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Still trying to whip Kennedy?
Scripps Howard News Service


February 08, 2006

Could Jimmy Carter be slyer than people think?

When he recalled at the funeral of Coretta Scott King that federal officials had wiretapped her and her husband, is it possible he was not taking a swipe at the secret surveillance program of a president sitting nearby, George W. Bush, but at Sen. Edward Kennedy?

Carter had to have known, after all, that the King wiretaps were ordered by Robert F. Kennedy, who was then the attorney general of the United States in the cabinet of President John F. Kennedy. Brother Bobby, who had served as assistant counsel on the staff of the communist hunter Joseph McCarthy, thought dissenters might have commie buddies and wanted to check out rumors about Martin Luther King Jr.

Carter had to have known as well that the justification for Bush's eavesdropping program - saving America from a terrorist attack - has power, even if there are strong and convincing arguments that it is also illegal. And he surely understands that the justification for spying on King had no power. It was predicated on the astonishing supposition that blacks were standing up for their rights because of a conspiracy instead of the grotesque mistreatment they had endured throughout U.S. history.

So isn't it possible that, in bringing up a bit of history wholly irrelevant to the occasion of the funeral and deflecting attention from the King family's heroic accomplishments, Carter was mischievously taking a shot at Robert Kennedy's brother, Edward Kennedy, who also spoke at the funeral?

Carter and Kennedy have never been big pals, you know. Some of us can recall how, in 1979, some people were speculating that Kennedy would challenge Carter, who was then president, in a Democratic primary. Carter was so angered that he grew profane. "I'll whip his ass," he famously told reporters.

Kennedy did challenge Carter, and Carter did defeat him for the 1980 nomination, but perhaps Carter was trying to whip Kennedy again by in effect saying, "Look, you may talk here about all the wonderful things your brothers did for Martin Luther King Jr., such as a phone call to get him out of jail, but the rest of us know another side of things. The rest of us know that phone call during a campaign was more political than anything, and that when you look at acts more real than symbolic, we find your brothers siccing the FBI on King."

If that's what Carter had been up to, it would still have been tasteless, inappropriate and vindictive, but it would also have been mildly clever, at least slightly subtle, a hint of something human behind all that pomposity. It would have been a welcome relief from an anti-Bush obsessiveness that seems to derive more than anything from a spiteful incredulity that someone so clearly inferior to him should hold the same office he once held.

Alas, I am afraid the record of this guy finally defeats any hope that he was engaged in anything other than another indefensible cheap shot, for this is the same Jimmy Carter who, time and again, has slammed Bush, often hypocritically, often illogically. This Jimmy Carter who preaches multilateralism and has faulted Bush for not having more support in the Iraq war, after all, is the same Jimmy Carter who personally tried to tear apart the coalition the first President Bush put together for the Gulf War.

That fact is reviewed in Stephen Hayward's book, "The Real Jimmy Carter," which also reminds us how, during the Clinton years, Carter negotiated a nuclear deal with North Korea's Kil Il Sung, a murderous madman-tyrant Carter kissed and praised to an extent he would never praise Bush. Unbelievably, the deal did not call for United Nations inspections to verify whether bombs and missiles were being built. Carter has blamed Bush for Korea's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Carter himself facilitated the treachery.

This man's do-good exterior can never quite hide the many faults that led to a failed, America-damaging presidency and, despite assertions to the contrary, a failed ex-presidency once more on vivid display at the Coretta Scott King funeral. In his eagerness to embarrass the president sitting behind him, he apparently did not reflect that anyone whose thoughts went beneath the surface would see that the true villains in the 1960s wiretapping were two liberal heroes, and that a third liberal was making himself a villain by bringing it up.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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