The Democrats' Ex-Presidents

Jimmy Carter returned from his visit to Hamas, having embarrassed his country, infuriated the Israelis, and accomplished nothing. The meeting was historic in one sense, marking the first time an American leader actually embraced a head official of a terrorist cult (Nasser Shaer, in Ramallah). Carter told the media that he had solved the problems of the Middle East to his own satisfaction. He was immediately repudiated by Palestinian spokesmen.            

Al Gore appears to have taken a break from saving the world, having convinced large numbers of otherwise sensible people that something called "global warming" exists. He can be expected back in short order. Evidence that "warming" has in fact not occurred since 1998 is swiftly becoming public knowledge. Who but St. Al can lead the righteous in beating back this heresy?

Al's former boss, Big Bill, threatens to sink his wife's presidential campaign with every word he utters. But utter them he does, loudly, repeatedly, and without the least visible effort at self-control. You can't make Bill Clinton shut up. He used to be President, you know.

Why is it that so many Democratic leaders find it necessary to continue making spectacles of themselves after they leave office?

It's an exclusively Democratic trait -- you don't find Republicans acting this way. The affable Jerry Ford spent his forty years as ex-president in quiet retirement, saving his political commentary for a post-mortem testament. George Bush Sr. may occasionally get the urge to jump out of an airplane, but that's as far as it goes. Even with a son in the Oval Office (and another governing Florida), H.W. has been the soul of self-effacement. Although George W. is constantly savaged in the foulest terms imaginable, H.W. keeps his counsel. WASP stoicism is not yet extinct. 

With Ronald Reagan, we have the ideal type of the discreet elder leader. When confronted with his final ordeal by Alzheimer's, he acted the part of the ancient chieftain aware that the tribe must not see its head brought low, and instead retreated to the shadows, to meet his end in dignity and privacy. Examples of such grace and courage do not abound in our epoch.

But with the Dems, it's different. The need for attention and adulation among former Democratic leaders is embarrassing in its nakedness. In almost no other field, in politics or out, can such behavior be found. Only the entertainment world offers a comparable level of pathology.

No more active ex-president exists than Jimmy Carter. He has written a number of books (including a novel and a volume of poetry), he divides his time between Habitat for Humanity, putting up houses across the country, and the Carter Center, monitoring elections across the world. He also engages in personal diplomacy whenever the whim happens to strike him.

This might be harmless if not for Carter's proclivity for thugs. This weakness is often found in educated men, who, apparently out of fear that they've missed out in experiencing some of life's rougher aspects, strike up acquaintances with hard-edged figures they encounter. This goes a long way toward explaining the affection of upper-crust types for the Mumias and Jack Henry Abbots of the world. It also explains the soft spot many hold for self-styled "revolutionaries" such as the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, or the Sandinistas.

As president, Carter had the opportunity to indulge this trait to the fullest. Carter was indirectly responsible for putting the mullahs in power in Iran (kicking off the violent confrontation between Jihadism and the West in the process). He was directly responsible for handing Nicaragua to the Sandinistas (Carter refused to sign off on a plan to replace the dictator Somoza with a government of moderates) and Zimbabwe to Robert Mugabe. (Abel Muzorewa, the centrist opposition figure first elected president, was pushed aside with Carter's acquiescence and a new election arranged that Mugabe was guaranteed to win.)

Carter's weakness for goons has had horrendous historical consequences. Khomeini's takeover of Iran led to a major war in which millions died, the birth of two terror organizations dedicated to the annihilation of Israel, the deaths of thousands of others across the world -- including hundreds of Americans -- and the encouragement of the Jihadi terror movement. The Sandinista takeover resulted in chaos across Central America for over a decade and the slaughter of thousands of Nicaraguans, including a large number of Miskito Indians in a process indistinguishable from genocide.  Zimbabwe, once one of the richest states in Africa, is today an economic basket case suffering chronic famine and one the lowest life expectancies in the world. The end game is being played out now, with a distinct possibility of a climax to rival in horror and blood those of Rwanda and Cambodia.

Carter learned nothing from this, nothing even from his own unprecedented humiliation by the mullahs he helped put into power, who waited until the exact hour of Ronald Reagan's inauguration to release the American hostages they had held for the better part of Carter's last two years in office. To this day, he continues embracing killers, repeating the process endlessly as if, eventually, it'll come out the way he pictures it in his heart of hearts, in some impossible lion-and-lamb reconciliation. But it always ends otherwise, in disgrace for himself and misery for third parties. Yet he cannot see it.

