I was going to post Steve-O-in NJ’s record-setting ( over 4700 words!) essay on the presidency of Jimmy Carter yesterday, and should have, but trips back and forth to the hospital (my Dad had his fatal heart attack in the midst of doing that, and now I know why) interfered with my best laid plans.
Then, last night, I read a head-exploding column by progressive Democratic historian, Kai Bird. His piece is an “it isn’t what it is” classic, as he tries to argue that Carter wasn’t the crummy President he unquestionably was. Bird can’t really do it, since the facts are so damning, the best he can muster being, “His presidency is remembered, simplistically, as a failure, yet it was more consequential than most recall.”
That evokes another terrible rationalization (“It isn’t what it is,” Yoo’s Rationalization, is #64 on the list), #22, The Comparative Virtue Excuse, or “There are worse things,” of which “It could have been worse” and “It’s not as bad as you think” are sub-categories. This statement, however, demanded a “Popeye” (“It’s all I can stands, ‘cuz I can’t stands no more!”):
“Jimmy Carter was probably the most intelligent, hard-working and decent man to have occupied the Oval Office in the 20th century.”
Bird is a alleged scholar (he has won a Pulitzer Prize for history, which only leftist historians can win now; fortunately, most of them are), yet he makes this ridiculous assertion without offering any evidence or proof whatsoever. It reminded me of one of Carter’s more offensive statements, when he told NBC News,”I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other Presidents.”
Gee, Kai, if Carter is so smart, why did he say something so pompous and clearly false? Why didn’t he check the record first? I know Carter thinks building houses for the poor is the height of human achievement, but less biased souls probably are a bit more impressed with William Howard Taft’s post-presidency career as a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or John Quincy Adams’ 17 years as a powerful and influential member of Congress in turbulent times, fighting against slavery, for the rights of women and fair policies toward Native Americans. Herbert Hoover distinguished himself after World War II by initiating a school meals program in the American and British occupation zones of Germany that helped feed 3,500,000 children. I’d probably rate Carter fourth in the post-presidency rankings; it’s a small field since so many POTUSes have died in office or very soon after.
Bird’s unsupported and unsupportable assertion reminded me of the funniest scene in Ron Howard’s “Parenthood.” Gil (Steve Martin) is complaining bitterly about all of the family’s financial and child-related problems, and Grandma interrupts,with this dialogue ensuing:
Grandma : “You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.”
Gil : “Oh?”
Grandma : “Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!… I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
The old lady then wanders off. Gil sarcastically comments that he was all confused about his life until Grandma enlightened him with her roller-coaster story. His wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) throws something at him and says, angrily, “I happen to LIKE the roller coaster, okay? As far as I’m concerned, your grandmother is brilliant!”
To which Gil replies, “Yeah, if she’s so brilliant, why is she sitting in our NEIGHBOR’S CAR?“
I can’t say whether Carter was the hardest working President of the 20th Century (and neither can Bird), and “decent” is a matter of opinion. However, setting aside the fact that effective leadership has never correlated particularly closely with brilliance, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Hoover and Richard Nixon demonstrated unusually strong intellectual abilities that it is hard to see evidence of Carter exceeding. But to use Steve Martin’s approach, if Carter is so brilliant,
Why did he show such ignorance about how the U.S. Presidency works, deliberately discarding the symbolic imagery of the office to represent himself as just like any other citizen? This stripped him of the natural protection every elected President since George Washington found invaluable, and every President since Carter (once Ronald Reagan restored the wounded office to its previous status) until Donald Trump used to great advantage?
Why would he make the infamous “malaise” speech? Why could he not understand that Presidents must engage in transactional politics? Carter was infamous for refusing to engage in quid pro quo deals with members of Congress, or as Bird says, “He decided to use power righteously, ignore politics and do the right thing.” Presidents who ignore politics are failed Presidents, and there was plenty of history Carter could have examined to teach him that. If he’s so brilliant, why couldn’t he comprehend George Santayana’s 1905 statement that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?
