Jimmy Carter
May 12, 2002 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Jimmy Carter made history today being the first U.S. President [in or out of office] to visit Cuba since 1959. At the initial press conference Mr. Carter switched from English to Spanish, in reverence to his host [his Spanish was actually pretty good]. What can Mr. Carter hope to achieve this week and how does his action [albeit as a private citizen] affect the current administration?
posted by plemeljr (11 comments total)
Who else would Castro trust to tour his biomedical facilities? What other man would Castro allow to go anywhere or speak to anyone he chooses to while there? Who else would Castro allow to give a rare public speech that will be broadcast to the Cuban public?

Jimmy Carter can wrangle with just about anybody he wants to...he is not a threat and to be in his presence is to know human greatness in it's highest form.

I say we crown him.
posted by oh posey at 12:05 PM on May 12, 2002

Good for Jimmy. I think it was Desmond Tutu who said something like, "you can learn more from your enemies by sitting down and talking with them than you can by igoring them."
posted by keithl at 1:08 PM on May 12, 2002

It was also Tutu who said "You don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies", something which sounds really simplistic but nobody these days seem to be able to take seriously. It's the basis of reconciliation and it's tough. The attitude of "first become my friend and then I'll make peace with you" is what has fucked up practically everything in recent years. Carter is admired here (Spain) as one of the most human recent US presidents. Fair play to you Jimmy.
posted by Zootoon at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2002

George Washington's the father of our country. Maybe we should start calling Jimmy Carter the favorite uncle of our country. I mean just look at his name! He's not James. He's not "William Jefferson" or "Jonathan Quincy" somethin. He's not stuffy and pretentious. He's just good ole' Uncle Jimmy.

What amazes me about this man is what he's done since his presidency. At a time when other men just sit back and make a presidential library that tries to rewrite their legacy, Carter kept moving forward. Critics might argue that it was because he didn't have much of a legacy. The truth is he saw stuff that needed to be done. He went and did it. It's very no nonsense southern peanut farmer behavior. Somebody needs to farm peanuts. Ya don't ask questions. You don't contemplate your navel. Ya don't wonder if people are gonna make fun of you for farming peanuts. Ya go and you do it. And from my perspective, a guy who does nothin' but contemplate his navel, that's awe-inspiring.

His ambassador work. His negotiations with central america. Even when he wasn't successful, he tried where angels feared to tread. He and his wife actually help build houses for people. They don't just show up at some ceremony and shake hands and cut a ribbon. They get their hands dirty. Jimmy picks up a hammer, loosens his tie and puts.. things.. together. Walls.. and, and roofs. Bet you'll never see either Bush doin' dat. Reagan and Nixon never did that. Clinton would only help build a house if it was for a sorority and he thought he could score. Yep. Honest Abe woulda liked Jimmy Carter.

I hope history downplays the fact that Jimmy became president at a most inopportune time (hostages in Iran! Gasoline crisis. Whoodathunkit?) and did an okay job but not something that you could write home to mama about. No, history shouldn't remember him as a sluggish president. It should remember Jimmy Carter as the best ex-president we have ever had, and probably ever will. The favorite uncle of our country. Jimmy Carter.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:02 PM on May 12, 2002

Are there any other presidents who are [or were] bilingual? GWB seems sometimes to barely be able to speak English.
posted by jessamyn at 3:07 PM on May 12, 2002

I once heard Carter telling a great story in an interview about a campaign to have Spanish taught in Texas schools. Some senator took the bible in his hand and said "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me". Bush's Spanish is laudable but laughable unfortunately. It is a good gesture though, as is any attempt at foreign languages and running the risk of the odd faux pas.
posted by Zootoon at 3:29 PM on May 12, 2002

Why doesn't Jimmy run for a second term as President? Would he be up to it?
posted by tomcosgrave at 3:41 PM on May 12, 2002

in reverence to his host

I think you meant "in deference to his host" (end of nitpick).
posted by briank at 4:35 PM on May 12, 2002

I would so vote for Jimmy Carter if he ran again. He deserves to go down in history as our greatest statesman. He has more integrity in his little finger than our last four presidents combined had in their entire bodies.
posted by RylandDotNet at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2002

I do not understand this reverence for Jimmy Carter. Carter is an intelligent and honest man, but his presidency was a disaster. A president is an executive. He has to lead. He has to manage the huge federal bureaucracy, to convince the many warring factions and interests in both his administration and Congress to work together for a common goal. Carter couldn't, and didn't. If Reagan was a hands-off president, who delegated everything, Carter was a hands-on president, who delegated nothing, and consequently accomplished nothing, because he got bogged down in detail.

