Until last week, it had been more than three decades since Jimmy Carter made major news with comments on race and civility. But I remember them like they happened only yesterday.
Locked in a tight race for re-election against former California Governor Ronald Reagan, Carter, the lovable Sunday school teacher from Plains, Georgia reached into his bag of meanness and pulled out this nugget of racial reconciliation: Speaking to a Chicago crowd in early October, Carter warned a nation that was poised to throw him out of the White House that if elected, Reagan would divide the nation, separating "black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban."
But Carter was an equally opportunity meanie. With the death of Senator Ted Kennedy dominating the news recently, I was reminded of another example of Carter's very public mean-spiritedness. When news of a possible primary challenge by Kennedy reached Carter's ears, he lashed out at his fellow Democrat, telling a group of congressmen "I'll whip his a**."
Jimmy Carter knows all about raising the ugly specter of race to divide people and score political points. He tried it unsuccessfully in 1980 against Ronald Reagan. He also knows all about rude outbursts directed against fellow politicians like the one Joe Wilson launched against President Obama. He did the same thing against his primary opponent Ted Kennedy.
While it's always dangerous to profess to be able to discern racial motives of people simply by looking at them, we can all use reminders to treat each other with respect, even as we vigorously debate the issues of the day. But when it comes to former President Carter, he may want to preface any lectures toward fellow citizens on race and civility by the sort of preamble that alcoholics give at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, something like, "Hello, I'm Jimmy Carter and I've used race to divide people and been uncivil towards politicians."
Mark Joseph is a producer and author. He is the editor of Bullypulpit.com.
Mark Joseph is a film producer and marketing expert who has worked on the development and marketing of 25 films. His most recent book is The Lion, The Professor & The Movies: Narnia's Journey To The Big Screen.