Oh, the irony that former President Jimmy Carter has claimed big headlines by saying that South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst against Barack Obama during the president's speech last week was racially motivated.
The irony stems partly from the timing of all this: Just days after the incident, Carter's former press secretary Jody Powell died. Perhaps more than any other Carter aide of yesteryear, Powell helped the Carter White House to conquer a Washington establishment that had a bias of its own against Southern politicians.
Nothing is harder for me to write about than Jimmy Carter. I grew up circulating among his closest aides while he was Georgia governor. I swelled with pride when he won the presidency. And even with my own career background of having written speeches for Mack Mattingly, the man who became Georgia's first Republican U.S. senator in a century, and of having done debate preparation work for Newt Gingrich, I've still been more willing than many to point out some of the positives from the Carter administration.
For example, Carter's fascination with technology helped push America to become enough of a technocracy that we can now take out al-Qaida leaders with unpiloted air drones. And it was Carter's continuation of the "conservative" policies of his two Republican predecessors to support the shah of Iran that led to the central failure of Carter's years as president -- the protracted holding of American hostages in Tehran.
All of this notwithstanding, I'll confess that not in my wildest dreams did I ever guess that the Carter I've known since his days at the Georgia capitol building would become the champion lightning-rod ex-president of all American history.
Sometimes I wish he would have gotten these impulses out of his system by staging his own career comeback as a third-party presidential candidate, a la Teddy Roosevelt. Instead, Carter has become an unofficial -- and often unwanted -- emissary across the globe for every president who has followed him.
Now he has opened a can of worms that inevitably will spill disproportionate harm on Republicans, conservatives and the people of the same part of America that propelled him to the White House -- the Deep South.
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