The Worst Ex-President
By Jamie Glazov | May 6, 2004

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Steven Hayward, the F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new book The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry.
Welcome to Frontpage Interview, Mr. Hayward. It is a pleasure to have you with us.
Hayward: Always fun to be on the Frontpage!
Why, after all this time, should we be taking another look at Jimmy Carter?

Hayward: Two reasons.  First, Carter has somehow managed to acquire the image, even among many conservatives who ought to know better, as "America's finest ex-president."  In fact, he should be regarded as America's worst ex-president (though Bill Clinton has a long time yet to make his own bid for the title) for the way he has meddled ruinously in the foreign affairs of the nation, especially North Korea.  Second, what might be called "Carterism"—a sentimental, neopacifist view of the world—has come to define the core ideology of Democratic party liberalism today. 

FP: Are we witnessing the decline of the Democratic Party?


Hayward: Yes I think so. The Democratic Party has been in long-term decline since it lost its nerve in the mid-1960s and began caving in by degrees to its far left wing.  People today forget, for example, that its most prominent liberals in the early 1970s like Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie, and even Tip O'Neill, all expressed strong opposition to abortion on demand, yet today no Democrat dares voice any deviation from the radical feminist line.  Carter was initially thought in 1976 to be a bulwark against this leftist slide--he had, after all, opposed McGovern in 1972--but he proved to be a vessel that ratified rather than resisted the Democrats' slide further to the left.


FP: What made you decide to write about Carter?
Hayward: I got sick and tired of hearing people describe Carter as "our finest ex-President."  The same statecraft that generated his ruinous presidency has informed his post-presidential politics. If he had just stuck with building homes with Habitat for Humanity, he might deserve the accolade as our best ex-president.  But he doesn't.


FP: Why don’t we start with Carter's general record. Give us a brief laundry list of his failures.
Hayward: He was a disaster on the economy, blaming high inflation, for example, on the character of the American people.  But by far his worst failing was in foreign policy.  His human rights policy led to human rights disasters in Iran and Nicaragua, and emboldened the Soviet Union to extend its reach further into the third world.  The fruits of the Iran disaster are still very much with us today.  The fall of Iran set in motion the advance of radical Islam and the rise of terrorism that culminated in September 11.  If we had stuck by the Shah or his successors, the history of the last 25 years in the Middle East would have been very different (and the Iranian people would have been better off, too).  For starters, the Soviet Union would have hesitated greatly over invading Afghanistan
in 1979.

FP: Yes, Carter facilitated the coming to power of Marxists in Nicaragua and Islamist despots in Iran, Both of the new tyrannies by far surpassed the brutality of their predecessors. Meanwhile, by letting the Soviets know he wouldn’t lift a finger if they invaded Afghanistan, Carter spawned a war that ultimately saw one million dead Afghans, five million displaced, and a situation of evil that nurtured the Islamic hatred and militancy that ultimately turned on the West and gave us 9/11. How is it that a man who fertilized the soil in which so much evil grew remains completely unchastened?


Hayward: Carter is clearly intelligent in the SAT-score sense of the word, but he seems utterly incapable of learning anything from experience.  Even Neville Chamberlain, the arch-appeaser of England in the 1930s, eventually came around about the Nazis, but Carter and liberals like him can't be shaken from their sentimental view of the world, even by something as stark as 9/11.

FP: So what do you think it is in Carter’s personality and ideology that engendered his disastrous record?
Hayward: Carter is a mixture of neo-Kantianism—that is, the philosophical view that your good intentions outweigh the practical consequences of your actions and words—and left-wing Christian pacifism that believes the use of force is always wrong.  Although Carter, like most liberals, says that the use of force is always to be available as "the last resort," in practice Carter would never reach "the last resort."  There is always one more negotiation to be held, one more appeal to the United Nations, etc.  In one sentence, you might say that while Ronald Reagan believed in "peace through strength," Carter and other liberals like Kerry believe in "peace through talk."  You'd think they'd have learned from history by now, but no.