Al Gore's motives are far more prosaic. Embittered by the results of the 2000 election, a hair-thin defeat at the hands of a man he considered his manifest inferior (recall all the sighing and head-shaking during the debates), he cast about at loose ends for awhile, grew a beard, and put on some weight. He had already published one best-seller, Earth in the Balance, a popularization of already widely-known environmentalist truisms. Returning to that well, he latched onto global warming and rode it to glory -- or at least close to it, gathering himself a Nobel and an Oscar (which put him one up on Carter).

Gore has none of Carter's taste for criminals, and his campaign has done considerably less harm to date than Carter's. But in the long run it may well be even more dangerous. Like all Greens, Gore is an authoritarian, his prescriptions having the aura of the people's block committee and the reeducation camp. So it's just as well that the warming thesis has run into cold facts recently. If we are in truth moving into a "quiet sun" period -- a period of dramatically reduced solar activity (as indications suggest we are), then every last puff of CO2 on earth will do nothing to stop the mercury from dropping like a stone. It'll be interesting to see how Gore deals with this. (At least they can't make him give his Nobel back.) But don't count him out -- he's more than a politician; he's an impresario.

Bill Clinton is probably the simplest case of the three, and at the same time the most annoying. Bill simply likes attention -- it doesn't matter where it comes from or how it's expressed. A twenty-year-old intern, crooked businessmen, the Emperor of Antarctica -- it's pretty much the same. Those of us who believe that liberalism infantilizes its adherents will find a useful exhibit in Bill Clinton.

But at the same time it's harmless. Bill Clinton is never going to court professional killers (except maybe for campaign donations) and is not going off on any crusades. This is due in large part to his other chief characteristic, sloth. If there is any other president more characterized by pathological laziness, the record doesn't reveal it. His entire presidency was a portrait of the effects of least effort carried out to all extremes in every possible case. Least effort in Rwanda, least effort against Osama bin Laden, least effort against Kim Jong-il. It's even evident in his pickups. Clinton did not go out chasing women, he waited for them to come to him. That's how he ended up with such a harem of oddballs.

Thus is third-millennial liberalism represented by its major leaders. It didn't used to be this way. Even Harry Truman, nobody's idea of the soul of discretion, knew what was expected of an elder statesman and played his role as required. Nor can one imagine JFK or FDR schmoozing with terrorists or making dubious documentaries. This is something new, a product of the transformed, postmodern Democratic Party.

For forty years, liberalism has been the ideology of failure. Its last successful program was the civil rights movement, and that was very much a grass roots effort, politicians only jumping aboard as its success became apparent. Since then, in any field you care to name -- foreign policy, the economy, national security -- liberalism's record has been one of collapse. Even its minor successes, such as NAFTA and welfare reform under Bill Clinton, were initiatives adapted from the GOP.

Consider what kind of psychic impact this must have on individuals with the egos necessary not only to engage in politics, but to rise to the top levels of their party. To serve an ideology that not only cannot succeed, but refuses to allow success, that has become the embodiment of failure of its historical moment. They don't even have the satisfaction of taking a good shot -- contemporary liberalism does not allow good shots. No sooner are the plans made, the proposals offered, than they wind up in the hands of the ideologues, who want to know how many GLB&T individuals will be involved, who is responsible for the environmental impact statement, and whether it violates the UN Resolution on Cetacean and Chimpanzee Rights. Under such circumstances, courage will not be found, results are a rumor, and success is always going to be just beyond reach.

It must be a bitter pill. And so the liberal pol demands another turn at the plate, another opportunity to prove himself, to demonstrate to the world that he was right all along. And since he's not alone on stage, since he's competing with somebody else who actually is president at the moment (and may in fact be accomplishing things), he picks the most outlandish, fantastic, comic-book tasks imaginable. Tasks beyond the reach of any single human individual, perhaps any nation. Carter wants to be the universal peacemaker and guarantor of democracy. Gore would like to save the planet. And Bill... in attempting to convince the nation that Hillary is presidential material, he has the most thankless task of all.

Grown men, trying to convince the world that they're supermen - it's sad, and pointless, and more than a little ridiculous.

We'll be seeing more of it. Having accomplished little or nothing, liberal presidents are going to be left unsatisfied and restless, and will hit the streets in an effort to do something about it. In extreme cases, like that of Jimmy Carter, they are going to blame everyone else in the world but themselves, and make the world pay for it.

Now, where did Obama go off to?

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.