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January 19, 2004
Carter Plays Coy

Today's Washington Post describes in detail Howard Dean's trip to Plains, GA to meet with the man who has spent the last two decades as a pariah in his own party come Presidential election time -- and who oddly feels the need to play coy:

Jimmy Carter spent much of the past quarter-century as a pariah among fellow Democrats. ... But presidential reputations move in cycles. Today, the former outcast was hailed as a hero by former Vermont governor Howard Dean. No longer shunned by politicians, Carter said he was flattered by the attention for a "has-been politician" -- but he also seemed eager to ensure that Dean did not take liberties in his pursuit. ...

Pressed in recent interviews about why he would leave Iowa at crunch time, Dean said he could not turn down an invitation to appear with a former president he admires. But when a visitor to the Maranatha church -- thousands come from out of town annually to hear Carter's Sunday-morning homilies -- thanked Carter for inviting Dean, Carter quickly interjected "I did not invite him," before adding "I'm glad he came."

Maybe Dean now realizes one of the reasons Carter has never been completely embraced, even by members of his own party. It only partly related to his resounding defeat in 1980 and his abysmal performance in his single term of office. Carter, like Dean, ran as an outsider in 1976 and vaulted ahead of a number of nationally recognized Democrats who had the misfortune of following Nixon's final term, when the national mood supported outsiders. Even the incumbent Republican Gerald Ford, who finished Nixon's aborted term, had a strong challenge from maverick Ronald Reagan.

Once elected, Carter behaved with self-righteous arrogance towards both parties, eschewing any form of compromise in favor of his idealistic principles. In that manner, his presidency resembled Woodrow Wilson's in everything except its intellectual weight. Like most idealists thrust into an office for which they are ill-suited (unlike Wilson, whose faults were different), Carter never articulated a coherent vision of what he wanted for America; he mostly focused on what he opposed. Even his own party tired of his arrogance, putting Carter in the unusual situation of having a hostile Congress that was controlled by his own party.

Now, on the cusp of being embraced and even pursued by Howard Dean and other Presidential candidates, Carter's arrogance still rises to the occasion. Dean wants Carter's endorsement, and while it's understandable that Carter wants to wait a while longer to decide who to endorse, Carter's specification that Dean came uninvited should be a message to all of the Democrats. Carter has the "Sort-Of Welcome" mat out in Plains, and if you want to cross over it, be prepared to wipe your feet while kneeling.

UPDATE: Welcome to Shot In The Dark readers, and a big thanks to Mitch! And check out Professor Bainbridge's take on this, too; he looks at the Time article on the Dean self-invitation and speculates on Dean's future.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 19, 2004 6:17 AM

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When asked why he was leaving Iowa just hours before the caucus to meet Jimmy Carter, Howard Dean explained:"When the former President of the United States asks you to go to church with him on a Sunday before the caucuses, [Read More]

Tracked on January 19, 2004 1:03 PM

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