Paul  Kengor

I recently wrote about President Carter’s “superiority” complex, where I objected to the former president’s rather conceited claim of “superior” ex-presidential service, as measured (by himself) against other ex-presidents.

Yet, there’s an important area where I’d like to defend President Carter. Carter hasn’t had many defenders on this score, given that he dared to criticize a political saint to Democrats, the late senator Ted Kennedy.

In recent comments to CBS’s Leslie Stahl, Carter blasted Kennedy, blaming him for the Carter administration’s inability to pass a national “health plan.” Carter described Kennedy as “irresponsible and abusive.” “The fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now,” Carter told Stahl, “had it not been for Ted Kennedy’s deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed in 1978 or ‘79…. It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill.”

When Stahl asked Carter if he felt Kennedy did this “just to spite you,” Carter didn’t equivocate: “That’s the implication. He did not want to see me have a major success in that realm of American life.”

Carter pointed to political motivations by Kennedy: “I felt like he went after me. I was the incumbent president…. He decided that he was going to replace me as a Democratic president.”

I understand Carter’s point, and his suspicions. In fact, this wasn’t the only realm where Kennedy opposed Carter. The rest of the story is far more disturbing.

According to Vasiliy Mitrokhin, a KGB official and senior Soviet archivist who defected from Russia in 1992, bringing with him a huge cache of documents, Kennedy went after Carter on more than healthcare.

Specifically, on March 5, 1980, Kennedy reached out to Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev, via a message personally delivered in Moscow by Kennedy’s close friend and confidante, John Tunney, the former Democratic senator from California. According to Mitrokhin, Tunney was there “to relay [Kennedy’s] ideas on ways to lessen international tension to the Soviet leadership.”

What tensions? That’s the shocker: In Mitrokhin’s account, Kennedy, amazingly, blamed the escalation in Cold War tensions not on the Soviets but on Jimmy Carter. Mind you, this was mere weeks after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, their first direct military intervention outside the Warsaw Pact since World War II.