It had seemed that Jimmy Carter’s niche was secure. He was an unsuccessful, micro-managing president who became one of our most accomplished former presidents. From Habitat For Humanity home construction to international bridge building.
Granted, he did occasionally wander off the reservation overseas and didn’t always endear himself to the Clinton Administration. But then he became a cheap-shot scold when it came to the George W. Bush Administration.
That impertinent quality was most recently on display at the nationally televised funeral service for Coretta Scott King.
Sure, the Bush Administration has earned criticism regarding all matters Iraqi, but the funeral was an inappropriate forum for it. Therefore, The Rev. Joseph Lowery was out of place with his “weapons of mass destruction” broadside at President Bush. Then Bill Clinton couldn’t help but exploit the occasion for a thinly veiled message to the black community to support his wife in her presumptive presidential run.
But Carter trumped everyone in turning a national tribute into a political pulpit. With President Bush sitting right behind him, he pandered to his predominantly black audience at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church with Hurricane Katrina racial references that could have been delivered by Kanye West. His “secret government wiretaps” remark was an obvious double entendre – aimed more at President Bush than J. Edgar Hoover.
The crowd didn’t seem to mind, but that was beside the point. The former president was speaking to the nation – and, in effect, for the nation — as he helped honor a life well lived. His politically partisan comments came off as snide and classless.
Mrs. King deserved better than to have her eulogy become a platform for political sniping. So did President Bush.
As former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young observed, the Kings – for all their courage and conviction – were always “gracious.” Neither would have approved of political potshots at such an occasion, noted Young, who marched with the Kings in the non-violence vanguard of the civil rights movement.