Pass the Piñata, Please: A Former President Regards the Current One

Jimmy Carter found plenty of reasons to disparage the president.
Jimmy Carter found plenty of reasons to disparage the president. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 5, 2007

So Iran was releasing the hostages and Jimmy Carter was giving a news conference.

No, C-SPAN wasn't airing reruns yesterday. The Islamic Republic really was releasing hostages (these were British sailors) and the wizened former president was fielding reporters' questions after receiving a prize at the National Press Club. But Carter enjoyed his inadvertently perfect timing.

"As a matter of fact, I went through the same ordeal earlier," he told a British questioner with a smile. "Four-hundred forty days instead of 16 days -- but all of our hostages came home safe and free, also."

The 82-year-old Carter -- he twice referred to his presidency as "ancient" -- had two items on the agenda as he accepted the Ridenhour "Courage Prize": rehabilitating his image after a book of his appeared to justify suicide bombings; and adding whatever blemishes he could to the current president's image.

The latter required little courage of the Courage Prize winner. President Bush's public support is within a few points of the 28 percent low Carter hit in the malaise of 1979. And Carter, viewed favorably by 69 percent of Americans in a February Gallup poll, is enjoying the sort of gauzy hindsight Americans generally give their former presidents.

Still, Carter showed his beleaguered successor little mercy.

On Alberto Gonzales: "The attorney general ought to step down, not particularly because he's committed any crimes, but because I think he's brought discredit and embarrassment on his boss, who apparently has put too much confidence in him."

On the firing of federal prosecutors: "Congress should issue subpoenas and require the people that gave President Bush advice -- or didn't inform him, either one, I don't know which -- about the firing of these prosecutors ought to be completely revealed."

On Bush's threat to veto a bill calling for a withdrawal from Iraq: "I think there have been infinitely more mistakes made . . . by this administration, so that's a minor mistake on the gamut of totality."

On Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Middle East peace efforts: "Uncertain and wavering, but appreciated."

On Latin American policy: "You couldn't be appointed to major diplomatic posts unless you had a fervent and public animosity toward Castro."

On Hurricane Katrina: Bush "grossly violated" the principles Carter used to create FEMA. "Katrina was a disaster as far as FEMA was concerned, because it did not have a competent person in charge, it was not adequately financed . . . and it was under the still-struggling homeland security agency searching for its own role and its own identity."

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