Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Carter Years

Jimmy Carter's political career was influenced by two events: the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. Without either of those, it would have been unlikely that he would have become president. But given those two factors, the American voters were looking for something different in the election of 1976. Historian Michael Savage writes:

Most people consider James Earl Carter good and decent. He doesn't drink. He doesn't gamble. He's been married to the same female for the past sixty years.

Carter managed to leverage his image at a time when the electorate was disenchanted with the political process and suspicious of most candidates:

It's largely because of those qualities ... that he was elected the thirty-ninth president of the United States. Still, the fact that he is "good," "decent," and "married to the same mate for umpteen years" should not qualify him for the highest office in the land.

During the four years during which Jimmy Carter was

at the helm, the United States was tossed into a tailspin of gross overspending, monumental inflation, and an oil and gasoline crisis that made even the post-Katrina madness seem like a bargain hunter's paradise.

Carter had been a peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia. He had graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and had technical experience working with nuclear power. He had also been governor of Georgia. While technically adept, he lacked skills or experience in diplomacy and in powerbrokering. His

most ignominious contribution to history ... was his bungling of the Iran hostage crisis. By sanctimoniously undermining the Shah of Iran ... Carter threw open Teheran to the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The world was struck by a double blow: first, innocent civilians taken hostage; second, Iran losing its civil freedoms and falling under the oppression of a dictatorship which explicitly ignores basic human rights.

Fortunately, though, after Carter's interminable first term, Americans returned to their senses in time for the 1980 election and voted in no-nonsense Ronald Reagan by a landslide. This sent a clear message to Iran that the days of negotiation and failed rescue attempts in the desert were over. It's no coincidence that on the day of Mr. Reagan's inauguration, the hostages were finally released.

Students who want to understand the Reagan presidency must first understand the Carter presidency. The United States, hoping for a recovery of national confidence after Vietnam and Watergate, was instead subjected to further loss status, both in domestic economics and international diplomacy, during the Carter administration.

To be fair, Carter did make an achievement of some type in the Camp David Accords, which established a better relationship between Egypt and Israel; for this international agreement, Jimmy Carter deserves credit as a sincere peacemaker.

He also has been recognized as effective in his role with the Habitat for Humanity organization, which has harnessed mostly private-sector capital and volunteer labor to help homeless families.