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Jimmy Carter Comes to Berkeley By: Abraham H. Miller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 04, 2007

President Carter’s unbridled, intemperate, and vitriolic outburst against President Bush is far and away more revealing of the real Jimmy Carter than the soft-spoken, purveyor of empty platitudes currently making the rounds of college campuses.

Watching Carter’s recent defense of his book at the University of California, Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, I was struck that Carter’s greatest threat to real peace is not his willful distortions of history, but his ostensible calm and soft-spoken demeanor, an affectation, that contains a well-concealed rage seething to escape.


And escape it did in his bitter, reckless and baseless denunciation of the Bush administration and all the Republican administrations from Nixon forward.


The outburst was all to reminiscent, for those of us old enough to remember, of Carter’s incomprehensibly stupid “malaise” speech, where he blamed everyone but himself and his administration for the ills then afflicting America. 


Carter hasn’t really changed. When asked in a recent television interview about the one line in his book, since rewritten, that justified terrorism, Carter blamed his editors for not catching it.  Yet, standing on the stage at Zellerbach Auditorium, Carter sought to give legitimacy to his writing by proudly proclaiming that he wrote each and every word. 


A man who obviously feels he is entitled to the convenience of selecting his own historical facts, Carter also feels entitled to the convenience of selectively accepting responsibility.  But even before a highly sympathetic audience led on by Berkeley’s clownish Chancellor Robert J. Birgenau, who assumed the role of cheerleader, Carter couldn’t resist getting in stereotypic digs about the Republican affinity for big oil and how AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has stifled the debate on Israel.


Standing in the auditorium at Berkeley where the Israeli/Palestinian debate draws the most virulent anti-Semitism imaginable and in Barbara Lee’s congressional district (Rep. Lee (D) Oakland is one of Israel’s most severe and unrelenting critics), Carter spewed history culled from the official web sites of Arab nations, even while he talked of a stifled debate controlled by AIPAC.  The irony was thunderous!


The Berkeley audience, spoon-fed on political correctness and believing that only the “progressives” at KPFA radio tell the truth, loved it as Carter played to well-worn left stereotypes.


The softball questions were a sad commentary on what passes for intellectual discourse in academia at the much touted, “best public institution of higher education in the country.”  At no time during the question period by an obsequious Graduate Dean of Journalism Orville Schell, who could have easily put both Oprah and Larry King to shame for sycophantic interviewing, did one significant question emerge about the numerous controversies surrounding Carter’s book.


What was Carter’s reaction to Dennis Ross’ allegation that two of the maps in Carter’s book, which he attributed to Yassir Arafat’s negotiations, were in reality plagiarized from Ross and reflected not Arafat’s thinking but President Clinton’s thinking on what a peaceful resolution might look like? 


Why did some of the most influential and well-known scholars associated with the Carter Center resign in protest over the historical distortions in the book that were lifted whole cloth right from Arab propaganda themes long masquerading as history? 


At a school where the faculty routinely carps over the influence of corporate money on research, Carter should have been asked about the influence of Saudi and Arab money on the Carter Center and were the allegations true that Arab money saved the Carter family farm.


Carter wasn’t asked why he failed to put American power behind the opposition to Iran’s theocratic dictatorship that has become the foremost threat to world peace.


Instead Carter was pitched a series of inanities that let him chuckle about such pressing and relevant issues as President Reagan’s removal of solar panels from the White House.


As Jay Leno quipped about Carter’s intemperate remark about the Bush administration: after all Carter should know about a failed presidency, we haven’t seen such low approval numbers, why, since…Jimmy Carter’s presidency.


The profound difference between the Bush administration and Carter’s presidency is that President Bush is capable of making decisions because he believes them to be right.  He doesn’t require the affirmation of public approval.  Real leadership is like that.


Carter, in indelible contrast, has never gotten over the abject failure of his presidency and the public’s disapproval of it. 


Before a supportive audience and a clownish university chancellor cheerleading the fans, Carter sidestepped real issues about his book but never the opportunity to embrace a partisan cliché.


Carter is searching for the affirmation he did not receive as president.  He creates a fictional world out of invented history that makes dictators like Hafez al Assad look like statesmen and a political movement founded on hatred (Hamas) look like a force for peace.  In this fictional world, Jimmy Carter is the messiah for Middle East peace, for he and he alone sees opportunities that for others do not exist. 


In a real academic setting, Carter would be pilloried with questions that would expose the absurdity of his perceptions, the fictional character of his history, and the consequences of his plagiarized maps.  At Berkeley he received overwhelming affirmation that reinforced his invented worldview.


It is that confirmation of unreality that gave way to Carter’s self-indulgent attack on the Bush administration.


San Francisco radio celebrity Melanie Morgan calls Carter, America’s worst president.  The ever-insightful Morgan should add to that, “and America’s worst ex-president too.”


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Abraham H. Miller is emeritus professor, University of Cincinnati. He has written extensively on the Middle East for both academic and popular venues.

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