THE IPANA BEAVER . . . AGAIN?
Would someone to whom former President Jimmy Carter listens kindly suggest to the man that he keep his opinions to himself? He is a national and international embarrassment. During his presidency, when he succeeded in destabilizing Iran (the most notable legacy of his presidential term), and afterward presided over an aborted attempt to rescue United States hostages, it occurred to some students of world politics that Mr. Carter was out of his element and might be – well, how should I say it? – "diving into the wrong end of the pool." Throughout his presidency Americans were treated to a turbid state of presidential politics, which reflected most precisely his state of misplaced priorities and mental confusion. He spent his time personally managing the White House tennis courts and also broke our backs with double-digit inflation. Since those not-so-funny funny years, we have witnessed him, among other things, lecturing a sitting president on foreign policy, at none other than Coretta Scott King's funeral. Most recently, he has asserted that U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst to President Barack Obama's congressional address last week was an act "based on racism" and rooted in fears of a black President. "I think it's based on racism," Carter said at a town hall meeting held at his presidential center in Atlanta. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be President." All from the United States presidency's version of the Ipana beaver.
Look, Barack Obama won the presidency, did he not? I am not understanding the accusation of racism. If one wishes to equate racial animosity with criticism of Mr. Obama's politics, the country would then appear to be nosediving into racism. Sure, but criticizing cap and trade as unworkable, a public health care option as poorly conceived, a government by czars as unconstitutional, and a foreign policy as dangerously cowardly is hardly racist.
There is perhaps another way of analyzing the problem. In order to divert attention from the leading issues of the day, conventional wisdom mandates that he inject identity politics into the equation. I mean, why not play the "race card" when Barack Obama's credibility is dropping like a rock? Why not, in true fascist fashion, seek out a scapegoat? Mr. Carter dislikes former Georgia governor Lester Maddox with a passion, but might they actually be the mirror image of each other on racial politics? Interesting question.
There is a malevolent spirit in the air. It is being kindled by those on the political left. People like Janeane Garofalo who accused all tea party participants of being "racist rednecks," Van Jones the pre-eminent race hustler turned presidential guru on environmental matters, and now Jimmy Carter with a brand of idiocy all his own, should be ashamed. They have all poured sand in what everyone admits is a long-term wound.
I for one am sick of hearing every single problem racialized. Affirmative action has not helped. What it has done is to place a monumental question mark over what might otherwise be noteworthy individual accomplishment. When one sees an African-American or Hispanic practicing law or medicine, with degrees from prestigious Ivy League institutions, one is compelled to wonder whether the distinction was earned or part of a government give-away.
When I was enrolled in a Ph.D. program in a prominent institution, I noted that the most isolated students there tended to be African-Americans. Theirs was a self-imposed segregation. They were interested in studying "liberation theology" and writing dissertations on subjects such as the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the philosophy and theology of Adam Clayton Powell. Not very hearty academic fare to be sure. There was not much conversation that passed between those students and their white "colleagues." I bring this up as an example of a racialized "solution" to lack of preparedness resulting from years of slavery and Jim Crow. It did not work then, and will not work now.
A racialized atmosphere infects everything, even sports. The other day tennis star Serena Williams, while playing in the semifinals at the U.S. Tennis Open in New York, was charged with a foot fault. It was an atrocious call. Ms. Williams's response to the official who called it was profane, threatening, and thoroughly vitriolic. But, worse still, were some of the reactions to Ms. Williams's frustrated and unsportsmanlike conduct. An example is the following: "You can take the monkey out of the jungle, but not the jungle out of the monkey." The comments went downhill from there.
Many casual observers thought that President Barack Obama would govern from the center and would attempt to re-unify America. His tenure has thus far been one of the most divisive in memory. Emotions have turned ugly and are almost sure to escalate in their negative intensity over time.
Maybe it is time for everyone to calm down a bit and to make a renewed effort to practice the rules of civility. This goes for Mr. Carter too. Maybe he should treat himself to a few "Billy beers," spend his time watching "flying fish," and dream about the good old days when the Shah was once in charge of Iran. Anything to secure a circumspect silence!
September 16, 2009