Is Obama as Bad as Carter? No, He's Worse

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Conservatives have long attacked President Barack Obama by comparing him with Jimmy Carter. Obama seemed to be following in Carter’s footsteps, becoming a failure both at home and abroad. That comparison is mistaken, however. Obama is far worse than Carter.

“I think of Jimmy Carter as the good old days,” said former ambassador and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow John Bolton.

In the late 1970s, Carter came to represent American weakness abroad and decline at home, from the Iran hostage crisis to the terrifying effects of “stagflation.” The late Obama years have seen the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), Russia’s posturing in Ukraine and Syria, and a tremendously sluggish “recovery” with low labor participation rates.

In Carter’s last years, however, he changed course -- beginning the policies which, under his successor Ronald Reagan, would reinvigorate both the economy and American presence around the world. By this measure, Carter achieved a much better legacy, and Obama would be hard-pressed to catch up.

The “Good Old Days”

While America suffered throughout the Carter years, in 1979, U.S. setbacks around the world reached fever pitch. As the year opened, Cuban troops were roaming Angola, and a pro-Communist regime ruled Ethiopia. Then the Sandinistas won in Nicaragua, leftists took control in Grenada, Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan, and in November an Iranian mob captured the U.S. embassy and took over 60 American hostages.

President Carter had campaigned against the “intellectual and moral poverty” of the allegedly over-aggressive Nixon and Ford administrations. In 1977, Carter declared that America was “now free of that inordinate fear of Communism” which had led his predecessors to confront the Soviets. After 1979, however, he changed course completely.

In his 1980 State of the Union address, Carter stood up to the Soviets and drew a clear line in the sand. “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

This “Carter doctrine” showed that America meant business -- and it reinvigorated our position around the world. It was a sea change -- night and day -- for Carter’s foreign policy, and it set the vital groundwork for Reagan’s final victories over the Soviet Union later that decade.

In that speech, Carter laid out a comprehensive program to check Communism throughout the world. He announced a 5 percent increase in defense spending, which angered many of his fellow Democrats in Congress. The president also declared an embargo on grain and agricultural technology to the Soviet Union.

Carter even withdrew from the Senate the premier diplomatic goal of his presidency -- the second stage of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) with Russia. He accepted that the treaty would not pass and moved on to other things.

Finally, a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics became the symbolic coup de grace. America was back, and swinging. As James Kirchick wrote in the New York Daily News, Carter’s last year in office laid the vital groundwork for Reagan, whom conservatives rightly credit for ending the Cold War.

“To the extent that the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought about by American policies and not the internal contradictions and weaknesses of the communist system itself (a debate that engages historians to this day), the last year of the Carter administration laid the groundwork,” Kirchick explains.