- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER | Taking a rare shot at his fellow White House alumnus, former President Jimmy Carter told The Washington Times that Bill Clinton became an unwittingly divisive figure during the Democratic primaries, damaging his wife Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’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,” the Georgia Democrat said.

Mr. Carter praised the Clinton administration’s domestic policies, but when asked whether Mr. Clinton had been a divisive figure, Mr. Carter agreed while quickly stressing that he thought it was unintentional.

During the heated primary season, Mr. Clinton was rebuked by fellow Democrats such as South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, for making racially insensitive comments about Sen. Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s rival for the nomination. The Clintons sought to put those bitter times behind them with prime-time speeches this week that warmly embraced Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

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 the Palestinian territories 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 by meeting with senior officials of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party. “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 he thinks the likely Republican nominee has since moved sharply to the right, embracing Bush administration 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.”

Mr. Carter, who expressed doubts in a 2006 television interview about Mr. Obama’s experience, said Wednesday the Democratic nominee has much more national and defense experience than he did when he took office in 1977.

“Obama had a chance to serve in Washington,” said Mr. Carter, who had served two terms in the Georgia state Senate and one four-year term as governor when he won.

Mr. Obama “has worked hand in hand with [vice presidential nominee Sen.] 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 affairs.”

Mr. Obama, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Mr. Biden chairs, 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 the committee held on Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama became chairman of the committee’s European affairs subcommittee in January 2007. Mrs. Clinton criticized him during the primaries for not holding a single hearing on the NATO mission in Afghanistan since then.

A Washington Post tally found Mr. Obama has missed more than 45 percent of Senate votes during the current congressional session while running for president. Mr. McCain missed 63.8 percent of Senate roll-call votes during the same period, according to the survey.

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