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Democrats and the Carter legacy

Former president Jimmy Carter played just a minor role at the Democratic convention, and this, apparently, was not a fluke:

The 83-year-old Carter seems genuinely fond of Obama, but the former president’s outspoken support for Palestinian aspirations has allowed the right (and even some on the left) to caricature Carter as an extremist and terrorist-coddler. This hardly seems fair given Carter’s history, but fair doesn’t matter here: Obama, who delivered his first speech after securing the Democratic nomination at the annual AIPAC convention, is particularly sensitive to being compared to Carter. So while Carter’s old foe, Ted Kennedy (who refused, in defeat, to shake Carter’s hand at the 1980 Democratic convention) will be saluted in the peak viewing hour tonight, few Americans will even know that Carter was in Denver.

A Democratic organizer even bragged about it to the Jewish Forward (that’s a paper whose readership is responsible for sidelining Carter):

“What more could we do to diss Jimmy Carter?” said a Democratic official who was involved in deliberations on how to handle the former president’s presence at the convention. The treatment Carter received, the official added, “reflects the bare minimum that could be done for a former president.”

Apparently, Barack Obama and his team made a reasonable political calculation: sidelining a former president who’s generally considered one of the worst-ever American presidents – in order not to annoy an important Democratic constituency with which Obama already has some problems.

But look at this little-noticed poll from last week, and you might be amazed to discover that Carter is the most popular political leader among Democrats. More than Hillary Clinton, more than Al Gore, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, more than Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (Barack Obama and Bill Clinton weren’t on the list). With 63% favorability points and a reasonable 36% un-favorability points – Carter seems to be doing quite well.

Fifty-three percent of Democratic voters have a Very Favorable view of former President Carter versus only seven percent (7%) who say their view of him is Very Unfavorable.

What does it mean? There’s more than one option – you can pick yours:

1. Jewish Democrats, powerful politically but few in number, weren’t able (or weren’t trying hard enough) to sway public opinion against Carter.

2. Jewish Democrats are believed to be unsympathetic to Carter, but aren’t really that hostile.

3. Democrats in general respect Carter regardless of his kooky views on the Middle East – because they don’t see it as a significant part of his overall achievements.

4. Democrats in general agree with Carter on Middle East issues much more than they are willing to acknowledge (there’s a lot of data contradicting such a premise).

5. Democrats are still a long way from being in sync with the general population – and the rating of Carter reveals this gap even in the favorable-for-Democrats-2008-political-season.

6. Like G.W. Bush, Carter can also hope that being labeled one of the worst by most Americans is reversible.

7. Carter’s really not that bad.


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