The U.S. Almost Lost President Carter in ’79 to a Mad Rabbit
The story about President Carter fending off a crazed rabbit swimming towards his fishing boat is as fantastic as it sounds.
For the record, the secret service was not needed. The president’s life was never in any danger on August 30, 1979. It was only his reputation.
The biggest threat to the President that day was the abuse the press would dish out once they got their hands on it, thanks to the U.S. Press Secretary, Jody Powell.
Going out on a limb, the United States wasn’t ready for Jimmy Carter. The conservatives saw him as four years lost to a marshmallow. Even the liberals grew to cringe over the election.
Carter was up against a tough Congress, a Republican majority, who rendered him ineffective at every turn. His reputation didn’t need any help from mad rabbits.
The president took a little vacation in August 1979, near his home in Plains, Georgia. One beautiful August day, the 3oth, amidst bugs chittering in the forest, Carter sat by himself in an aluminum rowboat on a lake.
Like any red-blooded American out fishing, Carter donned a pair of comfortable jeans and a baseball hat. It was just he and the bobber… and the secret service… and the White House photographer.
Other than those things, he was alone.
It must have been one of those moments in life we wish would never end. Had he died in that moment, it would have been a peak moment to go.
As it turned out, a rabbit in the water threatened all that serenity.
While Carter sat in his boat, he watched a rabbit launch into the water. Who knew rabbits could swim, but there it was, on the run… er, on the swim from some dogs, paddling towards his boat.
As it got close, Carter picked up his paddle, swiping at the water. The splash was enough to make the rabbit swim away, and that was it. Or, so it seemed.
The White House photographer snapped a picture of the incident with Carter splashing and the bunny swimming away.
It should have been the picture that told a boring anecdote, but the press would turn it into the overreacting president.
“There was nothing to it,” Carter told Howard Kurtz of CNN years later. “… it became a very humorous and still lasting story.”
Why the White House Press secretary felt the need to share the incident with the press is anyone’s guess. It was an offhand comment to a journalist for the Washington Post, months after the incident.
That reporter did what any self-respecting reporter would do with a joke made about the president. He published: “President Attacked by Rabbit.”
At first, nobody believed the story. Rabbits don’t swim. Then, the picture came out, and the situation worsened.
The rest of the press took the idea and ran with it. They crafted one rabbit’s tale after another.
One illustrator created an homage to the film “Jaws,” with Carter in the boat above a rabbit surfacing like a shark. The editorial cartoon read: Paws.
Had this all not taken place on the heels of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, the press might not have bothered.
As it was, at that time 52 U.S. diplomats and other hostages were being held in the U.S. embassy in Iran.
Carter had been unable to resolve the hostage situation. The rabbit gave the press an outlet to point out his ineffectiveness… See? He’s scared of rabbits.
For Carter’s critics, the rabbit incident summed up his four years in the White House. In fairness to the former president, one never knows how he will react when faced with a crazed bunny.