At about this stage in the Carter years, I began to worry: the president was getting a reputation for being a wimp, the economy was going to hell, and his poll numbers were headed steadily south. The main enemy — the Soviet Union — was flexing its muscles, invading Afghanistan in December of 1979. This came amidst the Iranian hostage crisis, which began early the previous month.
We tend to forget that the U.S. military buildup, which ultimately played a big role in the successful outcome of the Cold War, was started by Carter in response to the Soviet move, but by the time it started, “the wimp” could not hope to recover his lost manhood by sending money to the Pentagon.
And so I asked myself, is there a point at which a president realizes that wimps don’t get reelected? And if so, what might he do to shatter that image? For the next two years I worried that Carter might overreact to some international crisis in order to make folks see that he was really a tough guy.
It never happened, to my relief. But I’m starting to have the same worries about Obama. To be sure, he’s got a press that is considerably friendlier than Carter had, but even so we are seeing quite a number of stories about a president who just can’t seem to make decisions, who doesn’t seem to get it when terrible things happen, things that cry out for American leadership. The wimp seems to be mounting a comeback. If he gets tarred with that brush, he might start considering options to recreate his image. There are certainly many opportunities, from Iran to Venezuela.