The Carter comparisons to President Obama are coming fast and furious now, even coming from at least one Senate Democrat. Nobody who wanted to go on the record with his name, of course — but just wait. It won’t be too much longer now before somebody slips, whether on accident or on purpose.
For a while now, Glenn Reynolds has argued that “Jimmy Carter is the best-case scenario” for Obama — because it’s been pretty obvious for a while now. But it’s only this morning that I figured out the why.
Carter, for all his silly notions, learned on the job and came up with some decent policies — eventually.
Jimmuh was dealt an extremely weak hand on national defense, probably the weakest in the post-war era. The armed forces — especially the Army — were making the slow and painful transition to an all-volunteer force. Drugs were still a problem, and a sense of defeat still hung in the air after Vietnam. Public trust in the armed forces was at an all-time low. Carter couldn’t have engaged in any successful saber-rattling with the Soviets, even had he been inclined to. Instead, Carter made human rights the cornerstone of America’s foreign policy, setting the stage for Reagan’s “evil empire” speech. It was a weak policy, yes — but the best he could do given a weak hand. And when the invasion of Afghanistan made Soviet expansionism became too much to bear, Carter changed course. The defense buildup under Reagan really began under Carter.
Faced with inflation, Carter appointed inflation hawk Paul Volcker to head the Fed. Reagan kept him on for a second term. Faced with a weak economy, Carter undid New Deal transportation cartels. The man could and did learn on the job.
Was he perfect? Ha! Carter remained hostile to Israel under every circumstance, he never gained a clue on energy policy, and Iran’s newly-empowered mullahs embarrassed him (and all of us) on the world stage again and again.
Carter’s biggest failure wasn’t bad policy prescriptions. Some of his were terrible, but many he was willing and able to correct midcourse. Carter’s main failure was a failure of leadership. When we needed reassurance, he proved feckless. When we needed inspiration, he told us to lower our expectations. Carter could have been policy perfect from the beginning to the end of his administration — but he still would have lasted only one term.
Jimmy Carter could not lead this nation. He couldn’t lead the way out of a wet paper bag. He couldn’t lead a dog to kibble. Jimmy Carter is a bad leader.
Which brings us to President Barack Obama.