If you’ve got only eight minutes to confront a world leader whose impact and outlook you’ve despised and denounced for decades, then what’s the best way to take advantage of the interchange?
That was the dilemma facing me last Friday when former President Jimmy Carter agreed to a brief interview on my nationally syndicated radio program. We tried on many past occasions to book President Carter on the show but made no way headway with his representatives. This time, in the midst of the national publicity tour for his new book We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work, his handlers gave us twenty-four hours notice of his willingness to participate in a brief interview.
I’m certain that President Carter knows that I’ve spoken about him frequently on the air, almost always with contempt and derision. I’ve identified him as the worst president of the twentieth century – and perhaps of American history. Yes, I’ve described him repeatedly as “the worthless Jimmy Carter” and coined the deliberately disrespectful designation “The Worthless One.”
If nothing else, his determination to look past these insults in order to face down one of his harshest critics and to defend his controversial ideas demonstrated confidence and courage rarely displayed by his fellow liberal Democrats. Public figures like President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton have never agreed to conversations on my show (or any other conservative radio show) despite the fact that I’ve never assaulted them with anything like the vitriol I reserved for President Carter.
Preparing for our short conversation, I agonized over the right approach to the former president.
I could have thanked him, for instance, for helping to make me a Republican – confessing that I voted for him (somewhat reluctantly) in 1976, but felt so betrayed and disillusioned by the record of his administration that I never again supported another Democratic presidential candidate. One could make the case that no one – not even Ronald Reagan himself – did more to assure GOP success than President Carter. When he ran for re-election in 1980, the Republicans carried 44 of the fifty states (including Massachusetts, New York and California) and knocked off twelve incumbent Democratic Senators.