Posted on September 20, 2010It was good to see Jimmy Carter on 60 Minutes last night. Perhaps it will remind voters why they dislike Barack Obama so much.
Carter went on the venerable news magazine show to promote his new book, a compilation of diaries from his day in the White House. Leslie Stahl and the producers obviously thought that Carter’s hatred of Ted Kennedy was the most newsworthy thing in the book, as Carter blamed Kennedy for the fact that major health care was not passed during his administration.
It could have been Kennedy’s fault. But in his defense, it was only because Jimmy Carter was such a terrible President that Kennedy even thought about running in the primary against him. Had Carter been effective, perhaps Kennedy would have thought twice about crossing him.
America had a bad run from the mid-seventies until Ronald Reagan stormed into office in 1981. The hang-over from Watergate continued to haunt the Republican Party, and they were able to win only 15 House sets in 1978, Carter’s first and only midterm election. Democrats still had an overwhelming majority in the House (277 seats) and in the Senate (58 votes), so theoretically, Carter should have had the ability to ram things through the Congress.
That explains why Carter had, as he said, a high batting average when it came to getting his agenda passed. He passed trucking regulation, Superfund, airline deregulation, he bailed out Chrysler, he gave amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers, he returned the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians, and accomplished many other of his goals.
But he also diminished the Presidency, looking like Mr. Rogers with his cardigan sweater, swearing off the playing of “Hail to the Chief,” selling the Presidential yacht, talking about malaise, and sitting idly by as the Russians invaded Afghanistan and the Iranians seized our hostages.
Worse, Carter had no plan to deal with devastating stagflation that hit the American economy. He was helpless as the misery index (high inflation, high interest rates, high unemployment) climbed ever higher.
And he implicitly blamed the American people for their wastefulness, became a micro-manager of the government – getting lost in the details without providing any strategic vision, and worse, he alienated his allies in Congress to such an extent, that a liberal lion like Ted Kennedy ran a vigorous and forceful campaign against him, knowing that his candidacy would likely sink Mr. Carter’s second term.
President Obama likes to think of himself as a liberal version of Ronald Reagan, a transformational political figure. But Reagan was in synch with the times. He understood that the American people wanted a return to the American greatness narrative, that the people perceived the government to be the problem and not the solution, and that they wanted a plan to deal with the faltering economy. Reagan provided the people with all of that and more.
Carter, like Obama, focused on a legislative agenda that perhaps achieved some of his personal goals, but didn’t fix the problems ailing the people. He belittled the office of the President, and he obviously didn’t believe in America’s special place in history, again, just like Obama.
Jimmy Carter was a one-term President, and roundly seen as a disaster as President for a generation. History might try to rehabilitate him, as he tries to rehabilitate his place in history himself. But he was a failure, and Mr. Obama seems to be following in his foot-steps all too quickly.