If Carter is so brilliant, why did he piously promise the American people, “I will never lie to you,” and then, in an address to a fundraising dinner for the Democratic National Committee six months into his first year in office, claim, “We have evolved a good working relationship with the Congress. For eight years we had government by partisanship. Now we have government by partnership,” which everyone in Washington knew was hooey? Why could he never learn how to pronounce “nuclear”? Why couldn’t he best Ronald Reagan, whom Democrats sneered as as a dumb actor, in a debate? Why would he not realize how foolish it would be, in that debate, to appeal to the authority of a thirteen-year-old girl, and say,
“I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry and the control of nuclear arms.”
…particularly when you had promised never to lie?
Well, now the Popeye has merged into the substance of Steve-O’s Comment of the Day in Part II.
It will be up shortly.
I need time to tape my head back together.
23 thoughts on “Presidents Day Hangover, Jimmy Carter Edition: A Popeye, A KABOOM! And An Epic Comment Of The Day. Part I, The Popeye And The KABOOM!”
Speaking of Jimmy Carter, here is my statement regarding the recent announcement that I’ve shared elsewhere of Jimmy Carter’s choice to spend his final days with family and receive Hospice care at home.
I am not a fan of President Carter’s presidential legacy; however, his humanitarian legacy is notable and will endure.
I think this statement, “Jimmy Carter was probably the most intelligent, hard-working and decent man to have occupied the Oval Office in the 20th century”, unfairly and unethically correlates Jimmy Carter’s presidential legacy directly to his post president humanitarian legacy.
I think Jimmy gets high marks on the intelligence front, I believe and I’m not going to look it up, because he was a Naval Academy graduate in engineering and worked with nukes while in the Navy.
P.S. I’m thinking “nucular” is the Southern pronunciation of “nuclear.” Southerners can be stubborn in a passive aggressive sort of way.
I think people with high verbal SATs are generally unduly envious of and deferential to people with high math SATs.
If there isn’t a Gilbert & Sullivan number entitled “Oh, there Really is Nothing Quite Like an Engineer,” there should be.
Other Bill wrote, “I’m thinking “nucular” is the Southern pronunciation of “nuclear.” Southerners can be stubborn in a passive aggressive sort of way.”
I grew up in the south and moved north as I grew older. I can say without a doubt in my mind that everything that OB wrote is accurate. I’ve heard nuclear pronounced both ways and I’ve pronounced it both ways and I personally just don’t give a damn, in a stubborn passive aggressive sort of way, which way people say it, it’s meaning is very clear as opposed to cular. 😉
If you want to really piss off a Southerner, give them the impression you think speaking with a Southern accent is indicative of being unintelligent and/or uneducated. Whoo Doggie!
Other Bill wrote, “If you want to really piss off a Southerner, give them the impression you think speaking with a Southern accent is indicative of being unintelligent and/or uneducated.”
Yup, I’ve been on the receiving end of that one.
Which is fine, unless the Southerner wants to create trust and confidence as a national politician and leader. Someone saying “nucular” for “nuclear” is like someone saying “axe” for “ask.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a dialect: one is expected to eliminate it to be taken seriously. Carter, like LBJ, Ford and both Bushes, was a horrible public speaker. My old friend, the late speech coach Arch Lustberg, was driven crazy by all five. It was so easy, he said, to learn to be at least minimally effective as a speaker: Arch could make a huge difference in an hour. (I can do it in about two.) He felt the failure of a President like Carter to learn how to use one of the most important tools a leader has was negligent, stubborn, arrogant, and mostly stupid.
I agree completely.
Steve O in NJ’s passing observation about the U.S. being comprised of six or so different regions is germane here. For quite a while, I’ve felt the U.S. is six different countries sharing a common currency and a COMMON language (and perhaps most importantly, a unified tax collection system- hah). If you want to lead this agglomeration, I think it’s a very good idea to be able to speak the common language effectively. Sure, some Southerners will call you a Yankee and some Texans will say you’re not from Texas, but you’ll just have to work around that. And do NOT do what Joe Biden does and condescend to affecting regional accents or Black patois. That’s insulting. And don’t ever, ever say “ya’all.”
Does “HOT SAUCE” survive the final cut…?
Other Bill wrote, “…don’t ever, ever say “ya’all.” “
I’ve been living away from southern Tennessee since 1970 and “y’all” still finds a way to creep its way out of my mouth in friendly non-professional conversations.
