Recent controversies over the racist attitudes and policies of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson have reminded us of the cosmic gap between his pious embrace of universal self-determination for all peoples and his refusal to adhere to that alleged core principle of his character throughout his Presidency. This became most evident as he and the other victorious leaders of World War I divided up much of the rest of the world. Whether or not Princeton University, where Wilson was an undergraduate and later a professor of politics and then its president, will drop his name from its school of public affairs, remains to be seen.
Jimmy Carter was not a great president in any respect, but he does rival Wilson in violating the ethical precepts he has long claimed to be the hallmarks of his character. After his election he promised never to lie to the American people, which itself was among his biggest lies. No American President, for better or for worse, could possibly be successful without stretching the truth at times. This is not to justify lying, but those like who Carter who claim to be morally superior to nearly all other leaders are invariably frauds.
A year or so ago a retired Secret Service veteran who assisted many Presidents published a memoir about those Presidents (and First Ladies) whom he liked and disliked. Jimmy Carter was one of the two for whom he had the most contempt. In order to highlight his common touch, Carter often had the press photograph him bringing inside the White House his own suitcases upon returning from trips. In truth, Carter had empty suitcases and, when the press was gone, had the Secret Service carry in his heavy suitcases with his clothes, etc. Who knew?
Recently, Carter used his Sunday School class in Plains, Georgia, to announce that he was cancer free. The congregation was thrilled, and Carter enjoyed the national publicity that followed. To be sure, as medical experts have since noted, he is NOT cancer free. But for now, at least, his overall health is quite good for someone at age ninety-one.
What the pious Carter did not say was that the medications used to halt his cancer for the present was developed in part in Israel. Carter has been a fierce critic of Israel for decades and has repeatedly characterized Israel as an apartheid society akin to South Africa. As a recipient of huge sums from that bastion of Middle East democracy, Saudi Arabia, Carter has embraced the boycott of Israeli goods. He does not, of course, criticize any other Middle Eastern country but only Israel.
Carter’s hostility toward Israel led to the resignation from the Carter Center in Atlanta of several Jewish advisors who had worked with him since his days as Governor of Georgia. Carter didn’t seem to care.
One might nevertheless have thought that Carter would want nothing to do with medications that were tested and partly created in Israel. But that would be too much to expect of this secular saint.
Woodrow Wilson would surely have understood that holier than thou public figures like himself and Carter are often hypocrites at heart.