Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rabbit, Run - Presidents of the 20th Century

(The John Updike reference, like the previous Charles Dickens hints, were just a whim. In case anyone noticed.)

To review a previous quote of Teddy's:

“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Jimmy Carter epitomized the worst thing a President could do. Nothing of substance in the face of crisis. He was the last Democratic Presidential nominee that I voted for and the taste has yet to leave my mouth. I certainly believed that a former submarine commander would be decisive and be strong on defense as perilous times loomed for our country. I also believed that Gerald Ford, while a good man, could never overcome the role of Nixon pardoner and fully take the leadership mantle for the country. Ford's somewhat contentious relationship with congress helped me come to that decision,along with a sluggish economy I thought might be boosted by a new administration. I was wrong on all counts...

"As President his major initiatives included the consolidation of numerous governmental agencies into the newly formed Department of Energy, a cabinet level department. He enacted strong environmental legislation; deregulated the trucking, airline, rail, finance, communications, and oil industries; bolstered the social security system; and appointed record numbers of women and minorities to significant government and judicial posts. In foreign affairs, Carter's major initiatives included the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the creation of full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and the negotiation of the SALT II Treaty. In addition, he championed human rights throughout the world and used human rights as the center of his administration's foreign policy.

The Iranian hostage crisis was seen by critics as a devastating blow to national prestige; Carter struggled for 444 days to effect the release of the hostages. A failed rescue attempt led to the resignation, in protest, of his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. The hostages were finally released the day Carter left office.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan marked the end of d├ętente, and Carter moved to the right, boycotted the Moscow Olympics, and began to rebuild American military power. He beat off a primary challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy but was unable to effectively reduce soaring interest rates and inflation rates, or to lower unemployment. The "Misery Index", his favored measure of economic well-being, rose 50% in four years. He feuded with the Democratic leaders who controlled Congress and, as a result, was unable to reform the tax system or to implement a national health plan. He was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980."

In fact, Carter's greatest achievements were either the continuation of the work of others before him (SALT, Camp David, China...) or would prove to be negatives.

Carter boycotted the Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. FDR sent our athletes to Berlin in 1936, expecting them to out-perform the Germans and allowing them to fulfill their life-long ambitions. Carter, afraid to do anything substantive in response to the Russians, instead destroyed the dreams of hundreds of American athletes and made America appear weaker in the eyes of the world. It may have been his most disgraceful moment while in office.

Carter de-regulated the transportation industry. Teddy Roosevelt "...emerged spectacularly as a "trust buster" by forcing the dissolution of a great railroad combination in the Northwest. Other antitrust suits under the Sherman Act followed."

Carter negotiated with terrorists for 444 days during the Iranian hostage crisis. The hostages were released one day after Ronald Reagan took office. The implication is that the terrorists feared what Reagan would do if they did not, and the actions of RR while in office confirmed that speculation.

Carter was traumatized in 1979 by a confrontation with an attack rabbit.

The Straight Dope - "The rabbit incident happened on April 20 while Carter was taking a few days off in Plains, Georgia. He was fishing from a canoe in a pond when he spotted the fateful rabbit swimming toward him. It was never precisely determined what the rabbit's problem was. Carter, always trying to look at things from the other guy's point of view, later speculated that it was fleeing a predator. Whatever the case, it was definitely a troubled rabbit. "It was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared and making straight for the president," a press account said.

The Secret Service having been caught flatfooted--I'll grant you an amphibious rabbit assault is a tough thing to defend against--the president did what he could to protect himself. Initially it was reported that he had hit the rabbit with his paddle. Realizing this would not play well with the Rabbit Lovers Guild, Carter later clarified that he had merely splashed water at the rabbit, which then swam off toward shore. A White House photographer, ever alert to history's pivotal moments, snapped a picture of the encounter for posterity."

Carter had a large blow-up of the picture made and hung for all to admire.

Compare Carter's obsession with a rabbit attack to President's Ronald Reagan's and Theodore Roosevelt's reaction to being shot: When Reagan was lying on the operating table after being shot by John Hinckley, he said, "Please tell me you're all Republicans." Earlier, when his wife arrived at the hospital he said, "Honey, I forgot to duck!" When Teddy Roosevelt was shot in Milwaukee in October of 1912 while making a speech he continued while saying, among other things, "I am all right -I am a little sore. Anybody has a right to be sore with a bullet in him." He later would say that it would take more than a bullet to slow down a Bull Moose.

Jimmy Carter was the last, and worst, of a string of four Presidents after John F Kennedy who were mediocre at best and disastrous at worst. Carter qualifies as disastrous and earns a resounding "F".


oriolebird38 said...

F? I'm not so sure I would give him an F. Mainly cause I think the majority of his problems were not his fault. And I feel as a man, Carter is a decent man. He did win a Nobel Peace Prize, after all. But there is no getting around that he was an awful executive and an awful politician. Not sure how much better Ford would've done, but Carter was not the answer. I'd maybe give a D. Fs are reserved more for guys like Harding and Buchanan.

mazement said...

A couple of those surprised me. Do you see Carter's de-regulation of the transportation industry as a failure? A lot of conservatives are opposed to government regulation on general principals. (They call it "socialism".)

The boycott of the Soviet Olympics was one part of a larger package of trade sanctions, and it was probably reasonable under the circumstances. Carter wasn't the sort of person to threaten an all-out nuclear attack. And that soon after Vietnam, we couldn't send troops to fight a limited war in defense of uncertain allies. All we could do was what we did...provide the Afghan insurgents with arms and supplies and let the Soviet Union bleed itself dry against them. (Which actually worked pretty well.)

Maybe it's just me, but I could see Ronald Reagan making both of those decisions. And if it had been him that made them, I suspect you'd be praising his wisdom.

cranky old fart said...

Carter was probably the kindest, caring human being to hold the office in the last 100 years.

Unfortunately, that makes for not much of a politician or a president. But an "F"?

radar said...

mazement, you seem to be able to think for me, which is an a mazement indeed!

No the combination of the deregulation of the trucking industry combined with the coming NAFTA (a Republican initiative, by the way, which I think was a disaster) agreement has been a major blow to the trucking industry in this country and it is the truckers themselves who have taken it on the chin.

Cranky, my viewpoint is twisted a bit by Carter's unflinching attitude of appeasement and tendency to try to mollify terrorist governments.

Oriole, the Nobel is a worthless award as illustrated by this: They gave one to Yassar Arafat!

Mazement said...

(I used to post here as chaos_engineer but I'm consolidating handles.)

I don't know a lot about the trucking industry. Can you go into more detail?

I guess that most of the independent truckers have all been squeezed out by big business, but that's not really related to deregulation. That's a side-effect of the rise of mega-corporations. (Other side-effects would be the loss of good-paying unionized manufacturing jobs and the death of "mom-and-pop" stores.)

Anyway, there's plenty of blame to go around, and I don't see Carter being any worse than anyone else. Pretty much every recent president has been heavily indebted to big business. (I blame the corporate-run media, myself.)

I don't even know what the solution is. Maybe if the truckers could unionize? But with the current economy, too many people are living from paycheck-to-paycheck, and it's hard to convince them to go on strike.