Example: one of the larger pork-barrel havens in every Federal budget are the dam and river projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, which are condemned by both the left and the right. These projects are done by local contractors, who are paid by the Federal Government, and who then make generous contributions to the campaigns of the congressmen who approved the projects. Carter tried to stop the nonsense, the projects that didn't make any sense, but he did so in such a ham-handed and arrogant fashion that he pissed off the entire Congress, and as a result, not only failed to control this particular pork barrel problem, but couldn't get any cooperation from Congress for the rest of his term. Carter's fault, or Congress's? Congress's, of course, but part of being an effective executive is that you have to get people to work with you, whether they're nice people or not, whether they like you or not, whether they're in your party or not. Carter couldn't. Reagan could.

The consequences of not being able to accomplish anything were severe. I lived through the Carter administration. It was pretty bad. Inflation in the US reached banana republic levels briefly, and was around 12% per year by the end of Carter's term. Unemployment was in the 7-8% range. The stock market was stagnant, and everyone's retirement savings were being ravaged by inflation. Investments were going into weird, non-productive tax dodges. This was the time of Business Week's infamous 'Death of Equities' story. The Soviets, sensing post-Vietnam US military weakness and spiritual exhaustion and confusion, invaded Afghanistan, and the Iranians felt safe in taking over our embassy and taking our diplomatic personnel hostage.

None of these problems were Carter's fault, per se. All were the result of trends that began well before his administration. But it was Carter's fault that he was utterly ineffective in dealing with them. He may be a good man, but he was a lousy president. Whatever other beef you may have with Ronald Reagan, he was able to fix these problems where Carter couldn't. Which was why he was elected, and why he remains so popular, while Carter seems little more than an amiable ghost.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:38 PM on May 12, 2002

Zootoon, that was allegedly Ma Ferguson, onetime Texas Governor -- and according to David Gergen, "Jimmy Carter likes to tell that story."

Carter may have been ill-prepared for some of the crises he was fated to face, but in that respect he's also simply unlucky. Stagflation, the "misery index", the energy crisis, the rust belt, the "national malaise", were all present and growing under Nixon and Ford ("Whip Inflation Now" buttons were his originally) -- and the crisis of confidence in government certainly didn't help. In refusing to be bowed by history's judgement, though, Carter has gained greater esteem than he ever did as President. It's been said that he's the kind of President who'd make a great Secretary of State -- and in many ways that's what he's done as an ex-President. I hate to make the comparison, but Jesse Jackson obviously tries to emulate Carter, and fails; Carter, by contrast with Jackson, has always placed himself explicitly and almost exclusively under the direction of the sitting Commander in Chief, and plays a useful role in what is often called second-track diplomacy -- where the parties use intermediaries to communicate their goals and parameters of contact and conflict.

Here the proximity of Cuba and the lack of a clear, constitutional, and popular succession in the ever-more-likely event of Fidel's death make its stability a paramount concern for the United States. It may not please the Cuban-American lobby, but this kind of sounding-out is important for our national interest. A period of d├ętente could mean a softer landing when Raul Castro or whomever takes over, perhaps even a glasnost-perestroika or an opening toward participatory government. It's essential that we have an idea of what the prospects are, or even just what the people inside the palace are thinking, especially so if there's a gap between that thinking and reality. It doesn't mean we're actually softening our stance -- that should only be done as part of a process, ideally with concessions on their side.

Indeed, just such quiet diplomacy over the years has led Cuba to keep its totalitarian repression benign by Warsaw Pact standards, using the very nearness of the US as a means of getting dissidents out of its hair. The less provocative Cuba was, the less need the US had for dealing directly with its gamesmanship.

Really, as far as anti-US opposition goes, those were the salad days, when Fidel practically ran the "Non-Aligned States" movement from his patio.
posted by dhartung at 10:22 PM on May 12, 2002

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