- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Fellow Georgian and former President Jimmy Carter has had a busy past few months. And I’m not even referring to his 80th birthday celebrated this past October.

His hectic run really started back in August, when the former president’s international good- government group, the Carter Center, served as an election monitor in the recall referendum of Fidel Castro’s good buddy and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Of course, this is the same Hugo Chavez who has weakeneddemocracyin Venezuela to an almost non-functioning level, who verbally trashes President Bush and our nation at every opportunity, and who despicably and routinely allows his military henchmen to fire on and coldly kill Venezuelan demonstrators who oppose his dictatorial-leaning ways.

So, when the recall referendum concluded, few were surprised that the election was marked by substantial anecdotal evidence of more Chavez shenanigans and bullying at the ballot box. And not many folks were stunned that Mr. Chavez claimed victory — despite an exit poll by a well-respected American polling firm forecasting his overwhelming recall. It proved to be wildly out of step with the “official” results (off by 30-plus percentage points). But what was unforeseen and shocking was Mr. Carter’s reaction to all of this.

Just one day after the Venezuelan recall referendum (which, in addition to numerous voting irregularities, saw the shooting death of one woman and injury to several others), Mr. Carter turned a blind eye to what had just transpired and endorsed the highly suspect returns. While Mr. Chavez gleefully called the tumultuous election a “democratic fiesta,” Mr. Carter chimed in by proclaiming it a “heroic performance” and saying that it was now “the responsibility of all Venezuelans to accept the results and work together for the future.” Hmmm … I just wonder how that whole “working together” thing works when you’re getting shot in the park or in line to vote? Who knows?

Regardless, Mr. Carter’s recent misadventures continued the next month when he launched an attack on a personal friend and political ally, Georgia’s senior Sen. Zell Miller. Using a national newspaper as his vehicle, Mr. Carter sent an open letter as a “loyal Democrat” to the senator, who also happens to be my constituent in Georgia’s 9th District. It seemed Mr. Carter took great issue with Mr. Miller’s decision to endorse President Bush and deliver the keynote address at this year’s Republican National Convention. In one line Mr. Carter said, “By your historically unprecedented disloyalty, you have betrayed our (loyal Democrats’) trust.”

Wow. That’s pretty strong language coming from someone who had just given the wink and nod to Fidel Castro’s Venezuelan protege. Apparently, watering down a strategic nation’s democracy is A-OK in Mr. Carter’s book, but breaking ranks with “loyal Democrats” is an unforgivable offense.

It seems Mr. Miller’s years of service to Georgia and a grateful nation were all undone in Mr. Carter’s mind by the senator’s decision to put service to his countrymen before his political party. I guess watching Mr. Miller forsake his party by standing up for lower taxes, moral values, a strong national defense and a commander in chief who will fight for the same was more than Mr. Carter could stomach. Maybe Mr. Carter just forgot that the folks in Georgia who sent him to Atlanta and Washington (Democrats and Republicans alike) call deeds like those by Mr. Miller good leadership. Hard to say. One thing is for sure, Mr. Carter’s scorecard reads: Hugo Chavez thumbs up; Zell Miller thumbs down.

But Mr. Carter’s latest wild ride wouldn’t reach its zenith until a couple of weeks later when he took to the national newspapers yet again. Fresh off of pummeling Mr. Miller in print, Mr. Carter turned his attention and angst toward the state of Florida and the then-upcoming national election. Among other things, Mr. Carter wrote, “The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely, even as many other nations are internationally certified to be transparent, honest and fair … With reforms unlikely at this late stage of the election, perhaps the only recourse will be to focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida.”

Thankfully, Mr. Carter’s indictment of the 2004 electoral process in Florida proved to be unfounded, his dire prediction off base and the “scrutiny of the suspicious process in Florida” utterly unnecessary to say the least.

Being Jimmy Carter in 2004 meant turning 80 and looking back on a substantial and proud record of public service to our great nation. But being Jimmy Carter in 2004 also meant putting international expediency and political partisanship far before everything else.

Here’s wishing Mr. Carter a great 2005 — and a new year filled with much more straight-shooting and much less divisive posturing to boot.

Rep. Charlie Norwood is a Republican from Georgia.

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