President Carter’s “Superiority” Complex

Former president Jimmy Carter told NBC News on Monday that his work at home and abroad has been “superior” to other presidents. “I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents,” Carter assessed. “Primarily because of [my] activism and the injection of working at the Carter Center and in international affairs, and, to some degree, domestic affairs.”

In response to this boastful claim, we’ll hear the usual defenses: Carter misspoke. Carter is a good man. Carter has good intentions. I catch myself saying these things.

But even if well-intentioned, we shouldn’t avoid frank appraisals of Carter’s role. In truth, and especially when it relates to foreign policy, Carter has done far worse than good. More, his failures have resulted from a remarkably strange trust in some awful dictators. Carter’s infamous naïveté has been destructive, long producing inferior results, not superior ones.

Carter has been so unique in this regard, and worse than other presidents, Democrat and Republican, that, in my latest book, we placed him on the cover as a symbol of duped Americans during the Cold War; specifically, the June 1979 photo of a smiling Carter kissing Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev. Carter did this as the Soviets were rapidly picking up more satellites worldwide than any time since the 1940s, and mere months before they invaded Afghanistan.

Sure, but Carter, in his NBC interview, was talking about his work as a former president, right? Yes, but that record isn’t much better.

If you think Carter was misled by Brezhnev, consider his statements in recent decades regarding Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Hamas, Iraq, Iran, and on and on. They take your breath away. I can’t list them all, but one case stands out—namely, Carter’s visit to the world’s most repressive state: Kim’s North Korea.

Carter made a June 1994 trip to this prison state, where he was manipulated on a grand scale. Other Westerners have made that trip and were subject to manipulation. The difference, however, is few took the bait, and none like Carter. Worse, Carter magnified the manipulation in reports at press conferences, in interviews, and in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For starters, Carter dispelled speculation that Kim was dying. He found the aging despot “vigorous, alert, intelligent.” Kim died mere days after Carter’s visit.

Carter questioned the consensus that Kim was even a despot, telling Americans he observed a Kim engaged in “very free discussions with his ministers.” I’m sure that’s precisely what he saw.

Kim spearheaded a militantly atheistic regime. Yet, Carter, the born-again Baptist, found Kim “very friendly toward Christianity.”

Kim’s handlers marched Carter through their phony Potemkin village. Carter was totally hoodwinked, filing this incredible account of life in North Korea:

People are busy. They work 48 hours a week…. We found Pyongyang to be a bustling city. The only difference is that during working hours there are very few people on the street. They all have jobs or go to school. And after working hours, they pack the department stores, which Rosalynn visited. I went in one of them. It’s like Wal-Mart in American stores on a Saturday afternoon. They all walk around in there, and they seem in fairly good spirits. Pyongyang at night looks like Times Square. They are really heavily into bright neon lights and pictures and things like that.

In truth, North Korea is a sea of darkness. As a well-known satellite photo attests (click here), the country at night is draped in black—that is, when the lights are not ablaze to fool high-profile visitors like President Carter—in empty contrast to South Korea, which is awash in the glow of freedom.

Within one year of Carter’s gushing appraisal, two to three million North Koreans (out of a population of 20 million) starved to death. They weren’t packing Wal-Mart; they were eating grass, bark from trees, and, in some cases, human corpses.

Recall, too, the nuclear agreement Carter brokered while there, and not exactly with the enthusiastic go-ahead of the Clinton administration. Carter stood outside the Clinton White House and triumphantly assured “the [nuclear] crisis is over”—words headlined by the New York Times and Washington Post. A few years later, North Korea announced it was a nuclear state, in direct violation of the “Agreed Framework.”

Such doings by Carter have continued into the War on Terror.

With Jimmy Carter, the duping by despots during his presidency has continued into his post-presidency. It is not a record of “superior” service.

Please understand, I’m not trying to be mean. But self-serving claims like Carter’s should be answered. Intentions are one thing, but results are another. The Carter record should not be celebrated nor emulated.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • LarryW2LJ

    Thank you, Dr. Kengor for a spot on analysis. Too bad we’re seeing history repeat itself.


  • Joe DeVet

    I do believe Jimmy Carter was the worst President of the 20th Century. Michael Medved calls him “The Worthless One”, which may be an overestimate of his worth!

    He’s even worse as an ex-President than he was as a President. Dr. Kengor does not include in the list of his non-accomplishments the trip to Venezuela as an election “observer”, when he announced the validation of Hugo Chavez’ election with, what? a 95% majority?? Or his “negotiations” in the Middle East, taking the part of Hamas and Hezbollah–two groups implacably committed to the destruction of Israel. You can’t do a “peace process” while any of the parties have that as a first principle.

    Carter’s fulsome assessment of himself as a former President illustrates one of the reasons he’s a failure. Some people are dangerous because of what they don’t know. Others are more dangerous because they don’t know what they don’t know. Jimmy Carter continues to not know what he doesn’t know.

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  • Mary

    You know, I am amazed at you politicians who can find no good in anyone not of your own particular persuasion,(myopic and single issue). I can think of no president in my lifetime who has not made some mistakes, nor does history condemn any president since George Washington for tipping the scales on either side of right or wrong! And yet, all I read in this website is this one or that one or the current one is a scumbag and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. When I was a republican, I got sick of this kind of “holier than thou” rhetoric, so went independent. I vote for the ones I think are best suited for the position. I don’t always win, and I’m not always right but at least I don’t sit in judgement or make up lies to justify my opinions. I double dare you to walk in their shoes for a month, instead of sitting back calling them names. I think you need to look in the mirror to find the scumbags.