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Happy Swamp Rabbit Day!
April 20, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

On April 20th, 1979, President Jimmy Carter was attacked by a giant swimming swamp rabbit. With pics, 'cause it happened.

Press Secretary Jody Powell called the news accounts "a nightmare", but Carter was in good humor when he spoke to CNN about it in 2010 (video).

The incident has inspired video tributes, an xkcd comic, and a (very small to this point) Facebook fan group.

Much much previously.
posted by davidjmcgee (75 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
That rabbit's dynamite!
posted by tommasz at 10:28 AM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't want a widdle wabbit in my widdle wow boat
In my widdle wow boat in the pond
'Cuz a wabbit might go cwazy and might bite me in the thwoat
in my widdle wow boat in the pond.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:34 AM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Then he went to bund rally.
posted by clavdivs at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2011


It was more than a nightmare, it helped doom his presidency.
posted by blucevalo at 10:36 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to link to the Straight Dope, but I see I've been anticipated by 9 years. Well played, MetaFilter-of-the-past.
posted by DU at 10:37 AM on April 20, 2011


Love it... though Navelgazer I do believe it's a "bunny wunny" that you don't want in your wow boat:

Tom Paxton's Bunny Wunny
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jeez, what was it about this administration? His wife Rosalynn also wound up being photographed meeting and shaking hands with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
posted by hermitosis at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Having missed out on this critical moment in journalism the first time around, what was the damage to the Administration? Was it just due to the sheer ridiculousness of it keeping attention focused away from more important issues? Or was it a sort of reverse Teddy bear moment, in that he was scaring away a (supposedly) harmless animal, leaving it (possibly) to drown?
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:40 AM on April 20, 2011


Even in a blurry picture from 31 years ago, that rabbit is terrifying. Like "I finally get what Anya was going on and on about" terrifying.

Jimmy Carter's Swamp Rabbits, despite being the name of my new rockabilly band, will haunt my dreams.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:40 AM on April 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm not quite sure what the fuss was about. All of the actions Carter took were clearly okay in the eyes of the Lord. For further reference, see Armaments 2:9-21.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:42 AM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


This and the Iran Hostage Crisis took him out of a second term. . .
posted by Danf at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2011


Kadin2048: yep, the, as you say, 'sheer ridiculousness' of it. His warm 'n' fuzzy fireside chats, plus a public image where he seemed to want to be some kind of camp counselor ("can't we all just get along? I know: let's sing 'Kumbya'!"), plus his waffleing during the Iran hostage mess, made him look weak and ineffectual, and killed any hopes of reelection.
posted by easily confused at 10:51 AM on April 20, 2011


Why are we blaming Carter for losing in 1980 when his opponent was a media-savvy, photogenic, charming liar making secret deals behind his (Carter's) back to make him lose?
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on April 20, 2011 [29 favorites]


Having missed out on this critical moment in journalism the first time around, what was the damage to the Administration?

The damage was that it made him look weak and defenseless, which as we know no President should look. That followed by his so-called "malaise" speech (which had the word "malaise" nowhere in it) followed by the Iranian hostage crisis helped turn him into chum for the media sharks. If all of this had occurred in the here and now with the 24/7 cable cycle he would have been toast in 48 hours tops.
posted by blucevalo at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2011


"I *warned* you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you *knew*, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little *bunny*, isn't it?"
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:54 AM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on! Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer! He'll do you up a treat, mate. I'm warning you! He's got huge, sharp... er... He can leap about. Look at the bones!
posted by entropicamericana at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Why are we blaming Carter for losing in 1980 when his opponent was a media-savvy, photogenic, charming liar making secret deals behind his (Carter's) back to make him lose?



Wow, rabbits are even more cunning than I thought.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:56 AM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I remember this. That rabbit had a vicious streak a mile wide. I'm pretty sure Doonesbury satirized it at the time.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:58 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never trust a rabbit.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2011


Why are we blaming Carter for losing in 1980 when his opponent was a media-savvy, photogenic, charming liar making secret deals behind his (Carter's) back to make him lose?

