UPDATED 7:02 p.m. Mountain Time
Much has been made of the balancing act that Barack Obama’s campaign has had to walk as it tries to honor and respect Bill and Hillary Clinton without detracting from what should be Obama’s moment during this week’s Democratic National Convention. But the role of another former president is proving equally vexing.
The inclusion of former President Jimmy Carter during tonight’s Democratic National Convention program has created an awkward situation for Democrats, who don’t want to slight a former Democratic president but also fear offending Jewish voters and other Israel supporters.
Carter has called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “one of the greatest human rights crimes on earth,” as the Republican Jewish Coalition reminded in a news release calling on Democrats to pull Carter from tonight’s convention line-up.
“Jimmy Carter’s long history of anti-Israel bias has rendered him unfit to address the Democratic Convention,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement.
Democrats’ solution: Carter’s contributions were recognized during a tribute video on his recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but he had no speaking role.
In his taped remarks, Carter predicted an Obama administration would do more to help the poor.
The former president and former First Lady Rossalyn Carter received a warm reception and the first standing ovation of the night from delegates when they walked onto the convention stage and the sounds of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” filled the Pepsi Center.
That didn’t sit well with all delegates such as Florida state Sen. Nan H. Rich.
“He hasn’t shown respect to Israel and many of the Jewish constituencies here based on the things he has done,” said the Florida delegate who planned to walk out of the convention hall.
Rich said she respects the presidency, but not Carter.
Carter was originally scheduled to address delegates. Some Jewish leaders saw the change in plans as an effort by Democratic officials to address concerns about Carter.
“If we didn’t matter they wouldn’t have all this focus and preoccupation on Carter’s speaking,” Rabbi Marc Schneier said this morning, adding that “It’s a backward compliment to the Jewish community.”
“If there’s anything positive it’s that the Obama campaign acknowledges how much of a lightening rod Jimmy Carter is within the Jewish community,” he said.
Of course, a lot will depend on what Carter has to say, according to Schneier and other Jewish leaders who hope the former president will steer clear of foreign policy matters.
The Giuliani campaign is clearly reveling in being attacked by none other than Jimmy Carter on CNN last night. Carter – proving once again that he has zero intention of going quietly into the night – called Giuliani “foolish” for his contention the United States should be open to using force against Iran.
By this morning the Giuliani campaign was emailing around choice snippets from Carter’s interview with Wolf Blitzer, under the subject hearing, “In Case You Were Weren’t Clear That Rudy Is The Right Man To Keep Us On Offense In The Terrorists War On Us.”
Clearly, Carter’s barbs (like when he said the GOP contenders are “competing with each other to appeal to the ultra-right-wing, war-mongering element in our country,”) are only music to the ears of the GOP field. Carter acknowledged as much when he declined to tell Blitzer which Republican he fears the most.
“If I condemn one of them, it might escalate him to the top position in the Republican ranks,” Carter said.
As much as the Republicans love (to hate) Carter, the Democratic frontrunners are clearly going to spend the race hating (having to pretend to not hate) him.
Carter told CNN he disagreed with positions taken by Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have declined to promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq over the following four years if elected president next year.
Given the influence of the Israel lobby — the most powerful in the country, according to Carter — he is not convinced that another president would be willing to do what he considers necessary to bring peace to Israel-Palestine.
“Can the next president say that Palestinian rights need to be protected?” he asked. “Can the next president say that settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace? I don’t know.”
With a new, new book out – “Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease and Building Hope” (Simon & Schuster) – Carter is, by his own admission, on another book tour that feels “like being on the campaign trail.”
The question, down the road, is how will his potential criticism of Clinton and Obama play? It may make them seem trustworthy and mainstream to average Americans, but it may also help galvanize critics in the Democratic base.