View of Jimmy Carter and his Presidency

That was a reader request.  Matt Yglesias offers some background, as does Kevin Drum.  On the plus side there was airline deregulation, support for Volcker and disinflation (later), willingness to lose the Presidency to see disinflation through, and he didn't push for a large number of Democratic ideas that I would disagree with, though he did create the Department of Education.  Recall that he came from a party of McGovern and Kennedy and you can think of him as a precursor of the better side of the Clinton administration.  Price controls on energy were a big mistake and that idea is hard to justify.

I'll call his support for the Afghan rebels a plus, because it helped down the Soviet Union, but I can see how you could argue that one either way.  His conservation efforts could be called mamby-pamby but still they were a step in the right direction.  He gave amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers, a plus in my book, as was giving away the Panama Canal and bribing Egypt into better behavior.

At the time I thought Carter was a reasonably good President and it was far from obvious to me that the election of Reagan would in net terms boost liberty or prosperity.

I do understand that he was a public relations disaster and he shouldn't have fired his entire Cabinet and that he botched the Iran invasion.

Still, I think of Carter as a President with some major pluses and overall I view his term as a step in the right direction.  He also seems to have been non-corrupt — important so soon after Watergate — and since leaving office he has behaved honorably and intelligently, for the most part.

Comments

Would that his successors had followed through with, and built upon, his policies on energy consumption and efficiency.

We might now live in a world free of T. Boone Pickens shilling for crazy wind schemes.

"At the time I thought Carter was a reasonably good President and it was far from obvious to me that the election of Reagan would in net terms boost liberty or prosperity."

Too young to need a job or buy gas in the late 70's, huh?

Not noted: That Carter is history's greatest monster - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6txna0SLpo

Six Ounces provides yet another on the long list of criticisms of Carter that take the utterly mystifying step of confusing him with his predecessors or successors. Detente and disarmament was the policy of Nixon and Ford (Kissinger). Carter's policy was the precise opposite. Smiles and handshakes have been the middle-east conflict policy of every president. It is simply astonishing how Carter has become such a magnet for getting the blame of his predecessors' mistakes along with having the credit for his policy successes (e.g. tackling inflation) be absorbed by others. Perhaps one day I will encounter someone anti-Carter who speaks from knowledge of what Carter actually did, but I consider it unlikely.

I think Carter got blamed for all the cumulative sins of leftist government in the late 60s and 70s.

You forgot Carter's biggest long-lasting achievement:
Jimmy Carter created FEMA.

That's a big one, especially in the context of the great question of exactly how much should the government do for people. I'd argue FEMA's as important as Social Security, because people expect it to be there.

Actually Roger, for a brief time FEMA "developed a sterling reputation for delivering disaster-relief services, a far cry from its abysmal standing before James Lee Witt took its helm in 1993." From the Atlanta Journal Constitution. FEMA's fortunes collapsed under the succeeding Administration hell-bent in proving government's ineffectiveness and culminating in splendidly useless spectacle during Hurricane Katrina.

As for Carter, one wonders where we would be today if anyone had taken to heart his admonition that our dependence on foreign oil was a greatest national security issue. And I, for one, would happily wear a sweater if we could have avoided the many ills that have followed our addiction to foreign oil.

According to Robert Samuelson's "The Great Inflation and its Aftermath" (p119), Volcker was an afterthought for Carter, his fourth pick, after such prizes as David Rockerfeller.

Maybe it's because I saw him through BBC-tinted glasses, but from the UK he seemed a better Pres than many of his countrymen were prepared to admit. Mind you, viewed through the BBC lenses Reagan was an ogre whereas I thought that he had a good deal to commend him. All your Presidents since Reagan seem to me to be duds, save for Bush the Elder, whose diplomatic feat in assembling the Gulf War coalition was most impresive, as was his good sense in not charging on to Baghdad.

Carter's "support for Volcker" was more of a retreat and self-removal from economic policy after his disastrous appointment of Miller at the Fed. Would Carter have maintained this "support" of he was reelected? I think not.

