The Inside Agenda Blog

Jimmy Carter: Castro and Kennedy

by Steve Paikin Wednesday June 12, 2013

While there were plenty of people during Jimmy Carter's four years in the White House who ran afoul of the 39th president, surely two people near the top of the list must have been the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and the senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy.

During our dinner with President and Mrs. Carter in a Plains, Georgia diner back in April, Carter revealed one of his regrets at not getting a second term was that his plans to normalize relations with Cuba never came to pass. He says he moved the yardsticks forward in that regard, removing the travel ban on Cuba for Americans, but just when he wanted to push ahead with talks on normalizing relations, Castro sent troops to Somalia and that ended that.

Carter continues to think the American embargo of Cuba, now more than five decades long, is a useless anachronism that hurts both countries. He called it "stupid" during our dinner.

As for Teddy Kennedy, the one-time misanthropic playboy from America's most famous political family may have successfully transformed his reputation into the Lion of the Senate for most Americans. But not for Jimmy Carter.

President Carter with Andrew Lockhart, part of our Canadian contingent.

During our dinner, Carter referred to Kennedy as a "pain in the neck," who tried to "sabotage" everything Carter did. Carter is apparently still stinging from Kennedy's challenging him for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. (It was actually the current vice-president, Joe Biden, who broke the news to Carter that Kennedy would be mounting a challenge against him.) 

Challenging a sitting president from your own party is a rare phenomenon, although it did happen four years earlier when Ronald Reagan challenged the sitting Republican president, Gerald Ford. The result was a weakened Ford coming out of the Republican convention in 1976, perhaps giving Jimmy Carter the edge he needed to win that election.

Similarly, a weakened Carter coming out of the Democratic convention in 1980 made things that much easier for Ronald Reagan to win that year's presidential election.

Carter has also told me on previous occasions that his 1980 bid for re-election could have been more successful had Kennedy not blocked Carter's bid to pass a comprehensive Obamacare-style health care package through Congress. Kennedy, Carter alleges, didn't want Carter to have any legislative achievements of significance heading into 1980, knowing he was going to challenge the president for their party's nomination.

Those wounds clearly have not healed, regardless of Kennedy's virtual sainthood.

Jimmy Carter, on the "stupid" Cuban embargo now more than 50 years old.

Jimmy Carter on Senator Ted Kennedy, his chief nemesis in the Democratic Party.

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