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In one episode of The Simpsons, the town is unable to raise enough money to build a statue of Abraham Lincoln (due to Marge's unavailability to sell treats because of her incarceration) and so instead is forced to settle for a statue of Jimmy Carter...

At which point one of the Springfieldianites angrily shouts,

He's history's greatest monster!

and a riot ensues.

My question is, why is Jimmy Carter considered to be history's greatest monster? I'm not fully up on American presidents, but at a glance through his Wikipedia page, it seems quite positive and doesn't show any major corruption or contraversy, or the like, leading me to think that this is a joke, in which case, I don't get it!

58

The joke is that Carter is a soft-spoken, genteel man, and thus calling him "history's greatest monster" is a ridiculous exaggeration.

It is possibly also a criticism of Republican propaganda to portray Democratic presidents as "monsters" for utterly ridiculous reasons.

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    First paragraph is a good answer. Second paragraph ruins the answer: both American political parties point fingers at each other - neither side has the moral high ground on that. – Ghotir Feb 17 at 20:45
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    @Ghotir - Second paragraph didn't say otherwise. How Democrats behave wasn't relevant to the answer. – T.E.D. Feb 17 at 22:50
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    The Republican campaign against him IS however historically known for its viciousness and one of the first instances of a "swiftboating" type campaign. – Shayne Feb 18 at 5:25
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    Okay people, you gotta stop the political bickering here (and yes, once you start flagging stuff as abusive that, well, isn't abusive, it's bickering). It's acknowledged almost noone has a white vest in US politics (or any politics), but this unrelated thing about who's favourite party is the bigger evil has to stop... – Napoleon Wilson Feb 18 at 17:19
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    ...The answer makes a point what the show could possibly mean with the joke. Yes, it might back that more (which might be possible by looking at The Simpsons general political commentary and incorporating some stuff from the comments into the answer and maybe toning down words like "ridiculous"). But the fact you don't agree or think the other site is equally bad doesn't make this answer any more abusive than its comments. I already threw the thing off the HNQ and purged almost all the comments on all the answers and I'd rather not need to lock it altogether. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 18 at 17:19
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This is addressed in the commentary audio track of the DVD for this episode.

The other answers are correct that history's greatest monster is a pretty extreme assessment of Jimmy Carter, so much so that it's a joke on its own (as it would be for most people that might have been chosen for the bit). Whatever you think of the man, in any context, it's probably pretty hard to explain why no one ever was worse than him.

According to the commentary on the DVD set (beginning at 20:10), Al Jean states that he and Mike Reiss (both show runners on The Simpsons, though only Al worked on this episode in that role) always tried to incorporate how much people disliked Jimmy Carter into things they worked on, including this episode.

Al Jean states that he despised Carter (though he did not explain why in the commentary). Bill Oakley, a writer on the episode, explicitly states in the commentary that the joke is how irrational the hatred is (citing the "history's greatest monster" line, along with the uninspiring inscription on the statue's plaque "Malaise Forever").

tl;dr: He isn't history's greatest monster. The core of the joke is the extremity of the town's reaction, and the selection of Carter as the subject was a choice made by particular staffers on the show that disliked him a lot.

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  • Ah, "Malaise Forever" is funny. Carter was well-known for his times-are-tough speech about our "national malaise". Especially in contrast with Reagan's sunny "Morning In America" slogan. And Krusty would be the first to tell you that Malaise sounds funny. Mal-aaze. – Owen Reynolds Feb 18 at 21:20
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    There are also many other Carter jokes throughout the show, showing the writers' dislike of him. – sanpaco Feb 18 at 22:06
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He was too nice. Far too nice, especially for a President (he was elected after Watergate).

Carter was a born-again Christian. He famously confessed in a Playboy interview that he sometimes had "lust in his heart". The guy was a total Flanders. Both of them are just the worst.

He was also, in 1993 when the episode aired, known as the best ex-president. Ford golfed, Reagan was too ill, Bush-I joined an investment firm. But Carter built houses for Habitat for Humanity. That's why he's painting houses in another Simpsons -- he helped homeless people, with his own 2 hands, in real life. He was also, as an ex-pres, glad to fly to various countries to work out peace deals. "King of the Hill" had an episode where Carter was brought in to make peace between Hank and his dad. Back to reality, he still teaches Sunday school in his hometown. Sunday school -- as if regular church wasn't bad enough. He's been in the news as a super-nice guy ever since he retired.

He also had America boycott the 1980 Olympics. It was in Russia that year and they'd recently invaded Afghanistan(?) Olympic fans hated him for such a goody-two-shoes move. Mayor Quimby would never take a moral stand to do something that unpopular.

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8

President Carter has a reputation similar to Neville Chamberlain's, but milder. His critics dislike him not so much for what he did, but for what he failed to do. Even though he arguably didn't cause it, his presidency is practically synonymous with the stagflation, energy crisis, and economic malaise of the 1970s. Boycotting the Olympics is a fairly tame response to an invasion. He also was ineffectual at ending the Iran hostage crisis.

Whether you agree with the characterization or not, the word "monster" is exactly opposite to how his detractors would describe his reputation. Hence the joke.

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No presidency is perfect and the Simpsons (as with all comedy) exaggerates most of the things about the target of their joke.

But on President Carter himself he has often been criticized for his performance of the Iran hostage crisis. This caused his popularity to drop heavily and made him lose the 1980 presidential election.

But besides that there is only a bit of criticism on his repsonse to the 1970s energy crisis.

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    This does not address the question. – Gabriel Feb 17 at 17:57
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    @Gabriel how so? it says why some might consider him to be a bad president, that when added with the over exaggerating nature of comedy might make him "history's greatest monster" – A.bakker Feb 17 at 18:33

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