You mention airline deregulation (actually partial deregulation), but overlook similar measures in trucking and railway transportation. I'd argue that these were even more beneficial for the economy. Here's the Wikipedia article on the Staggers Rail Act, which was also discussed recently by The Economist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staggers_Rail_Act

On the debit side, don't forget when the Peanut Farmer donned his (fake?) cardigan sweater and tried to take over the energy industry. Rothbard wrote a great article in Libertarian Review about his program, "Carter's Energy Fascism: Prescription for Power."

You also mentioned Milhous Nixon. He's the top 20th-century U.S. prexy IMO, because he went on national TV and addressed the most important question for a president: "...the American people have to know whether their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook." At that moment, every American save Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Hated the State, which is what you want your president to cause.
I don't know if Jimbo had an "I am not a crook" moment. If he did, he was a better president than I thought he was.

I view Carter as part of a movement by governors away from federalism that started with Wallace and culminated in Reagen. The details are, of course, more complicated, but the overall shift was there.

I have got to read the book reviewed in the WSJ today: The Five Year Party - How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child . . .

You're kidding, right? It's not April 1 . . . My WSJ shows August 9.

Were you old (was it already 18?) enough to vote in 1976 or 1980?

Persons applaud replacing the Shah with the Islamofascist theocracy . . . stoning adultresses; millions killed in the war with Iraq; machine gunning democractic assemblies; supplying Afghan and Iraqi terrorists; etc.

Other Carter achievements. Marines murdered at the US Embassy in Paki; the debacle in the desert after he had forbade support for the Shah to quell the fundamentalist/college kid (talk about strange bedfellows) uprising; the misery index . . . Sad.

I won't accept any defense of that idiot which includes ad hominems, insults and libels directed at LBJ and Nixon. The dems had the years from when Nixon resigned . . . through November 1980 . . . If Carter had had four more years, he'd have finished us off.

I get your motive, though. Carter really wasn't so bad. So, Obama's being worse than Carter isn't so bad, either. And, you blame Bush for everything. That didn't work in 1980.

I'm wondering if there is intelligent life on campus.

I always thought Billy would of made the better President.

"...and since leaving office he has behaved honorably and intelligently, for the most part."

His constant criticisms of his successors are inappropriate (especially given their harshly partisan profile). Reagan and both Bushes kept a far lower profile and that, IMHO, is as it should be.

And of course, anyone who compares Israel to apartheid-era South Africa is, well... a complete nutter (to say nothing of an anti-semite / Judaeophobe).

As most of the above comments made clear, Carter got alot of stuff that the media tend to ignore right. Hence you have the probably the biggest upward gap between popular perception of him and his actual record than any President (at least in the modern era, Grant also comes close in terms of having an underrated presidency).

Not mentioned here is Carter's human rights policy, which actually did seem to nudge some dictatorships, including the Soviet Union, towards their eventual demise. We forget that nearly every Latin American country was ruled by a military junta in 1977, usually with U.S. backing. Now nearly every Latin American country is a democracy, at least on paper, and the Carter administration had an important role in this change.

He also was ahead of his time on energy policy, and judging from some of the comments here, still is. He was maybe the only President since FDR to take an interest in reorganizing the federal bureaucracy, and the federal bureaucracy badly needs reorganizing, though his proposals got shot down here. And that he was not corrupt is hugely important. Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton all got paid huge amounts of money by foreign corporations for making speeches (thinly disguised bribes) after they left office, I'm not sure about the second Bush. Carter may have been the last president for a while not to do this.

He brought too many people from the Georgia state government to Washington to assist him, and his relations with Congress and the DC based media suffered accordingly.

Roger, you seem to think "corrupt" is a synonym for "bad" or "immoral" or something.

Carter's hesitancy in supporting "our sons of bitches" resulted in the replacement of Somoza by Ortega and the Shah by Khomeini. A mixed bag. Our support for many dictators was related to the Cold War, so the changes in Latin America are more attributable to that (though perhaps you can give him credit for ending the cold war!).

The afghan mujahedin are not synonymous with the Taliban, with the origins of the Taliban actually being a backlash against the "warlord" era following the victory of the mujahedin. I think it's hard to say how things would have turned out given different U.S policy.