Because Carter was in striking distance in the polls when that media-savvy liar to whom you refer won, and because the change moment of 1980 was a watershed moment in modern American politics that would have happened even without the involvement of conspiratorial secret deals.
posted by blucevalo at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2011


Stop being daft, people. Clearly the rabbit was a Republican conspirator. The lengths those twisted bastards will go to!
posted by jnnla at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There doesn't appear to be a motor on that boat. He really was serious about energy conservation.
posted by quadog at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


5 Adorable Animals That Are Turning to the Dark Side.

(Yes, bunnies).
posted by weston at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2011


There is a long, frightening history of attack rabbits.
posted by likeso at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2011


Anya was right.
posted by Bonzai at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The damage was that it made him look weak and defenseless

I knew it was in the spring, but I didn't remember that Operation Eagle Claw failed only four days later. I wonder if the tenacity of the rabbit story is due partly to the other event. If the hostages had been rescued, would the rabbit have become such a part of Presidential folklore?

I remember the failure of the rescue mission, too. My dad woke me up for school saying "Get up, an attempt to rescue the hostages failed." I listened to the early news reports on the radio while I ate breakfast then I tied an onion to my belt, as we did back then ...
posted by octobersurprise at 11:22 AM on April 20, 2011


Obligatory Gabriel vs. killer rabbit Xena clip link. Caution: may warp impressionable minds!
posted by jabah at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jimmy Carter was also a badass nuclear engineer who led the team cleaning up one of the first major nuclear reactor meltdown incidents.
posted by Bwithh at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the hostages had been rescued, would the rabbit have become such a part of Presidential folklore?

Maybe not. I had totally forgotten about the aborted rescue. I was mainly thinking of all those nights that you saw Frank Reynolds and Ted Koppel intoning "Day 4hudnredfreaking19 of the Hostage Crisis" at the top of every newscast.

Yeah, I know, you had to be there.
posted by blucevalo at 11:44 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


it made him look weak and defenseless,

I always thought this was weird, because any sane person would back the fuck away from a supposedly easily frightened animal that was aggressively attacking. Any number of things could be causing it and some of them, like rabies (though not likely in a swimming animal) are really terrifying to consider.

I very nearly guarantee that you take any right wing person who used this to bash Carter, stick them in a tiny boat without a weapon, and put an irrationally angry, actively hostile animal nearby, and I'll bet they'll react with equal caution. I know I would.
posted by quin at 11:51 AM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anya was right.

Indeed, William Pratt's unfortunate one-night-stand was right.
posted by williampratt at 11:55 AM on April 20, 2011


Conspiracy theory for the day:
What is it with the CIA and Democratic presidents? Carter-Iran hostages, Kennedy-Bay of Pigs...
posted by Cranberry at 11:58 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I very nearly guarantee that you take any right wing person who used this to bash Carter, stick them in a tiny boat without a weapon, and put an irrationally angry, actively hostile animal nearby, and I'll bet they'll react with equal caution.

No, Reagan would have squeezed the life out of the thing with his bare hands and then beat his chest while shouting "VENGEANCE IS MINE!"
posted by blucevalo at 11:59 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here, a strange Carter story.
I had read that Carter claimed to have seen a UFO and stated that if elected, he would then make sure that every record and document our govt had on UFSs would be made public. He won. Nothing came of his promise. Years later, long after he was no longer president, having read about this, I wrote him and asked about this claim and promise. No answer.
posted by Postroad at 12:11 PM on April 20, 2011


Clearly the rabbit was a Republican conspirator. The lengths those twisted bastards will go to!

No, the conspirators were at the Washington Post which plastered this ridiculous story on the front page of the paper. These are the DC insiders that hated Carter. These are the same people who hated Bill Clinton because they weren't their class of people. As Post columnist David Brooks said about Clinton, "He came in here and trashed the place and its not his place."

There is a reason the Washington Post is known as Fox on 15th Street.
posted by JackFlash at 12:12 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Carter's imbroglio made for a neat band name in the '80s as well.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:31 PM on April 20, 2011


Pretzel, anyone?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:34 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are we blaming Carter for losing in 1980 when his opponent was a media-savvy, photogenic, charming liar making secret deals behind his (Carter's) back to make him lose?

