For over two decades, Democrats planning their party’s presidential conventions have faced a dilemma: what to do with Jimmy Carter? After losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter was not the most popular fellow around. In the following years, the party wasn’t eager to remind voters that Carter had once been its leaders. In recent years, Carter, while engaged in multiple humanitarian efforts at home and abroad, has sparked controversy with his candid talk about Middle East matters.
This time around, the convention planners devised a smart and appropriate way to use and acknowledge–and pay tribute–to one of the best ex-presidents in U.S. history. They showed a film in which Carter, labeled both president and humanitarian, interviewed victims of Hurricane Katrina in their still-devastated New Orleans neighborhoods. Carter also narrated the film, noting that Katrina “sent a signal around the world that our own government couldn’t take care of own people.” He noted that what has happened–and not happened–in New Orleans is similar to what he has seen in the poorest regions of the world. “We have been forgotten,” one New Orleans resident told him, as he nodded sympathetically. That sympathy was obviously genuine. And Carter took the obvious jab at George W. Bush, noting that Barack Obama, if elected, will make sure that such an inadequate government response never happens again.
Once the film ended, Carter hit the stage, with his wife, Rosalynn. The thousands of Democratic delegates cheered loudly for them. He said nothing. He waved. He left. It was well done–and a reminder that this ex-president has been more effective than the current one.