton.” She might not agree with him politically, but she is truly fond of the 42nd president of the United States, who in 1992 defeated the 41st president — Barbara’s husband, George.


Democrat President Harry Truman detested his successor, Republican Dwight Eisenhower. They reportedly grew closer as the nation mourned the assassination of Ike’s successor, John F. Kennedy.

GOP President Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter waged a fierce campaign in 1976. Carter won, but the new president and his immediate predecessor forged a warm friendship that lasted until Ford’s death.

Carter never developed that kind of relationship with Ronald Reagan, who beat him in 1980, nor did Reagan form a bond with Walter Mondale, whom he clobbered four years later in a landslide re-election.

George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s friendship seems to be real. Mrs. Bush talks about her husband becoming the father Clinton never had. She says President Clinton visits the Bushes annually. “We don’t talk politics,” Mrs. Bush says.

You hear about these kind of inter-party friendships from time to time. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had a warm friendship with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. Talk about coming from differing ideologies, parties, lifestyles, cultures … you name it. Yet they were big-time pals.

One of President Barack Obama’s closest friends in the Senate today is Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. You can list all the differences there, too, and wonder how these men — and their wives — have become so close.

Too little of this kind of camaraderie exists today, with partisans on either side viewing the other guy as the enemy, rather than just a political adversary.

Take a lesson, folks? Given the nastiness of the campaign her husband waged against Bill Clinton, there’s reason to believe you can make nice with your foes.

One word of advice, however: Don’t ask the 41st president his feelings about H. Ross Perot, the third man in that 1992 campaign. His feelings for the Texas billionaire aren’t nearly so magnanimous.

Mandela was no pork-barrel politician

They’re burying Nelson Mandela today in his hometown of Qunu, in a remote eastern region of South Africa.

Indeed, the remoteness of the great man’s home brings me to an interesting point. Listening to NPR on Friday, I heard something that caught me by surprise. A Qunu villager actually was critical of Mandela for — are you ready for this? — failing to bring more modernity and infrastructure to his hometown.

The news report detailed how much hassle it would be for Qunu to prepare for this event that is drawing worldwide attention. The village lacks many modern amenities. Roads are unpaved. There’s virtually no lodging available for visiting dignitaries. Qunu lacks much of the sewage and fresh water infrastructure that is needed to accommodate the visitors.

The individual being interviewed wondered why “Madiba,” as Mandela is called, would have neglected his hometown while basking in the glory of international acclaim and reverence.

Interesting, I thought.

I’ve tried to ponder the implications of that criticism.

Imagine, then, this scenario playing out. Suppose Barack Obama would steer road and bridge development to his south Chicago neighborhood, or perhaps to Hawaii, the state of birth. Imagine if you will George W. Bush directing federal money to Crawford, Texas, where he vacationed often while he was president and where he has a small ranch; Crawford could use some highway improvements, too. What if Bill Clinton had done the same for his hometown of Hope, Ark., or George H.W. Bush done so for Houston (which doesn’t need as much federal help as many small towns in America)? Hey, Ronald Reagan came from a small town in Illinois, Dixon. Couldn’t that town have used a little presidential push to build infrastructure? Same for Plains, Ga., Jimmy Carter’s hometown.

Any of those men would have been accused of promoting pork-barrel politics above the national interest.

Might that have been the case for Nelson Mandela, who presided for a single term — from 1994 to 1999 — over what’s been called a “developing country”? Its gross domestic product goes only so far and it well might have raised more than a few eyebrows if Qunu had received money that could have been spent in other struggling villages.

Mandela will be buried today. The town will erect a suitable monument to its iconic son.

My hunch is that Nelson Mandela eventually will bring much in the form of tourist money to Qunu now that he’s gone.

His greatness lives on.

U.S.-Iran breakthrough, or breakdown?

President Obama made a historic phone call today.

He telephoned Hasan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two men chatted for about 15 minutes, after which President Obama informed the world that he believes a deal to derail any Iranian effort to build a nuclear weapon could be struck.


Some folks are hailing the phone call as a thawing of a 34-year-old freeze between the two nations. The last phone call between U.S. and Iranian heads of state occurred in 1979 when Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. It all went to hell later that year when Iranian “students” stormed our embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for 444 days.

Rouhani is sounding as though he wants to normalize relations with the United States and rejoin the world community. He’s launched something of a charm offensive of late, talking to a U.S. news network and speaking calmly at the United Nations. I am not totally comfortable plunging ahead with such an effort. I hope Barack Obama retains a degree of skepticism and moves very carefully.

We need to remember that for decades Iran has declared virtual war against the “Great Satan,” meaning the United States. It has declared its intention to wipe Israel off the face of the planet. It has supplied arms and other know-how to international terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida. It arms the Syrian dictator in his war against rebels. It has cozied up to Hezbollah and Hamas, two sworn enemies of Israel. The incendiary statements of Rouhani’s immediate predecessor as president also should not be dismissed and tossed aside.

A single phone call shouldn’t signal a “thaw.” It well might mean that it’s time to turn the temperature up just a bit to begin the thawing of relations.

But just as the late President Ronald Reagan said of Soviet strongman Mikhail Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify,” it is good to seek multiple verifications of any statement that comes from an Iranian president that might signal a new era in relations between two longtime enemies.

Here’s hoping today’s phone call has opened the door to that new era.

GOP sets new impeachment standard

I have concluded something sad about today’s Republican Party: It has reset the standard for impeaching the president of the United States.

Some GOP members of Congress are so intent on impeaching President Obama that at least one of them admits to having dreams about it. For what reason? What precisely are the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the president committed that warrant such a drastic act? They aren’t saying.


Suffice to say that it appears — to me, at least — that Republicans, led by the tea party wing of their party, have decided impeachment is one way to get rid of a guy they dislike, whose policies they detest.

It has gotten me to thinking about whether this new standard would have come into play during previous recent administrations. Was it plausible, therefore, to impeach:

* President Ford, for issuing a summary pardon to his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for any crimes he might have committed against the nation?

* President Carter, on whose watch the Iranian hostage rescue mission went so horribly wrong, causing the president and his national security team tremendous heartache?

* President Reagan, who misled the nation during the Iran-Contra crisis, which resulted in arms sales to the Contras in Central America while negotiations were underway with the rogue Iranian government that was holding seven American hostages?

* President George H.W. Bush, who promised never to raise taxes as long as he was president, and who then reneged on that solemn pledge?

* President George W. Bush, whose national security team — along with much of the rest of the world — sold Americans a bill of goods that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had a huge cache of chemical weapons? Turns out, after we invaded Iraq in March 2003, there were no such weapons — anywhere.

The answer to all of those, of course, is “no.”

You’ll notice, naturally, that I didn’t include President Clinton in that roster of past leaders. The House did impeach Clinton … for having an affair with a White House intern and then lying to a federal grand jury about it. In my view, the GOP set a pretty low standard for impeachment then as well. The Senate then tried Clinton, but acquitted him.

Are we heading back down that path now, with Republicans simply drooling over the possibility of impeaching a president?

They’re going to have to come up with a whole lot more than they’ve presented to date as reasons to do such a thing. And to date, they’ve produced nothing.