WASHINGTON -- Former President Jimmy Carter caused a stir yesterday by denouncing Ross Perot as a "demagogue" because of the Texas billionaire's outspoken opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mr. Carter, along with former presidents Gerald R. Ford and George Bush, promoted the proposed treaty at a ceremony with President Clinton in the White House East Room. All three joined Mr. Clinton in forcefully touting the benefits of the agreement, but it was Mr. Carter who chose to meet the dragon head-on:
"Unfortunately, in our country now we have a demagogue who has unlimited financial resources and who is extremely careless with the truth, who is preying on the fears and uncertainties of the American public," Mr. Carter said.
"And this must be met, because this powerful voice can be pervasive even within the Congress of the United States unless it's met by people of courage who vote and act and persuade in the best interest of our country," he added to an audience that included members of Congress, some governors and trade officials of various administrations.
The former president's remarks were met with a standing ovation.
Moments before, former President George Bush had taken a similar tack.
"Let's not listen to those who are trying to scare the American people, those demagogues who appeal to the worst instincts that our special interest groups possess."
Mr. Clinton didn't join in the attack on Mr. Perot. But some NAFTA supporters were clearly relieved that a Democrat in the White House was fighting back against Mr. Perot -- even if it was Mr. Carter.
"Carter tells it the way it is," said Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who attended the event. "He's always been that way."
The Perot side seemed caught off-guard by Mr. Carter's remarks.
There was no direct comment from Mr. Perot.
"It smacks as politics-as-usual with character attacks and all that," said longtime Perot aide Sharon Holman, "so we're going to leave it where it is and stay focused on the issues."