In September, 2009, just eight months into Barack Obama’s first term, when it was still possible for unsentimental observers to perceive the Tea Party’s riotous fulminations as a passing blip, Jimmy Carter remarked that opposition to the President’s agenda was driven, largely, by one thing: race. “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American,” Carter said. He went on:
I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans. And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.
Carter, then eighty-four years old, well into the say-anything years of public life, and still mildly tainted, even among some Democrats, as a negative ideal of the Chief Executive, was quickly criticized for the remarks. Even Obama took pains to distance himself from Carter’s words. Yet, as a white Southerner (he became governor of Georgia at a time when it had barely moved past legalized segregation), a Democrat, and a former President, there was perhaps no one better suited than Carter to recognize the racial trip wires that lay in wait for the first black Commander-in-Chief.