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Defending Jimmy Carter
Posted by: Jon Henke on Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm not one to defend post-1980 President Carter very often, but I think he's being unfairly maligned by quite a few people for this quote...
Now the 2002 Nobel laureate is in reprise mode. "In a democracy, I realize you don't need to talk to the top leader to know how the country feels," he said over the weekend, responding to a question from an Israeli journalist who noted that Mr. Carter had been snubbed by most of Israel's top leadership and reprimanded by its president, Shimon Peres. "When I go to a dictatorship, I only have to talk to one person and that's the dictator, because he speaks for all the people."
A lot of people have criticized Carter over this, but beyond "that was an unfortunately inartful thing to say", I'm not sure there's really legitimate grounds for criticism about this quote. Jimmy Carter is saying one of two things here:

The dictator "speaks for all the people" because the people agree with the dictator, or...

The dictator "speaks for all the people" because the dictator controls the people.

The second interpretation is far, far more plausible. And from the standpoint of diplomatic negotiations, it's also correct. In a reasonably entrenched dictatorship, you have to deal with the dictator to enact political change. That's unfortunate, but it's absurd to pretend that "the people" within the dictatorship have opinions that are offered candidly, politically actionable or relevant to potential policy changes.

There are many better reasons to criticize Jimmy Carter. We don't need to invent another by tendentiously misinterpreting this particular quote.
 
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The problem with Carter is, that Carter may well have meant that the people agree with the dictator, not that the dictator controls the people.
 
Written By: kishnevi
URL: http://
I think the second interpretation is the correct one, Jon, but Carter’s quote was still very poor. Even in a Democracy, there’s a head of state who speaks for the government, even if a wide swath of the populace might disagree with him. Further, if Carter really wants to know the "mood of the country", it’s no more available from a dictator than it is from the head of a democratic state.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://
Actually, it’s a pretty clever turn of phrase. But who other than Bret Stephens is making hay out of it?
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
No. The plain meaning of saying that someone speaks for others is that the speaker has real authority to express the will of the others — not that he is simply saying what is to be done about them or to them. The clear implication is that he has consulted with them and gained their consent to express their will.

When the prison warden tells us what is to be done in the prison, we don’t say that he "speaks for" all the prisoners that he controls; his voice and authority do not derive from the prisoners’ consent.

What Carter said was "unfortunately inartful" only in that it so clearly revealed his complete cluelessness and total lack of fitness for "diplomatic negotiations" of any kind.

Who would have guessed?
it’s absurd to pretend that "the people" within the dictatorship have opinions that are offered candidly, politically actionable or relevant to potential policy changes.
It’s absurd to pretend that the people living under a dictatorship don’t have opinions that (1) can — and should — be discovered despite the obstacles to their candid expression, and that (2) should be brought to bear in diplomatic negotiations bearing on policy affecting their lives.

This isn’t a job — and shouldn’t be a hobby — for Carter.
 
Written By: Linda Morgan
URL: http://
What Carter said was "unfortunately inartful" only in that it so clearly revealed his complete cluelessness and total lack of fitness for "diplomatic negotiations" of any kind
Correct. And that Carter has worked, repeatedly, on behalf of dictators as opposed to working for genuine freedom, is telling.

Jon, face it, were this the only indication of his tue feelings on the matter, you’d have a point. But he has far too much history that meshes very well indeed with this quote, to not take the quote at face value.

I’m on record as saying that he should be jailed for conducting his own foreign policy on many occasions, including the more recent one. He has damaged the cause of freedom too often in my view to be walking around unsupervised.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Actually, it’s a pretty clever turn of phrase. But who other than Bret Stephens is making hay out of it?
Google around for them. I didn’t have time last night to link the people who had quoted it and I’m writing this from a blackberry. I think the WSJ writer seemed to understand what Carter had intended.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
This is a simple case of you trying too hard to be even-handed. Carter’s body of work doesn’t merit it. Is it the least of his lengthy list of detestable acts and statements? Perhaps. Still fairly grotesque by normal former Presidential standards.
 
Written By: rob
URL: http://
Jon, I’d have given you a "C" in my Political Ideologies class. lol

Carter was wrong to link a dictatorship with "the people" in any way. Thinkers from Aristotle to Machiavelli to Arendt all know that when dictators speak they speak in the name of their own desire for power. Carter’s implication that the leader of Hamas is a more important person than the democratically elected leader of Israel is illegitimate any way you slice it.
 
Written By: Rich Horton
URL: http://www.iconicmidwest.blogspot.com
The dictator "speaks for all the people" because the people agree with the dictator, or...

The dictator "speaks for all the people" because the dictator controls the people.

The second interpretation is far, far more plausible.
Except that, based upon the text of the quote, he really meant the former (see Linda and Rich top understand why). Besides which, Carter has long lost any benifit of the doubt . . .

 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
This is a simple case of you trying too hard to be even-handed.


Jon’s trying to be at one of the evil extremes: the extreme middle.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
"This is a simple case of you trying too hard to be even-handed."
Jon does this often.

 
Written By: Grimshaw
URL: http://

 
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