“The personal is the political,” went one liberal rallying cry during the Me Decade. Jimmy Carter, who peaked during America’s 1970s nadir, misremembers the slogan as “the political is the personal.”
“Can y’all see why I voted for him?” the 39th president said of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) during a Carter Center event on Monday night. Rather than hold his nose for Hillary, Carter pulled the lever for a candidate seeking the nomination of a party he refused to join. Did he really vote for Sanders or against Clinton?
Jimmy Carter couldn’t hold Massachusetts in 1980. But almost four decades later, the 92-year-old shows that he can still hold a grudge.
Like so many Southern feuds, the enmity between Carter and the Clintons runs deep. Bill blamed Jimmy for him losing Arkanas’s governorship in 1980. Aside from riding on the unpopular peanut farmer’s reverse coattails, Clinton got stuck with literal boatloads of Cuban refugees, many of whom rioted at a local army fort and escaped into the community, by the commander in chief. When Clinton ran for president in 1992, he sharply noted: ”Jimmy Carter and I are as different as daylight and dark.” Carter, for his part, withheld his primary endorsement from Clinton, reasoning as he stood alongside rival Paul Tsongas: ”People are looking for somebody who is honest and tells the truth.”
A 1996 New York Times article detailed how the Clinton-Carter Cold War ensnared even Rosalynn:
Even more so than her husband, Rosalynn Carter has suffered from the shabby treatment from the Clinton Administration and the Democratic National Committee. Hillary Clinton, for instance, has telephoned Rosalynn only once in four years and has never paid her a courtesy call despite numerous visits to Atlanta. More recently, the D.N.C. sent the Carters a box of fund-raising note cards featuring pictures of Democratic Presidents — with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter. Mrs. Carter later wrote Dan Fowler, the operational head of the Democratic National Committee, a blistering note in which she asked the committee to remove her name from its membership rolls.
When the time came for the Democrats to plan their Chicago convention, Jimmy Carter was asked to participate in drafting the platform, but he declined. Then, weeks went by before President Clinton phoned Mr. Carter in mid-July to ask if he planned to attend the convention. If it was the D.N.C.’s hope that Mr. Carter would refuse to attend if he was issued a half-hearted invitation and no meaningful role to play, the strategy worked: while the Democratic delegates danced the macarena, he would go fly-fishing in Montana with Ted Turner and Jane Fonda.
The feud perhaps reached its climax during the inauguration of Barack Obama, whom Carter endorsed during the Democratic primaries. The Clintons and the Carters did not acknowledge one another. The only living Democratic presidents did not even shake the other’s hand during a joyous day in which another of their party took the oath of office. Again, the two First Families endured a chilly inauguration earlier this year. This followed Carter tellingly skipping yet another Clinton coronation convention.
Not-the-45th president can’t blame her defeat in 2016 on the 39th president the way the 42nd president did for his gubernatorial defeat in 1980. But the Clintons might be now in the White House if they had acted like the Carters during their time out of the White House. The Carters wrote poems and built houses for the poor. The Clintons started a charity to give money to themselves.
Jimmy grew up on the end of a dirt road. Bubba came into the world with his father already deceased. This party isn’t big enough for two Southerners hailing from humble origins but ultimately reaching a huffy, haughty, hubristic destination.