Opinion: Jimmy Carter spills the beans on Joe Biden spilling the beans on Edward Kennedy’s political plot
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It seems like only 32 years ago next week that Democratic President Jimmy Carter was going through his first and last midterm election as head of that party.
Although in late 1978 the country was beginning to experience the high energy prices and inflation that would help propel Republican Ronald Reagan into the White House two years later, JC did pretty well in the midterm, by the standards of 2010’s outlook anyway.
Carter’s party kept control of both sides of Capitol Hill by losing only three Senate seats and 15 House seats. Unnoticed at that time was the fact that those Republican victories brought...
...to town a couple of new representatives named Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney. Voters in Texas delivered an inauspicious House defeat to a neophyte named George W. Bush, which would turn out to be his only career political loss. Who can ever forget Jimmy Carter in those cardigan sweaters retiring to his private study to read what seemed to be every book ever written? After riding into town as a reforming outsider following the sordid GOP mess of Watergate and the Nixon pardon, Carter was seen by many within his own party’s D.C. establishment as, well, an outsider. If you could ever imagine Washington acting like a closed club of self-defined elites.
Since his involuntary political retirement in January 1981, Carter has gone on to write numerous books himself.
The latest is ‘White House Diary,’ which by several accounts is a good, candid historical read for the dwindling number of people who can recall those years when ‘Shadow Dancing’ and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ were the hit songs.
And no one knew about this Hawaiian high school basketball player named Barry Obama.
One of the not-so-insignificant stories in Carter’s new book, which he shared on CNN with John King on Tuesday, involved a three-year, Shakespearean-like political plot by certain Democratic senators to dump this Georgian with the cheesy smile from the national ticket in 1980 and to restore national party power to its rightful Northeastern cliques.
The plot was led by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the brother of one assassinated president and one assassinated presidential aspirant. As early as 1978, Kennedy was lining up fellow senators to back his planned coup.
Carter, according to Carter, remained clueless of the developing rebellion that would severely complicate his later legislative agenda.
Until one day this young fellow Joe Biden made an Oval Office appointment. As one of those just-get-the-job-done-state-chief-executive-governors that Americans tend to favor in the White House, Carter wasn’t big on the sort of nonstop legislative schmoozing and maneuvering that still consumes those swamp denizens.
And dinky Delaware’s Sen. Biden was not yet known as a back-slapping, effing gaffe-prone talking machine.
Carter was receptive to a friendly chat because Biden had helped him in 1976 and, according to the old-fashioned rules, Carter returned the help during Biden’s first reelection campaign in 1978.
But Biden didn’t come calling to predict that once again the Pittsburgh Steelers would beat the Dallas Cowboys in the next Super Bowl.
He was there to alert the president that the friendly hi-how-are-you-doing-senator from Massachusetts was secretly planning a political revolt to dump Carter and had already approached Biden and others to lock in support.
Carter never forgot that intelligence tip. As a result, Carter was successfully able in the end to foil Kennedy’s presidential bid and win the ultimately dubious distinction of winning six states and 49 electoral votes to Reagan’s 44 states and 489 electoral votes.
As another result, Biden comes off rather well in the Carter book.
Over many ensuing years in the Senate, Biden was able to work closely with Kennedy and cry at his funeral last year. And although he competed in 2007-08 against both fellow senators Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Biden successfully built useful relationships there too, leading to his 2008 choice as Obama’s running mate and on to become the nation’s 47th vice president.
Carter told King he’s so busy with his Carter Center international work that he hasn’t had time for domestic politics, even if the party wanted him, which might be doubtful. We haven’t seen much of Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis either since their defeats.
‘I’ve been pretty well removed from the Democratic Party affairs since I left office,’ Carter said. ‘And it’s not because I -- I wouldn’t like to help. I hope the Democrats do well. But I don’t think we’re going to have very good luck this time.’
Straight from the mouth of No. 39 to the ears of No. 44.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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