Fans of Hollywood’s imaginative take on American politics may remember the movie, Guarding Tess. That 1994 comic hit featured Shirley MacLaine as a former First Lady who was being guarded by a Secret Service detachment headed by Nicolas Cage. Tess was something of a composite figure, part feisty Bess Truman, part liberal activist Eleanor Roosevelt, and part small town belle Rosalynn Carter. Of course, Hollywood being Hollywood, no part of Tess could be mistaken for a Barbara Bush or a Nancy Reagan. Even the fictional former First Ladies have got to be on the side of the Hollywood donor angels.
The movie reminds us that when we elect a President, we get him and his missus for life. We provide Secret Service protection for the President, of course, but for the ex-Presidents, too. Ever since communist guerillas kidnapped and murdered ex-Premier of Italy, Aldo Moro, Americans have recognized that our former Commanders-in-Chief could require guarding.
That’s not out of line. Even if the voters have tired of a President and are eager to kick his administration to the curb, no one wants to see our Mr. Citizen—as Harry Truman memorably called himself in his post-White House years—put in harm’s way.
Too bad we have no Special Agent in Charge to guard former President Jimmy Carter’s tongue. He was on CBS News recently holding forth on topics above his pay grade. He claimed that he had the “highest batting average” of any post-war President since LBJ in terms of legislative successes. Right.
We can remember some of those successes. Recall the creation of a U.S. Department of Education under Carter? Good. Now, quick: Ask yourself to name one improvement in American education attributable to Jimmy Carter’s gift to the bosses of the national teacher unions.
Carter gave us an unnecessary Department of Energy. With it we got his Rube Goldberg system of gasoline rationing. Older Americans may remember waiting in long lines for gas. You had to line up on Odd/Even days, according to the last digit in your license plate. What a nightmare!Ronald Reagan swept all that apparat away on his first day in office. Since January 20, 1981—you can look it up—Americans have never stood in line one day for gasoline.
Carter’s high legislative “batting average” is hard to credit when you recall that he campaigned against Jerry Ford’s Misery Index in 1976. The Carter team invented the Misery Index—a combination of inflation and unemployment figures. Under Ford, the Misery Index was 16. By the time Carter was racking up his congressional runs, hits and errors, his Misery Index was over 20.
Carter told CBS’ Bill Plante that many of the same problems that beset President Obama are problems he had to deal with more than thirty years ago. Really? The overwhelming issue thirty years ago was the U.S.-Soviet standoff in the Cold War. Two nuclear superpowers faced each other across an Iron Curtain in Europe.
Carter told an audience at the University of Notre Dame in 1977 that is was time for Americans to get over “our inordinate fear of Communism.” But all too soon, Carter was desperately trying to shore up collapsing alliances around the world.
Now, Jimmy Carter is taking to the airwaves to advise President Obama. Be tough, he says, to his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, be tough. He doesn’t mean be tough with America’s adversaries. He means be tough with those nasty Republicans on Capitol Hill. Be more confrontational.
Well, President Obama, you might consider Jimmy Carter’s free advice. He ought to know about the right moves in the Oval Office. Taking his own advice enabled Jimmy Carter to take early retirement from politics. For thirty years, he has been free to circle the planet, looking for dictators to hug and fraudulent elections to monitor. By following his own star, Carter’s re-election bid netted the former peanut farmer a cracking 49 Electoral Votes in his 1980 matchup against Ronald Reagan.
Jimmy Carter got a Nobel Peace Prize as consolation after his own “shellacking” from the voters thirty years ago. He also got Secret Service protection and a nice cushy pension. But President Obama, you already have your Nobel Prize!