DENVER | Taking a rare shot at another White House alumnus, former President Jimmy Carter tells The Washington Times that Bill Clinton became an unwittingly divisive figure during the Democratic primaries who hurt his wife’s chances to win the presidency with a series of verbal gaffes.
“As he tried to campaign for his wife, I think in the heat of the campaign, he made some verbal mistakes,” Mr. Carter said in an interview Wednesday night just minutes before Mr. Clinton took the podium at the Democratic National Convention. “I made plenty of them when I was running for president, too. So I don’t blame him for it, but I think in some of his remarks, he has hurt his wife’s candidacy.”
Mr. Carter praised the Clinton administration’s domestic policies. But when asked whether Mr. Clinton had been a divisive figure, he agreed though stressed he believed it was unintentional.
During the heated primary season, Mr. Clinton was rebuked by fellow Democrats such as Rep. Jim Clyburn, vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, for making racially insensitive comments on the campaign trail against Sen. Barack Obama, the man who eventually defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Clintons sought to put those bitter times behind them with prime time speeches this week that warmly embraced Mr. Obama’s nomination.
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Mr. Carter also criticized Mr. Clinton for waiting until the last minute to seek peace in the Middle East and urged Mr. Obama, if elected, to make peace between Israel and Palestine a priority.
“I would like also for Obama to say, since I’m interested in the Middle East, that from the beginning of my administration, we’ll begin to work for peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians,” said Mr. Carter, who provoked an outcry earlier this year for meeting with senior officials of the Palestinian party Hamas. “Whereas, in the previous period, the presidents have waited until the last year because it’s a very controversial issue.”
Mr. Carter said he would have been comfortable with a president John McCain had he won in 2000, but believes the likely Republican nominee has since morphed into a candidate espousing right-wing views, embracing President Bush’s tax cuts that he formerly opposed.
“I think he’s dramatically changed in the last few months,” Mr. Carter said. “He was for the separation of church and state, and now he’s in bed with the right-wing religious groups that might help him get elected as president. He was against off-shore drilling, until lately when the oil companies got to him and said, ‘You’ve got to do this.’”
“I don’t now what he’ll do as president, because we don’t know which John McCain might be elected. Was it the one that existed in 2000 or in his previous history as a senator or is it the John McCain we’ve seen of the last few months as he’s tried to reach out to the most radical and conservative elements of the Republican Party?”
Mr. Carter, who in 2006 told the Charlie Rose show that Mr. Obama had yet to prove substance or experience to be the president, on Wednesday said the newly-minted candidate has much more national and defense experience than when the Georgian took office in 1977.
“Obama had a chance to serve in Washington,” said Mr. Carter, who won the presidency after serving four years as governor and two terms in the Georgia State Senate. “He’s been a member of the Armed Services Committee, working hand in hand with (vice presidential nominee) Joe Biden and with the great Republican leaders as well. I never had that opportunity. So he has a lot more experience in dealing, from a national perspective, with defense matters and in international, foreign affairs.
Mr. Obama, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under Mr. Biden’s leadership, has come under fire for his lack of attendance at key hearings. A report by The Hill newspaper found Mr. Obama was absent from two of three hearings on Afghanistan. Mr. Obama became chairman of the committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs in January 2007. Mrs. Clinton criticized her former opponent for not holding a single hearing on the NATO mission in Afghanistan since he took the subcommittee’s helm.
A Washington Post tally found Mr. Obama has missed more than 45 percent of Senate votes during the current congressional session.