I don't get it. First you speak an important truth to the American people. Then you take it back. Why didn't you stand your ground?
I'm sure I'm only one of millions who felt heartened to hear the news that the former president, Jimmy Carter, had declared that, the Bush administration was the worst in American history in terms of international relations. But then, Mr. Carter, just a couple of days later there was the news that you'd backed down. Why?
Is it because you decided you should have obeyed that unwritten code according to which former presidents are supposed to go easy on their successors? I'd have thought that this "code," such as it is, would not be the most important consideration. For one thing, you're not the first former president to condemn a successor in strong terms (Hoover's attack on FDR is one such instance). But even more important, does that unwritten "code" warrant being given more weight than helping the American people see clearly how extraordinarily disastrous this Bush presidency has been?
But even if you were going to back down for that reason, I would think you'd have said so. I'd have thought that you'd have protected the integrity of your previous truthful statement by saying something like, "I regret my comment, because it's not my place as a former president to make such judgments publicly."
But that's not what you said. You indicated that your remark was perhaps "careless," and you tried to pretend that your statement was a less powerful indictment —that Bush's policies were not the worst in American history, just worse than Nixon's—than it clearly was.
What was "careless" about your remark? If we look at how the Bush administration has given us this huge and unnecessary disaster in Iraq, how it has besmirched America's standing in the world, and how it has systematically betrayed so many of America's basic values and principles, can there be any doubt that your original declaration was correct? What administration since George Washington can possibly compete for being the worst in its conduct of American policy in the world?
So why did you back down?
Is it because the White House started firing back, and you feared that you'd lose in the court of public opinion if you stood toe-to-toe with Bush's propagandists? But why should you lose such a debate if you've got truth on your side?
This was a teachable moment, Mr. Carter. Why did you squander it?
If you'd welcomed that debate, instead of backing away from it, you could have educated the American public about what has happened to the image of America all around the world. It's a lesson a great many Americans probably need.
In 2004, the great majority of the people going to the polls to vote for George W. Bush believed, falsely, that most of the world had applauded the U.S. invasion of Iraq. With the media all focused on your words, you would have had a chance to make sure that Americans know what polls around the world show, even in nations that have traditionally been our friends and allies: an unprecedented plunge in the regard and respect for the United States because of the disastrous and lawless international policies of this Bush administration.
But, instead of welcoming a chance to help break through the phony postures and lies which have held so many of our countrymen in thrall, Mr. Carter, you backed down. Why?
Andrew Bard Schmookler's website, NoneSoBlind.org, is devoted to understanding the roots of America's present moral crisis and the means by which the urgent challenge of this dangerous moment can be met. Dr. Schmookler is also the author of such books as The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (SUNY Press) and Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide (M.I.T. Press). He also conducts regular talk-radio conversations in both red and blue states. Email to: andythebard@comcast.