The Style section of Monday's Washington Post has an enormous picture of Jimmy Carter with the simple headline "The Book of Jimmy." The Post is jarringly behind Carter's publicity curve for his latest book White House Diary, but reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia began with the usual goo from Carter's church in Plains, Georgia: "On those scattered weekends when Jimmy Carter isn't out enforcing Middle East harmony or slaying Guinea worms or compensating for presidential malaise with ex-presidential vim, the 86-year-old can be found in Sunday school."
Anyone who's paid attention to Carter would know that "enforcing Middle East harmony" is not the right description for someone who compares Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.
Readers who don't want a cavity from all that sugar might move on to the next story, but Roig-Franzia arrived at a sharper point in paragraph nine, after Carter has declared that America is the nation most committed to waging war in the entire world, and that the Iraq invasion was "horribly unnecessary" -- the reporter read Carter's book and finds that he's a preachy know-it-all:
The supreme political being is Jimmy, Jimmy tells us on NBC one day: His ex-presidency "is superior" to all others. Therein lies the paradox of Jimmy Carter: a warm, toothy grin; a very sharp bite. For all his accomplishments -- the much-lauded Carter Center in Atlanta, championing Habitat for Humanity and his Nobel Peace Prize, among them -- Carter also can't resist suggesting how he who has seen it all still knows it all, and uses his wisdom not so much to transcend the petty but to punish and scold.
Liberals can certainly feel that way when Carter is selling books by kicking the casket of Ted Kennedy for not letting him have what became Obama's victory in passing a socialist health-care law. A large chunk of that know-it-all paragraph is also at the bottom of Monday's Page One, so the Post didn't exactly hide it. Their delay in running the story may also suggest they're not first on Carter's favorites list. In fact, in his diary, Carter denounces the Post as "childish and irresponsible," as well as denouncing Newsweek as "the most inaccurate publication I read." CBS was "quite often a spokesman for Israel" and Dan Rather was accused of "frivolous questioning." In fact, President Carter refused to attend a White House correspondents' dinner because he found the whole press to be "irresponsible and unnecessarily abusive."
While the Carter story covers all of page C9, it does include a text box laying out how Carter in his diary often found other political figures "acting like asses," including Sens. Frank Church and Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who "always acts like an ass." (And this comes from the entries Carter decided to publish.) The Post can both suggest Carter has a Christ complex, and then bring in his gooey vice president Walter Mondale to suggest Carter's a missionary:
The congregation marvels at four offering plates carved by Carter, turning the wooden ovals in their hands and posing for pictures with them, as if they were sacred relics. "See, his initials are right here on the back," says Bill Stock, a used-car dealer from Asheville, N.C. Etched there are the letters JC -- Jesus Christ to some. Carter leaves out his middle initial, consciously -- or perhaps subconsciously -- emulating Christ?
In an interview, Carter's vice president, Walter "Fritz" Mondale, says his former boss harbored religious aspirations when they were in the White House. "We'd have long chats during those four years," says Mondale, who has just come out with his own memoirs, The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics. "I remember one time he was thinking about becoming a missionary when his presidency ended. When you think about it, it's kind of what he's doing."
Longtime Post book critic Jonathan Yardley found Carter rarely rose above "a self-pitying whine" in this latest book in a review on September 26. He concluded:
Interestingly, these are among the few moments in these stupendously dull diaries when Carter permits his emotions to rise to the surface. For the most part he is dry, mechanical, literal-minded, petulant and utterly humorless. What, exactly, are we to say about the mind and heart of a man who can write (and then choose to publish for all to read) a passage such as this: "So far I don't feel isolated from the rest of the country since I've been in the White House. Reverend James Baker from South Carolina, immediately after he talked to me, called his sister-in-law and was so excited that he died, unfortunately. I called his wife to express my regrets." That must have made her day.