I doubt Carter would have beat anyone at that point. Inflation, the Iran hostages, etc.....he was seen as weak, ineffectual and as having tarnished the gravitas of the presidency. Seriously. He was just not seen as Presidential back then.

Hard to explain if you didn't live thru it. And yes, the bunny thing was a really big deal back then.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2011


Oh, and don't forget the Playboy interview. The first Playboy I ever saw was the one with the Jimmy Carter interview in it. Boy, was there mockery attatched to that too.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:42 PM on April 20, 2011


It's not widely known, but there's footage of the incident as well.
posted by brundlefly at 12:50 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'll never get tired of linking that.
posted by brundlefly at 12:50 PM on April 20, 2011


Every 4/20 there is a moment in the day where I become paranoid that a swamp rabbit is lurking in the bushes. Its always around 4:20 pm.
posted by arveale at 12:53 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, the conspirators were at the Washington Post which plastered this ridiculous story on the front page of the paper. These are the DC insiders that hated Carter.

I'm pretty sure any time there are pictures of any president being attacked by any bunny they're going on the front page.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:55 PM on April 20, 2011


St. Alia of the Bunnies: "he was seen as weak, ineffectual and as having tarnished the gravitas of the presidency. Seriously. He was just not seen as Presidential back then. "

Ironic, given that his average monthly job creation numbers are the second best since WWII. Yes, besting Reagan. Only Clinton exceeded his average. I'd rather have inflation and jobs than no inflation and no jobs, but that's just born-during-Carter's-term me.
posted by wierdo at 12:59 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


According to the comments on the Straight Dope that could have been a nutria rather than a rabbit. I can confirm that those are horrid, nasty things. And they're huge.
posted by mike_bling at 12:59 PM on April 20, 2011


My old political science professor told us that a large portion of Carter's troubles with the press started with what he fed them.

From what I recall, the story is this: In previous administrations, going back decades, being in the White House Press Corps meant that on press conference days, you got an absolutely splendid meal, prepared by the White House chef. This, apparently, was quite a treasured perk. Carter, however, felt that this was a needless extravagance, so instead of serving them lobster thermidor on bone china, he put out trays of cold sandwiches. The press corps was not impressed, and despite tactful efforts to tell Carter what was what, he refused to budge on the issue. He himself ate cold cuts all the time. He was fine with cold cuts. How the press corps could feel entitled to anything beyond cold cuts was beyond his ability to comprehend, especially given the economy. Many journalists, however, felt it not as a tightening of the national belt but as a slap in their collective face. As a result, when things like the bunny attack came along, there were many who were inclined to push them hard, and to make Carter choke on his own cold bologna.

I seem to recall hearing that Carter had similar issues with the intelligence service (not about sandwiches per se, I don't think), and that his having the less-than-zealous backing of the CIA contributed significantly to the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. (This might have come from Dr. Wattenberg too, but I couldn't swear to it.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


his so-called "malaise" speech

It's a shame that the content of that speech wasn't taken to heart 30-odd years ago. It's likely we could have a much more healthy economy and less animosity directed at the US from around the globe if we'd actually listened.
posted by hippybear at 1:04 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well the oil embargo was brutal, I was just a kid but I remember the lines at gas stations and people siphoning gas from parked cars.

He also asked people to wear sweaters.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:17 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget shooting his sister-in-laws cat with a shotgun in 1990.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


having the less-than-zealous backing of the CIA contributed significantly to the failure of Operation Eagle Claw

What, they put sand in the helicopter bearings?

The big thing Carter was saddled with was the misery index. It made re-election an uphill battle even without all the other stuff. He had scandals early on (e.g. Bert Lance), and he came to Washington with most of a Democratic-majority Congress already disenchanted with him. As a result he had probably the poorest relationship with a Congress dominated by his own party of any President in living memory. Foreign policy risks that came to haunt him politically included the "giveaway" of the Panama Canal -- which may have marked the first time that the right, instead of simply being reactionary, pushed a hot-button issue as a political coup-de-main, a tactic that has today become routine.

