Man Without Qualities

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Convention Addresses
Jimmy Carter

Few can rival Jimmy Carter's exquisite talent for finding the mal mot, that precisely wrong thing to say and at precisely the worst time. To really possess this talent and make it part of one's self, it is not enough to be able to speak inappropriately. One must be able to identify a topic and viewpoint that does occupy the moment, an opinion that hovers in the air but which other have not addressed - and then to find just the language to express that opinion in a way that makes everybody who shares it absolutely squirm in the greatest possible discomfort. There was indeed a "crisis of confidence" when Mr. Carter noted it during one of the many low points of his presidency, and when he several days later talked of "a national malaise" nobody could doubt that one existed in the part of the nation comprising the environs of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. These irksome ideas and opinions were in "in the air" at the time - part of an unarticulated zeit geist - but it took a man of Jimmy Carter's particular caliber to express these ideas and opinions so perfectly at exactly the time the nation neither wanted or needed to hear them. Nor does Mr. Carter's talent operate only on the grand but impersonal national scale. On a more intimate level, we can be confident that Mr. Carter indeed "lusted in his heart" when he pointlessly confirmed something already presumed about the President and most other men in that 1976 interview with Playboy's Barry Golson and Robert Scheer so evocative of fingernails drawn across a blackboard.

 So who but Jimmy Carter would open a Convention set to nominate as its candidate a man married to a woman worth One Billion Dollars with the line:

[W]e need new leaders in Washington whose policies are shaped by working American families instead of the super- rich and their armies of lobbyists in Washington!
 Ah, Jimmy! Every time one hears him speak it brings back so much, so many memories. Fortunately for Senators Kerry and Edwards, it appears few voters were watching or listening last night to have those memories exhumed.

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