Friday, May 18, 2012

Q Day 8: Jimmy Carter?

longwalkdownlyndale asks:
You have a really negative opinion of Carter as a president and have expressed it before. I know the standard argument against Carter, a bunch of bad stuff happened (stagflation, gas lines, the Iranian Revolution etc). Do you have a criticism based in political science literature about his presidency or about his approach to the presidency at all? Just curious.
Ah, Jimmy Carter. Yes, I do not like Jimmy Carter very much at all.

Let's say that it's one part my reaction to his personality, and one part relatively objective critique of his presidency.

On personality: I've always found him sanctimonious, and I have very little tolerance for that particular character trait. I also thought he had a very unattractive mean streak.

On his skills, or lack thereof, as president...

Well, actually, it gets back to personality, perhaps. Carter was one of those presidents -- like Woodrow Wilson -- who as I read him believed that he had some sort of mystical connection to the American people, and that by virtue of that connection, or perhaps by virtue of his election by the whole nation, his views were legitimate and the views of other actors within the political system were not. Congress, the executive branch bureaucracy...they were not people to work with and govern with, but people to ignore and go over the heads of. This is, alas, a governing style that promises to yield both policy and political disasters. And so it did.


  1. Carter had a huge liberal Democratic majority in Congress and he still managed to get not much of anything done. He just wasn't effective.

  2. I used to feel quite bad for Jimmy Carter, thinking he largely got screwed over a result of events mainly outside his control (inflation, OPEC, the Iran rescue disaster which provides a decent illustration of what Obama was risking with the bin Laden raid) and also that it was a shame his energy conservation views became discredited by association with him.

    However, one line on Plain Blog changed that quite a bit. Apologies for poor paraphrasing but it was something like Jimmy Carter had huge Democratic majorities in both houses, the best opportunity since LBJ to pass some decent liberal policy like healthcare and he didn't even try. Look what Obama achieved with 6 months of a filibuster proof majority and by comparison Carter starts to look like not just a failed president but a tragic wasted opportunity for policy.

    It's a bit like the West Wing; when you look at actual legislative and policy achievements Jed Bartlet starts to look like a pretty average president despite his ability to deliver withering, scripture-based put downs

  3. I have a different view of Carter. He and Nixon were the victims of a doubling and a tripling of oil prices which directly correlated to two inflation spikes with resulting stagflation. Nixon's (and Ford's) reaction was to institute wage and price controls (remember their "WIN" buttons-whip inflation now?). Carter on the other hand got us the CAFE standards for cars and those little yellow tags on refrigerators and air conditioners listing energy consumption. These actions have had a profound effect on US oil imports and energy consumption in general even to the present. Back in Reagan's term, US oil imports dropped and oil prices dropped along with that ushering in the so-called Reagan prosperity. That drop in oil imports and prices allowed Reagan to borrow hugely to support his large deficit increases over the ones in the Carter years without inflation becoming a problem. So don't say Carter never accomplished anything. Without his actions on the energy front we would be in much worse shape today than we are and Reagan would be remembered as an actor who played a president on TV.

    Richard A


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