I think it's possible to think Carter a good man but a poor President. For all that, both the decision to launch Eagle Claw, and later to abort it, must have been among the most wrenching an American President has ever had to take.
posted by dhartung at 1:32 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Attack of the double-digit inflation not repelled by simultaneous canceling of M-1, B-1, and Minuteman projects... covert attack rabbit sent on mission.
posted by buzzman at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm pretty sure any time there are pictures of any president being attacked by any bunny they're going on the front page.

Except there were no pictures. The Post actually ran a cartoon of a killer rabbit on the front page with this story. The incident had happened many months earlier so it wasn't even news. It came about as the retelling of an old anecdote over drinks to a reporter. Actual photographs only turned up many years later under the Reagan administration. The Post was just ax grinding.

Like I said, Fox on 15th Street.
posted by JackFlash at 1:56 PM on April 20, 2011


What, they put sand in the helicopter bearings?


My super, super, super-vague recollection is that they didn't provide the most up-to-date info about wind/ground conditions, so the team didn't end up preparing correctly for tryng to land helicopters in driving sand.

Again, I don't remember whether this info came from my undergrad political science prof, or, like, Art Bell, so take it with several grains of salt.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:59 PM on April 20, 2011


Except there were no pictures

Yes, there are....
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:07 PM on April 20, 2011


Apparently you have difficulty reading. Those pictures never surfaced until many years later. The Post ran a story with a cartoon.
posted by JackFlash at 2:10 PM on April 20, 2011


Yes, there are....

There weren't at the time. The pictures were released later.
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:10 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


and because the change moment of 1980 was a watershed moment in modern American politics that would have happened even without the involvement of conspiratorial secret deals.

Really, who knows?

I had read that Carter claimed to have seen a UFO and stated that if elected, he would then make sure that every record and document our govt had on UFSs would be made public.

Guh. 1. Beware the anecdote. 2. I'd imagine a number of those sightings were of military prototypes, and thus not well to reveal for other reasons.
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on April 20, 2011


> Why are we blaming Carter for losing in 1980 when his opponent was a media-savvy, photogenic, charming
> liar making secret deals behind his (Carter's) back to make him lose?

Why, you make Reagan sound positively Presidential there!

I admire Carter a great deal, in spite of the rabbit and idiot-brother-Billy and a few other things like that, but in point of fact none of the things I most admire about him were things that might have made him a successful political alley fighter. If people blamed him for losing it's likely because of remembering what a brass-knuckles, knee-to-the-nuts kind of guy Lyndon Johnson could be when he felt like it (which was often) and thinking "Don't we have anybody who isn't a creampuff? First Mcguffin, I mean McGovern, now this."

It was very easy to get all nostalgic for LBJ's toughness and forget Vietnam and the other less pleasant things when you were looking back at him across eight years of Nixon.
posted by jfuller at 2:26 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I doubt Carter would have beat anyone at that point. Inflation, the Iran hostages, etc.....he was seen as weak, ineffectual and as having tarnished the gravitas of the presidency. Seriously. He was just not seen as Presidential back then.

Carter was within striking distance of Reagan at the polls at several points. On Election eve 1980, he and Reagan were even. On January 29, 1980, the Harris poll reported, "President Carter so dominates the American political scene now that his margin over Ronald Reagan in a post-Iowa trial heat has risen to an overwhelming 65-31 percent. And against George Bush, the GOP candidate who finished first in the recent Iowa caucuses, Carter leads by only a slightly lower 62-32 percent."

So, no, Carter was not always and by everyone "just not seen as Presidential."
posted by blucevalo at 2:32 PM on April 20, 2011


Don't forget shooting his sister-in-laws cat with a shotgun in 1990.

Thanks for the link to a blog called ..... Moonbattery! That really carries a lot of credibility, lemme tell ya!
posted by blucevalo at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2011


Oh, and don't forget the Playboy interview. The first Playboy I ever saw was the one with the Jimmy Carter interview in it. Boy, was there mockery attatched to that too.

