He wasn’t listened to in the Reagan or Bush Sr. years because people still clearly remembered his ineptness in national (energy crisis/inflation/high interest rates) and foreign policy (Iran hostages). He wasn’t listened to in the Clinton years because President Clinton was a Democrat and popular within the party and with the American people.
So during those years, Carter worked on his image with projects like habitat for humanity, helping to monitor foreign elections, and peace missions. And his personal stature rose.
But, the temptation to leave a positive political legacy to overshadow his poor presidential legacy was too powerful to resist. Contrary to the tradition of former presidents, Carter began speaking out more and more on political issues--made easier when a Republican president took office in 2000.
However, after years of being listened to with rapt attention by a mostly adoring press, Carter now sees “troubling” blocks--especially by Jews--to his access to readers and listeners:
Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the "Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.
Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on Amazon.com call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."
. . .
My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors.
Worse yet, his current book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is drawing fire--and not from partisans on the other side. This time criticism is coming from key Clinton figures, Democratic and black leaders, and even former supporters of Carter. They are not only critical of Carter's ideas, but of how he manipulates and distorts facts.
A long-time friend, former aide and collaborator on Middle East affairs, Kenneth Stein, professor of Middle Eastern history at Emory University, went so far as to resign his position as a fellow at the Carter Center. In stark terms he described his dismay at Carter’s lack of integrity in a number of areas.
President Carter's book on the Middle East, a title too inflammatory to even print, is not based on unvarnished analyses; it is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.
Aside from the one-sided nature of the book, meant to provoke, there are recollections cited from meetings where I was the third person in the room, and my notes of those meetings show little similarity to points claimed in the book.
Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information or to unpack it with cuts, deftly slanted to provide a particular outlook. Having little access to Arabic and Hebrew sources, I believe, clearly handicapped his understanding and analyses of how history has unfolded over the last decade.
Falsehoods, if repeated often enough become meta-truths, and they then can become the erroneous baseline for shaping and reinforcing attitudes and for policy-making. The history and interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict is already drowning in half-truths, suppositions, and self-serving myths; more are not necessary. In due course, I shall detail these points and reflect on their origins.
It’s sad to see former President Carter damage his integrity and reputation crafted through decades of work. And now all that work and acclaim whirling down the drain.
There’s a saying that it’s best not to give advice when it’s not asked for. Maybe that’s why former presidents have a long tradition of staying away from political pronouncements. When you ignore the path that your predecessors have blazed, it’s easy to fall in the mud. Even worse is to blame critics, Jews and newspapers for your predicament. Poor President Carter.