When I was growing up, the first presidency I can really remember much about was Jimmy Carter’s. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I do recall some things with remarkable clarity.
One of those is his (late) brother, Billy.
Billy was, quite frankly, a laughingstock. He was like someone from Central Casting got a call saying “we need an absolutely perfect stereotypical redneck Bubba to play the part of the president’s brother. Carter comes across as too serious and preachy; we need someone who will remind folks that it’s OK to laugh at southerners sometimes.” And soon Billy Carter became a staple of the news. Sitting on his front porch, beer in hand, talking about his big brother, the president. Hell, he even signed an endorsement deal with a brewery that sold “Billy Beer,” which was apparently almost indistinguishable from stale goat urine.
The closest Billy ever came to actually causing Jimmy any political discomfort, though, was when he started taking some meetings with some fellows from Libya. One meeting led to another, money changed hands, and soon Billy found himself arguing on behalf of Libya’s interests — and dropping big brother’s name opened a lot of doors for him to make his arguments.
The only problem is, he neglected to tell the government that he was working for a foreign government — and one that had a LOT of ties to terrorism and other anti-American activities. He finally did get around to registering as a foreign agent, as well as reporting the almost-a-quarter-of-a-million dollars Libya had “loaned” him. (And that was back before big brother tanked the economy and sent inflation through the roof — in those days, $220,000 was a LOT more than it is today.)
Well, Billy died back in 1988, and I never really thought much about him (except for a brief piece I wrote last month about “embarrassing presidential brothers”). But there’s a new story out that brings him back to mind.
I’ve always thought of the Saudis as among the canniest of the Arab world. They’ve pulled off the nigh-impossible — a small minority proclaimed itself “the royal family” and has held power over some of the greatest oil reserves in the world, an island of stability in a highly chaotic region. (Note that this is NOT praise, but simple recognition of their achievement.) And it seems that that talent of theirs led them to make a far wiser move in the 1970’s than Libya did. While Khadafi (or however Muammar is spelling his last name this week) worked on buying Billy Carter and going for influence on the cheap, the Saudis figured it was worth top dollar to bypass the family of the president and go straight for his buddies. (They apparently saw the wisdom of “God gives us our relatives — thank god we can choose our friends” and targeted those Jimmy Carter opted to trust.)
Well, Rachel Ehrenfeld of the Washington Times pulled a whole bunch of strings together, and weaved them into a rather convincing knot showing how, over decades, the Saudis have invested a very sizable hunk of money into James Earl Carter, Jr.
Jimmy Carter is often cited as, along with George Washington, one of the most honest men to ever serve as president. I’m reminded of the old definition of an “honest” politician — one whom, once he’s bought, stays bought.
Somewhere, Billy Carter is looking down (or up) and seeing big brother Jimmy once again put his own accomplishments to shame.