Saturday, November 12, 2005

President Carter’s Dreams

In a November 3rd interview (broadcast November 5th on CSPAN), Brian Williams spoke with former President Jimmy Carter. The centerpoint of the interview was Carter’s new book, Our Endangered Values. The interview is interesting from a couple of standpoints.

First is Carter’s thesis that President George W. Bush’s administration is radically different from all presidential administrations that have gone before.

Here’s an example of the former President’s logic:
Historically our nation has believed, Republican and Democratic presidents have espoused, the proposition that our nation would go to war only if our security was directly threatened. That’s international law as well. That’s part of the United Nations and others to which we have subscribed. This administration has said: No. We will endorse a proposition of pre-emptive war. We will go to war if we feel that a foreign country houses a leader that is obnoxious to us . . . or if in the future that leader’s policies might endanger the United States. So, we reserve the right, ostentatiously demonstrated in Iraq to bomb the people of Iraq to launch our missiles and shells against Iraq and to invade Iraq when our security was not directly threatened.

One wonders if Carter remembers the war in Korea (in which he served)? Or the war in Viet Nam? Or the first war in Iraq? Or our participation in the war in Bosnia? How was the threat to our security “direct” in those wars/conflicts in a way that it isn’t in Iraq?

Carter’s dreamy analysis doesn’t clearly identify the radical difference between George W. Bush’s war policy and the war policy of previous administrations. He didn't mention the connection between Saddam's hatred of the US and the possibility of his using weapons of mass destruction (seen even by the UN) and cooperating with terrorists. Since 9/11 those dangers have become more palpable to Americans than distant dangers in Korea and Viet Nam were (not to mention the first war with Iraq and the military action in Bosnia).

The argument is well made that unless we had stood where we did in Korea and Viet Nam, Southeast Asia might well be communist and have delayed or stopped the fall of the Soviet Union. But, in terms of direct threats, 9/11-type terrorism now seen clearly in Iraq stands closer to the direct threat posed at Pearl Harbor than any other event in the last 60 years.

Second, in a different kind of dreamy analysis, Carter spoke on what he thought was keeping the Democrats out of power.

On Democrats and abortion:
I think it’s a mistake to wed the Democratic Party to freedom of choice and abortion. As I say in this book I have never believed that Jesus Christ would approve abortion unless the mother’s life or health was in danger or perhaps the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. For those very few exceptions. And when I was president I had to live under Roe vs. Wade. It was my duty as a president. I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I think for the Democratic Party to get identified as being completely pro-choice with no attention given to the rights of the fetus is a very self-defeating policy. And I hope we will get away from that.

On Democrats relating to religion:
And the other thing that was I think a mistake in 2004, not deliberate, I really believe that our nominees were uncomfortable in dealing with the deeply religious people in our country. I don’t mean the right wing, you know, Christian. I think there was a sense among many devout people, in my own church, my fellow churchmen, that John Kerry didn’t quite relate to us.

Carter said the next successful Democratic candidate has to make some changes. A winning platform would be:
We worship the Prince of Peace, not pre-emptive war.

We are moderate on the abortion issue.

We believe that marriage, by definition in a church, ought to be between a man and a woman, but we believe in full civil rights for gays who want to be partners.

We want to honor human rights around the world and civil liberties for Americans.

We want to protect our environment.

We want to have the tax situation in our country balanced between the wealthy and the poor.

We want to work toward balanced budget.

We want to have a strong defense but not use our military to attack other people gratuitously.

I think he is right that this kind of platform might well win the Democrats a majority in Congress as well as the Presidency. There are a lot of people who have been Democrats but have been driven from the party and from liberalism because of the crazies who have taken over. A liberal like John Kennedy would have no place in the party today–as Lyndon Johnson had no place in the party after 1968.

Isn't it kind of dreamy to think that the platform Carter suggests will be adopted by Democrats? How can Michael Moore, Howard Dean, NARAL, and People for the American Way fit in with his proposed platform? Senator Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman (with the exception of the references to Jesus) could. But, we know what has happened to them. And countless others at the rank and file level have already left the Democratic Party–seeing it as a party of abortion and gay marriage, of wacky ideas on religious commitment in public life and religious expression in public schools, and which has a deep distrust of the military.

Some of the seeds of the Democratic demise can be seen in Carter’s own dreamy blend of personal and governmental morality. As much as he is admired for his work with Habitat for Humanity and attempts to stop the horrors happening in Sudan, President Jimmy Carter came up blank against a fairly mild (in today’s terms) form of terrorism during his own presidency. He could not find the answer to bringing our hostages home from Iran.

Unfortunately today’s Democrats share Carter’s weakness on how to deal with terrorism. Even worse they have also turned from his strength in understanding how Americans view morality and the importance of religious commitment.

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