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Posts Tagged ‘President Jimmy Carter’

It was late in the day on April 20, 1979, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter was enjoying a needed break from the pressures of the presidency. While vacationing at his farm in Plains, Georgia, he decided to take in some fishing and relax. Solo, he pushed off in a canoe onto a pond that was on his property.   

Jimmy Carter fishing solo on a pond on his property, April 20, 1997

 

All was peaceful until he noticed a large animal swimming toward his boat. As it swam closer, the president could see that it was a rabbit. But this rabbit was no sweet little cottontail bunny. This swimming rabbit was one of those big, “splay-footed things that we called swamp rabbits when I was growing up,” said Carter’s press secretary, Jody Powell, who also hailed from Georgia. (1)   

Swamp rabbits swim in the waters of the Southern United States. They are also incredibly fast runners, reaching speeds of up to 45 m.p.h., running in a zigzag pattern to escape enemies. Although they weigh generally between 4-6 lbs., some swamp rabbits are reported to weigh as much as ten pounds.

 

Something was clearly wrong with this particular swamp rabbit. It made strange hissing noises, flared its nostrils, and gnashed its teeth. Not only that, but it soon became alarmingly clear to Carter that the wet and angry animal was determined to climb inside the boat with him! 

Carter, in great distress, used his oars to shoo the obviously deranged animal away from the boat, splashing water at it. The animal eventually was deterred from climbing in with the president and swam away. Meanwhile, a White House staffer on shore snapped a photograph.   

President Jimmy Carter is photographed fishing on a pond on his farm in Plains, Georgia, on April 20, 1979. In the far right corner, there is a ripple of water indicating a swamp rabbit swimming away from the President's canoe.

 

When Carter returned to the White House, he shared his story with a number of his aides, some of whom refused to believe that swimming rabbits exist. Carter ordered a print of the image and also an enlargement to prove his tale.  

a close-up of Jimmy Carter's swamp rabbit   

Unfortunately, months later, Jody Powell casually decided to share this mildly-amusing presidential yarn with a reporter for the Associated Press. The press went wild with the story. On August 29, 1979, The Washington Post ran it on the front page titled, 

“President Attacked by Rabbit.”

Because the White House refused to release a photo of the incident,  the newspapers came up with their own illustrations – spoofs. The Washington Post used a cartoon parody of the “Jaws” movie poster labeled “PAWS.” 

The New York Times reported that the President beat back the rabbit with his oars. It became the president’s nightmare. For a full week, Carter had to explain his behavior at town hall meetings, press conferences, and meetings with editors. Carter repeatedly stated that he had not used his oars to beat the animal, but to splash water at him to back away.   

The rabbit dust-up was incredibly damaging to the Carter presidency and was used by his political opponents to defeat him in the 1980 election. Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley says,  

It just played up the Carter flake factor…. I mean, he had to deal with Russia and the Ayatollah and here he was supposedly fighting off a rabbit.”

 

A cartoon spoofs President Jimmy Carter fighting off a killer rabbit.

 

(1) Powell, Jody. The Other Side of the Story. 1986 

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U.S. President Jimmy Carter (right) visits Buckingham Palace in May, 1977, and is greeted (l to r) by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and the Queen Mother. Let me just point out that both Elizabeth and her mum are carrying purses. The Queen is never without her purse. The Queen Mum's purse blends so nicely with her frock they look cut from the same cloth! Although the Queen wears both gloves, her mother has taken off her right glove, presumably to shake Carter's hand - but he has something else in mind for her! (Lisa's History Room)

U.S. President Jimmy Carter only visited the British Royal Family once during his presidency but, in that short time, he made a very strong impression. In London for an economic summit in May, 1977, Queen Elizabeth II invited Carter to Buckingham Palace. While meeting her and other members of the royal family, Carter broke protocol and kissed the Queen’s mother right smack on the lips. 

Carter’s Southern hospitality did not sit well with the Queen Mother (1900-2002) who snapped,

Nobody has done that since my husband died.”(1)

Her husband, King George VI, died in 1952.

The Queen Mother took an instant dislike to the former peanut farmer from Georgia. Later, she wrote about the unpleasant encounter. Evidently, she had seen Carter leaning in for a smooch and had tried to dodge his ample lips:

 I took a sharp step backwards – not quite far enough.” (2)

While there are no obligatory ways to greet the Queen and the royal family, often a man bows his head or simply shakes hands. An American is not required to bow or curtsy. Planting a kiss on the royal lips is definitely out of bounds!

(1) www.mirror.co.uk

(2) Shawcross, William. The Queen Mother: The Official Biography. 2009

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