By the time Carter packed his slide rule and left the White House in 1981- a departure made even more painful for him with the release of the American hostages on his successor's inauguration day - the perception of many was that the peanut farmer from Plains didn't know peanuts about being president.
I had that perception myself, and recalled it Friday when I attended an event at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington where Carter signed his latest book, "The Hornet's Nest." I also recall being in Lexington 27 years earlier to cover Carter as he campaigned during the 1976 presidential election and being impressed with him.
During that stop at the Fayette County Courthouse, I was impressed with the former Georgia governor and decided to vote for him. I believed that Carter was a gentle, honest, intelligent, cleansing-ray-of-sunshine outsider from my own region of the country who would be the perfect antidote to the Watergate Era and the contamination it left behind in Washington. But by the time his term was over, I did the unthinkable for a registered Democrat and supposed liberal. I threw a tantrum and voted for Ronald Reagan.
My spouse suggested there could've been more constructive ways to express my anger toward Carter, like pounding a brick wall so hard I wouldn't have been able to pull a lever for anyone, especially a man that she - and I, in my saner moments - viewed as the conductor on a train going in reverse to the 19th century.
And Carter wasn't only thought of us bad for the country. Worse for a man wanting to be taken seriously as the leader of the Free World, he also was good for laughs. When we voted for Jimmy, we didn't realize we were getting his brother, too. There was Billy and his beer and his belly and his big mouth. And there was Jimmy the Peacemaker, whose noble efforts to serve as the conduit for a successful Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, had to share headlines with Billy the Boozehound, whose efforts to draw scorn and ridicule to his brother's administration were equally successful.
I and a lot of other people not only were upset at Carter for his inept, dysfunctional administration, and the side show put on by his brother, we were even madder at the way he tried to win re-election in 1980. He had run for president as a centrist, fiscally conservative and socially moderate. But during the 1980 campaign, he and his handlers, instead of trying to fine-tune his moderate agenda and replace the clowns in his Cabinet with more skilled folks who could push that agenda, decided to match the man they were running against. Instead of Jimmy-ing up Jimmy, they apparently thought the only way to beat their foe was to out-Reagan Reagan. Carter suddenly turned conservative on several issues, especially foreign policy.
The man with a mouthful of big teeth appeared toothless as the U.S.S.R. conducted its in-your-face invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. conducted a botched attempt to take hostages away from the ayatollah. And Jimmy appeared became a laughingstock when he sounded like Amy was in charge of his "nukear" weapons program.
To offset the apparent weakness of his foreign policy, Carter attempted to morph from a dove into a hawk, seemingly trying to replace the perception that he was meek with an image of being macho. So Ronnie's vowing to lob a dozen ICBMs toward Moscow? Jimmy can top that. He'll promise to hurl two dozen.
The last-ditch effort to rattle more sabers than Reagan failed, and Carter left Washington as, in the eyes of many, a failure as president. His personal integrity did make him an antidote for Watergate, but he ended up replacing one disease, a physical one, with another one, a mental one.
We had suffered a cancer of corruption during the Nixon presidency. We suffered a feeling of depression during the Carter years. Thus, we got rid of a malignancy but contracted, as diagnosed by Dr. Jimmy, a "malaise."