Jimmy Carter's racist campaign of 1970

Former President Jimmy Carter has created a stir today by alleging that those protesting and opposing President Obama's health care bill — by some measures, up to 55 percent of the country — are doing so because they cannot accept the idea of a black man in the White House. As The New York Times put it:

He lamented the tone of disrespect toward the current president, adding: “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care. It’s deeper than that.”

Setting aside the much greater disrespect shown by the Left at nearly every moment of former President George W. Bush's presidency, it is not unfair to suggest that Carter is attributing the same racial cynicism to others that he himself employed during his 1970 campaign for governor of Georgia.

Readers should refer to Stephen Hayward's The Real Jimmy Carter if they want a taste of the out-and-out racism that Carter employed in order to defeat moderate former Gov. Carl Sanders for the Democratic nomination that year. As Hayward's book points out:

  • Carter's top campaign staffers were spotted distributing grainy photographs of Sanders arm-in-arm celebrating with two black men. Sanders was a part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks, and in the photograph he was celebrating a victory with two players who were pouring champagne over his head. Carter's leaflet was intended to depress Sanders's white vote.
  • “The Carter campaign also produced a leaflet noting that Sanders had paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.”
  • Carter criticized Sanders, a former governor, for preventing Alabama Gov. and notorious segregationist George Wallace from speaking on Georgia state property. “I don't think it was right for Governor Sanders to try to please a group of ultra-liberals, particularly those in Washington, when it means stifling communication with another state,” said Carter.
  • “'I have no trouble pitching for Wallace votes and black votes at the same time,' Carter told a reporter. Carter also said to another reporter, 'I can win this election without a single black vote.'”
  • Upon receiving the endorsement of former Democratic Gov. Lester Maddox, Carter responded by praising the life-long segregationist: “He has brought a standard of forthright expression and personal honesty to the governor's office, and I hope to live up to his standard.” Maddox had not only refused to serve blacks in the restaurant he once owned, but he had also greeted civil rights protestors with a gun, and made sticks available to his white customers with which to intimidate them.
  • “The campaign paid for radio ads for a fringe black candidate, C.B. King, in an effort to siphon black votes away from Sanders.”
  • “Then there was the radio commercial in which Carter said he would never be the tool of any 'block' vote, slurring over the word 'block' so that it could be mistaken for 'black.'

Carter won the Democratic nomination and the governorship — unsurprisingly, with almost no black support. He famously did not carry the racism of his 1970 campaign into his governorship. That is laudable, but his campaign was not. Nor is it laudable for him today to attribute his own racial cynicism to others who have ample reasons for legitimate political disagreement with this president.

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