According to Robert Samuelson's "The Great Inflation and its Aftermath" (p119), Volcker was an afterthought for Carter, his fourth pick, after such prizes as David Rockerfeller.

+1

There will be no remake of Jimmy Carter, he was soft and soft is always wrong.

In my small blue-collar Ohio town, we sang a song on the elementary playground:

"My Peanut has a first name,
It's J.I.M.M.Y
My Peanut has a second name,
It's C.A.R.T.E.R.
.....
and if you ask me why I'll say,
Jimmy Carter has a way of messing up the U.S.A."

Any effort to save Carter, is driven only by a desire not to lionize Reagan, get over it. Ronnie rocked. And we're swinging back that way.

Six Ounces,

A lot more than "a smile and a handshake" were gotten out of Egypt and Israel from the Camp David Accords (and the money spent on supporting them). There have been lots of smiles and handshakes since then, but most of them, except for the one engineered between the leaders of Jordan and Israel by Clinton, collapsed ultimately into frustrating nothings. For all its flaws, there has been peace between Israel and Egypt since Carter's achievement, and nobody should forget that Egypt is by far the largest Arab nation, and prior to that agreement viewed as by far the most threatening to the existence of Israel.

Carter may be making statements that many supporters of Israel do not like. But no American president has contributed more to the current security of Israel than did Carter with the Camp David Peace Accords, not even close. This was without doubt Carter's greatest achievement as president far greater than any others of his, and far ahead of any others achieved in the Middle East by any other US president, ever.

Carter was a poor president and a dangerous ex-president. The Camp David accords were due to Sadat- his murder prevented any further progress. Carter may have done more to help NK get the bomb than any man alive- he completely undercut Clinton in that regard (i am no fan of Clinton- but Carter actions at the time were reprehensible). He fiddled while the Soviets were on a roll- the correlation of forces, as they say, were not going in our favor. It is true that late in his term he began to address the decline in our military- but that was due to fear of Reagan.

I've always wondered why gdp growth (and according to Dirk, employment growth) was relatively good during the Carter years. I believe that increasing inflation kept the economy juiced until the inflation became intolerable, at least by US standards. Reagan persevered through the 1981-1982 recession (which had unemployment as bad if not worse than the current recession) until inflation was under better control. The unemployment rates in the early Reagan administration held down job growth. I think the combination of the inflationary stimulus and the hangover afterword make Carter look better and Reagan worse than actually.

mmacc,
Yeah, "right before the election" my ass. The election was in late 1980, and it was only well
into 1980 that Reagan began to clearly take on the lead for the nomination. Most evidence is that
Carter had been kind of naive about the Soviets. He had been continuing, more or less, the
detente policy that had been put in place by his two predecessors, with not too much change. The
sudden invasion of Afghanistan seems to have really ticked him off, and was the basis of his
boycott of the 1980 Olympics in 1980, although on that one it might be argued that fear of GOP
in race played a bigger role. In any case, the decision on Afghanistan was made long before the
election and certainly well before it was clear that Reagan would get the nomination.

On the GDP growth front, this is a story of timing mattering above all. Carter had his
growth in the first two years of his term, with things going blooey on both the growth and the
inflation fronts in the last two. He was dead meat from that alone for reelection, quite aside
from the more secondary matters of international embarrassment over the Iran hostage situation.
Certainly Carter had many flaws, with his tendency to micromanage being a big one.

Six Ounces,

Egypt's attitude is not what the Israelis would like, but Israel and Egypt had four wars between 1947 and 1973 and zero since. Not too shabby.