That interview was November 1976. Carter later admitted it was a "devastating blow to our campaign." But he still beat Gerald Ford.
posted by blucevalo at 2:38 PM on April 20, 2011


I've heard Carter in recent interviews talk about how he lacked Democratic party support in 1980. Kennedy was still in a snit about being beaten in the primary and apparently did everything he could to hamper the party's efforts during the presidential race. Of course, this is just another example of the Dems shooting themselves in the foot -- challenging a sitting president from within the party.
posted by sardonyx at 2:41 PM on April 20, 2011


My super, super, super-vague recollection is that they didn't provide the most up-to-date info about wind/ground conditions, so the team didn't end up preparing correctly for tryng to land helicopters in driving sand.

The sand was kicked up by the helicopter blades, which blinded the pilots, one of whom flew his helicopter into one of the parked planes. If anything, the military planners should have thought through the logistics more carefully.

Interagency infighting is real, but the idea that the CIA would deliberately sabotage the most high-stakes military action of the Carter years, one which had it been successful would have been a huge coup for all involved, just isn't credible. The CIA would have wanted those hostages rescued as much as anyone else, and they're not in the business of letting US soldiers or civilians die just to make a point about the budget.
posted by Dasein at 2:56 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


So this happened on 4-20? Well, that explains that.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:18 PM on April 20, 2011


Can we get back to the rabbit please?

What to do when your bunny bites (there is debate about whether squealing is a good idea)
A rabbit takes on a snake and wins.
Rabbits that run with the wolves.
Sylvilagus aquaticus: the swamp rabbit.
posted by rongorongo at 3:27 PM on April 20, 2011


> As Post columnist David Brooks said about Clinton

Actually, that was David Broder.

> I had read that Carter claimed to have seen a UFO and stated that if elected, he would then make sure that every record and document our govt had on UFSs would be made public.

> Guh. 1. Beware the anecdote.

Carter was quite interested in UFOs.

Apparently, his people dispatched Daniel Sheehan (he of the Christic Institute) to do some digging, including via the Vatican.

Video here.

Interestingly, Carter seems to have tangled with then-CIA head GHW Bush on the matter.

http://wonkette.com/239788/jimmy-carter-targeted-by-bush-41s-bizarre-ufo-scam

Of course, the ultimate just-so story on Carter and UFOs, loving retailed in the depths of the web, has Carter being asked about UFOs and his release-everything promise at a book-signing, only to Say Nothing, Look Away, and Shed a Single Tear... rather as if he was a Native American chief in a Seventies PSA, contemplating roadside pollution.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:57 PM on April 20, 2011


A lot of people (to include me) did not vote for Reagan back then as he was seen as a scary warmonger.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2011


Jimmy Carter bludgeons, drowns Easter Bunny
posted by Sys Rq at 4:39 PM on April 20, 2011


That is one bad ass rabbit.

All you haterz that think you gotz ballz, you swim up to the President of the United States and try to bite him. Go ahead.

Yeah you soft, all right? Softer than a lil bunny rabbit. Oh no? Oh so okay then do it.

Yeah right, okay. I got you. Soft as a etha bunny.

Rabbit is bad ass.
posted by pressF1 at 4:54 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Definitely a conspiracy. Someone sowing Elmer FUD.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:17 PM on April 20, 2011


Don't forget shooting his sister-in-laws cat with a shotgun in 1990.

Also don't forget that the cat refused to apologize afterward.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:03 PM on April 20, 2011


...and to make Carter choke on his own cold bologna.

That's nothing compared to how my cousin Walter d-- wait...
posted by Evilspork at 7:46 PM on April 20, 2011


Night of the Lepus?

Jimmy Carter is kind of reminiscent of DeForest Kelley
posted by oonh at 7:49 PM on April 20, 2011


There is a pretty good book, "What The Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President," that details the Carter presidency in the months leading up to the "malaise" speech. It covers the rabbit episode and also goes into great detail about these weird meetings with various bigwigs and luminaries that Carter held at Camp David to talk about the problems of the U.S. at the time. It's a sympathetic portrait but still leaves you with the impression that Carter was sort of lost in the White House.

Also - apparently, polling data shows that it was his firing of his entire cabinet in July 1979 that really killed his approval ratings.
posted by Mid at 7:50 PM on April 20, 2011


That rabbit really gets around.
posted by neuron at 9:27 PM on April 20, 2011


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