Is it too early to declare candidates for lightning-rod of the year? Not in Jimmy Carter's case. In an annual address to the students of Emory University on Wednesday night, the former president vehemently re-asserted his controversial view that the opposition to Barack Obama from Joe Wilson and the 9/12 protesters is essentially racist:

When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the President of the United States of America as an animal, or as a re-incarnation of Adolf Hitler, or when they wave signs in the air that say we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kind of things are beyond the bounds of the way presidents have ever been accepted, even with people who disagree. And I think people that are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American: it's a racist attitude.
Similar statements on Tuesday transformed him into lightning rod, as the Atlantic Wire wrote. While some have agreed with Carter--Marc Lamont Hill on Fox News praised his courage--and Maureen Dowd recently argued something similar in her New York Times column, the former president is also drawing substantial fire.

The reaction:
  • A Repeat of His Presidency   The Guardian's Michael Tomasky thought Carter's remarks were stupid--right, but stupid: throwing around the term "racist" without "stone-cold proof" gives conservatives the "high ground." Right but stupid, Andrew Sullivan responded, "is a pretty good description of [Carter's] presidency in retrospect," which was, "let's face it," Tomasky added, "a failure."
  • Pot Calling Kettle  "Sounds to me," wrote Hot Air's Ed Morrissey reviewing Carter's own record, "like Carter is suffering from a form of projection--at best. Maybe he feels guilt over his race-baiting tactics from his own career, and wants to alleviate it by painting everyone else as worse."
  • Don't Start With Me  RNC chairman Michael Steele was livid. "You tell me where racism really exists,"  he began. "Is it in the words of a congressman who says 'you lie,' or is it in ... the fact that so many African Americans still live in neighborhoods that are burnt out and run down?" He expressed his disgust with what he called
[T]he typical 40-year lip service out of the Great Society, that 'trust us, we're better, and if you don't, Republicans are going to come in a white hood.' I'm sick of that! Right now let's talk about how we move people beyond poverty, and into opportunity.
  • 'Jim, I Sure Miss You,' sneered a sarcastic Glenn Beck. He compared President Carter to Jeremiah Wright.
  • I'm a What?  "That is such a distraction and a diversion," responded Representative Joe Wilson, Carter's intended target. "Mr. President," he said, addressing Carter, "let's discuss health insurance reform. Let's discuss the issues before us."
  • We Hate Carter's Speech, His Presidency, and His Clothes  In an elegantly crafted diatribe, the editors of the conservative National Review extended what can only be described as an engraved invitation to a bar room brawl: "Jimmy Carter now has done to his ex-presidency," it read, "what he did to his presidency ... he has, through his incessant moral preening, converted mere incompetence into something more unseemly." Denouncing Carter's "cold-eyed tactical deployment of the racial artillery," the editors closed with a withering final paragraph:
The inescapable conclusion is that Mr. Carter has defective judgment. We already knew that: We’ve known it since he clenched his fist and proclaimed energy conservation the “moral equivalent of war” while clad in a sweater ... And he has gone from hammering nails into Habitat for Humanity houses to hammering what remains of his reputation to smithereens. The nation was poorer for his presidency and is poorer still for his emeritus shenanigans.