Osama bin Laden got involved in Afghanistan around 1980 when he was personally sent by the head of Saudi intel, Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Abdullah bin Abdul-Rahman al Sa'ud to help the anti-Soviet mujaheddin build tunnels and caves. It was vets of this group that would form the core of al Qaeda later, with Osama making excellent use of his intimate knowledge of those tunnels, him being selected as a son of the man who had done a great deal of reconstruction work on the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

The lit on the Soviet downfall is very mixed. Certainly there were generals afraid of Star Wars, but Aegis and so on are nowhere near what it was supposed to be, very limited, a whopping 30 years after we got started on it. Those generals were afraid of a ghost. Military spending was already killing the Soviet economy prior to Star Wars, so the spending to counter it was trivial, and Gorbachev played the major role in bringing the USSR down. If Victor Grishin had been picked instead of Gorby in 1985, there might still be a USSR. In any case, the drain from fighting in Afghanistan was much greater than the drain due to some increase in expenditures on anti-Star Wars stuff. The Afghan war was much more damaging to the Soviet military and economy and society.

Andrew edwards wrote: Fair comments, Tyler. I assume you spent less time on price controls and related "negatives" just because that has a high level of consensus....

Confusing Nixon and Carter, I see.

Or are you arguing that Carter continuing the price deregulation was wrong?

Or are you arguing that Carter should have boosted gasoline and home heating prices faster by completely decontrolling old oil and producing a private windfall paid for by individual consumers who had no real way of immediately cutting their gas and heating oil consumption?

The price spike was a result of government policy: Saudi, Iranian, Venezuelan, all following the lead of the Texas Railroad Commission, by the way, which set a price floor in the US to limit the rate of depletion of US oil fields.

The real price of US produced oil doubled while Carter was president, an 18% annual rate of increase. And US oil production increased by 20% while Carter was president, and fell while Reagan was president. So much for the free market reducing US dependence on imported oil funded by foreign debt and isolating the US economy from world oil price shocks.

SDI was a resounding success. Russian generals said after the fall that Moscow was terrified of SDI. Les Aspin had said the USSR was spending close to 50% of their GDP on their military to keep up with our measly 4% of GDP. That is what kicked them over the edge - economic ruin.

SDI has advanced superbly and is being improved every day, or did you miss the Patriot missiles or when we shot down a satellite in orbit from an Aegis cruiser?

Yep, it has kept government contractors in business for decades who otherwise would have long ago failed. Of course, even with Reagan's welfare programs, the military-industrial complex has been forced to consolidate in the face of the far more efficient Soviet Russian and Chinese, and Socialist Israeli and French weapons makers, proving the need for government central planning and funding for the military-industrial complex, and marking the remarkable support by conservative Republicans for such welfare programs.

And if the ability to shot down rockets and missiles is so great, why is Israel constantly complaining about low tech rockets from Gaza - all they need to do is contract with the US SDI experts to put up a missile defense system to totally shield Israel from such attacks.

What? It doesn't work if the origin and trajectory isn't known well beforehand? One can't argue Israel isn't willing to spend massively to respond to such low risk threats as the rockets - the invasions of Gaza were hugely expensive and still didn't end the rockets. So, if Reagan's idea could work, that is the perfect place to prove it.

The reason SDI was considered a threat is that the premise is that with SDI, a nuclear first strike is possible. At the present time, nuclear weapons prevents a nuclear attack, and runs the risk that a conventional war that might result in some sort of victory will trigger a nuclear strike to ensure the victory comes at a huge cost.

The situation with Iran is that the US keeps threatening military invasion, and Bush demonstrated that the US as a democracy can justify an invasion on trumped up reasons (as if LBJ didn't demonstrate that, as if TR didn't demonstrate that, etc), and JFK demonstrated that nuclear weapons work extremely well for defense.

It is clear that US military is still trying to find a way to justify use of nuclear weapons, and the the ultimate justification for SDI is to allow the first strike use of nuclear weapons.

And continued nuclear weapons research is clearly directed at first strike capability - if you have 100 nukes, who cares if the failure rate might be 50% in a retaliatory MAD strike? If two low energy nukes defeated Japan, then won't 50 nukes defeat an invader?

SDI just can't defend against terrorist nuclear weapons; it only works for known weapons sources and methods, so SDI is totally part of a first strike nuclear attack by the US military strategy and not defensive.

He also established the dept of energy to get us off of foreign oil. Now after the efforts of a few hundred thousand federal employees and several hundred billion dollars, how're they doing?

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