FP: When you point out that Carter and other liberals like Kerry should have learned from history by now, a serious question comes to mind. Do you think these disastrous Democratic Party leaders such as Carter and Clinton are just plain stupid and naïve? Or is there actually an inner desire to harm and hurt their own country and society? Surely it can’t be a complete coincidence in terms of how much damage they actually do. Is there a malicious agenda in the heart of these individuals toward America? Some kind of inner self-hate?


Hayward: I'd like to think that is it mere stupidity and naiveté.  However I fear it is something worse.  I think there is at work what Malcom Muggeridge and others called "the great liberal death wish."  I recently reread James Burnham's classic 1964 book, Suicide of the West, and it reads like a perfect description of the Carter-Kerry worldview that holds our own national interests in great suspicion and sympathizes with our enemies out of guilt.  Burnham wrote the following: “If he [the liberal] thinks that his country’s weapons or strategy ‘menace peace,’ then Peace, he feels, not his country’s military plans, should take precedence.”  This certainly explains Kerry's voting record on defense and intelligence, and Carter's own policy about arms during his presidency.


FP: Tell us what you think of Carter winning the Nobel Prize.
Hayward: Carter panted after the Nobe Peace Prize for years, seeing it as a means of gaining official redemption for his humiliation at the hands of the voters in 1980.  He lobbied quietly behind the scenes for years to get the prize, and finally met with success in 2002 when the left-wing Nobel Prize committee saw an opportunity to use Carter as a way of attacking President Bush and embarrassing the United States.  The head of the Nobel Prize committee openly admitted that this was their motivation in selecting Carter.  Any other ex-president would have refused to be a part of such an obvious anti-American intrigue, but not Jimmy.  Here we should observe that Carter conceives himself much more as a citizen of the world than as a citizen of the United States, and I think it is highly revealing that Carter is most popular overseas in those nations that hate America the most, such as Syria, where they lined the streets cheering for Carter when he visited.


FP: Yes, we had Syrians cheering for Carter and now our Islamist enemies are rooting for Kerry. I’ll be honest, I am horrified at the idea of Kerry winning the election and overseeing the War on Terror. This is a guy that appears to believe that people like Osama just need understanding and that those who hate us only do so because of what we do, and not because of who and what we actually are: free people.


Does Kerry have a chance in winning? How tragic will it be if he does?


Hayward: It is hard to predict this far ahead of the election, with the Iraq situation portrayed as volatile by our perverse news media.  What this election will tell is whether the electorate remains as serious-minded about foreign affairs as it was during the Cold War, when a Democrat could not win the White House unless he seemed sufficiently robust on foreign policy. 


People forget today that Carter ran to the right of Gerald Ford on foreign policy in 1976, attacking Kissinger and detente and even quoting approvingly Ronald Reagan in one TV spot he ran in the South.  But then of course Carter lurched in the opposite direction once in office.  I think a majority of voters today will see that Kerry is essentially frivolous or worse on foreign policy.  If I am wrong about the soundness of a majority of voters, then Kerry will have a chance of winning.


FP: Let us suppose that you were invited to a political history conference in which the top scholars were asked to rate Carter as a President from a scale of 1-10 (10 being a superb president, 0 being an absolute disaster) and then to give a short verdict on his presidency and legacy, what would you say?

Hayward: He would get a zero.  He has already been identified as such.  Nathan Miller, author of The Star-Spangled Men: America's Ten Worst Presidents, ranks Carter number one among the worst.  Miller wrote that “Electing Jimmy Carter president was as close as the American people have ever come to picking a name out of the phone book and giving him the job.” I concur.  Everyone old enough recalls the high inflation under Carter, and his foreign record was just as bad.  Henry Kissinger summarized it this way: “The Carter administration has managed the extraordinary feat of having, at one and the same time, the worst relations with our allies, the worst relations with our adversaries, and the most serious upheavals in the developing world since the end of the Second World War."


FP: Thank you Mr. Hayward, our time is up. It was a privilege to speak with you.


Hayward: My pleasure Jamie.




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Previous Interviews:

Kenneth Timmerman

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Debra Dickerson

Richard Perle and David Frum

John Kekes

Robert Baer

Robert Dornan

Paul Driessen

Stephen F. Hayes

Andrew Sullivan 

Richard Pipes

Rachel Ehrenfeld

Ann Coulter

Laurie Mylroie

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Kenneth Timmerman