Midwestern, too, possibly. I hear “Nucular” a lot here in Indiana. I always kick a kick out of criminal genius Lex Luthor in the Superman movies pronouncing the word “nucular”, as well. Of course, he was played by Danville, IL native Gene Hackman.
A M Golden wrote, “I hear “Nucular” a lot here in Indiana.”
That was the pronunciation I heard down in Evansville, IN during some of my High School years. I thought it was interesting that if you drive 120 miles north east of Evansville to Bloomington, where I also attended High School, I was routinely teased for my southern accent. I went to grade school in Chattanooga, TN and I didn’t hear too much about my southern accent in Evansville.
That’s hilarious, AM.
As “caah” is Boston’s way of saying “car.” But that doesn’t stop the rest of the country from giving us crap foe it…
Oh My! Mrs. OB, a native of the Commonwealth of and childhood denizen of the Nahth Shah, somehow managed to put herself through some sort of self-administered Bahlitz course during her teen years and wiped out her Bahsten accent. She speaks beautiful, Midwestern, TV newscaster American English. A really remarkable accomplishment. She can do almost anything she sets her mind to. Incredible fortitude. But from time to time, the accent will just pop out. “Numbahs” is her most notorious bête noir. Cah and whatah and Pahk don’t phase her in the least. Funny.
I grew up in southeast Tennessee, but even here there are big variations in the degree of “Southern” in the accents of locals. Just one county east of me, most folks sound extremely Southern even to me. In high school and college, I worked hard to get rid of my accent, and by the time I finished undergrad I had achieved, as you said of Mrs. OB, a midwestern accent, or rather a lack thereof (and actually had a number of people ask if I was originally from the Midwest). Then, for the next ten years, I worked as a street cop and investigator in the Chattanooga area and the Southern accent eventually began to return. Today I’m neither fish nor fowl; a lot of southerners think I’m not from around here, but I couldn’t “pass” in the Midwest or North. Like Steve W. said, I have found pockets of the country outside the South where folks talk with virtually the same accent with which I grew up. One of my good friends from West Virginia worked in broadcasting in his younger days and even forty years later still lacks any trace of Appalachia in his voice.
Jack, that first truncated comment was a WordPress-caused error. Some days it hates me, and my comments just disappear from my screen like this one.
Jim, I grew up in pre-Castro Miami, Florida. My mother and her sisters were from Chicago and my dad was from West Virginia, but Eastern Panhandle so really almost neither a Virginia accent nor a hillbilly accent. So, in our family, we spoke CBS American English. Although my mother and her sisters did say “Worshington, D.C.” and “worshing machine” so there were some strong Midwesternisms in the air. (They didn’t say “Ellenois” though. Hah.) But my dad sold farm equipment and had lots of honest to God Southerners as customers, so I grew up riding around as my dad made calls and had plenty of opportunity to hear all sorts of different regional Southern accents. I used to be able to listen to someone and in a few sentences could distinguish between, for example, a Georgia accent and a Tennessee accent. But I spoke without an accent. At least until one spring break in college, I was driving myself and three college friends from upstate New York to Miami. I had long hair and a beard but was wearing a friend’s varsity letter jacket, the international sign of being okay, particularly in the South. At a gas station in North Carolina, I was out of the 1968 IH Scout chatting up the attendant as he pumped gas (this was pre-self service). At one point, I turned and looked into the Scout and the three occupants were staring at me, slack jawed. I got inside and realized they’d been gobsmacked because I had been speaking Southern to the guy at the pump. It’s kind of the obverse of your experience. But you know what? It don’t make no never mind. No sir.
Oh, yeah, O.B., I can intentionally dial it up or down, depending on the audience. It served me well on the street, being able to speak the language of the varied people I was dealing with. Still, in my unguarded moments I don’t sound (according to my friends and my wife) distinctly Southern. I do enjoy using Southernisms like, “If brains were lard, he couldn’t grease a skillet.”
My friend who grew up in South Florida in the 60s says that Florida is the only state that gets more Southern as you go north.
I don’t have one. Never did. Neither does my sister. My mother: a mild version.
My paternal grandfather was a New Englander, too. Gotta love the caahs.
I’m sorry. WordPress has been misbehaving a lot lately.