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18 Oct 2021, 7:18 am

Joe Biden Is Not Jimmy Carter, and This Is Not the 1970s

There’s a long-standing tradition among conservative pols and gabbers to compare every Democratic president to Jimmy Carter. It’s hardly surprising: Carter was the first and last sitting Democratic president since the 19th century to lose a general election. His presidency, moreover, led to a sort of Republican golden age with the landslide election (and 49-state reelection) of Ronald Reagan and the first Republican-controlled Senate since the early 1950s.

The Jimmy Carter Redux game has returned with a vengeance in negative assessments of Joe Biden. For one thing, Biden was something of a contemporary (and supporter) of Carter’s; he was already in the Senate when the idea of a Carter presidency seemed like a preposterous long shot. For another, there is a rapidly emerging narrative on the right that some of the problems that sank Carter in 1980 are returning on Biden’s watch: inflation (combined with lagging economic growth), rising crime rates, feckless foreign-policy management, and a divided Democratic Party. So you are now routinely getting the kind of take Forbes reported back in May:

Trump, in a statement, joked that comparisons between Biden and Carter were “very unfair to Jimmy Carter,” claiming Carter “mishandled crisis after crisis” while “Biden has created crisis after crisis.”

“Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted last week, blasting Biden for “rising gas prices,” while Donald Trump Jr. called Biden “Jimmy Carter 2.0,” pointing to the lackluster April jobs report and inflation spikes.

Actually, such comparisons are unfair both to Carter and to Biden, for different reasons. Let us count the ways in which their presidencies are strikingly dissimilar.

Yes, inflation has returned as an economic concern for the first time in decades. And it’s true that the U.S. economy has not entirely recovered from the devastating effects of a pandemic that Biden inherited. But c’mon: In 1979, the inflation rate was 13.3 percent, and the unemployment rate was 6 percent; in 1980, inflation was at 12.5 percent while unemployment spiked to 7.2 percent.

Those who think there is some yawning ideological gap between Democratic moderates like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on the one hand and progressives like Bernie Sanders and Pramila Jayapal on the other really should look at the Democratic congressional caucuses of the Carter years. Hell, they could just look at the congressional delegation from Carter’s home state of Georgia. The two Democratic senators representing the state at the time were the ex-segregationist fiscal hawk Herman Talmadge and the self-described conservative Sam Nunn. Democratic House members from Georgia included the president of the John Birch Society, Larry McDonald, and solid right-of-center members Doug Barnard, Jack Brinkley, Billy Lee Evans, Charles Hatcher, and Ed Jenkins, all of whom were part of the coalition that enacted Reagan’s landmark budget in 1981. There were so many conservative Democrats in Congress then that Reagan didn’t need his party to have a majority in the House to enact his agenda.

The idea that today’s Democrats are anywhere near as disunited as the party was in the ’70s is ridiculous. The main problem they face today is simply razor-thin margins of control in both houses of Congress, which tempt individual members to make demands and take hostages.

Carter was a one-term governor who caught lightning in a bottle in 1976, winning the Democratic presidential nomination in a year when the Nixon scandals had created a national craving for an outsider president. He had the enormous benefit of combining support from southern Democrats wanting a president of their own and northern Democrats wanting someone to take down the very dangerous right-wing demagogue George Wallace.

By the time Carter took office, his outsider persona had become a serious handicap for him in Washington, a situation his prickly character and inexperienced staff did not help. And of course, when he ran for reelection in 1980, he had to overcome a primary challenge from the party’s great liberal icon Ted Kennedy.

The tensions between Biden’s White House and the progressive and centrist “wings” of his party (even that label greatly overstates any intraparty differences) are a walk in the park compared to what Carter had to deal with every day of his presidency.

To understand Reagan’s two landslide presidential wins, you need to look further back than the Carter administration. The event that really exhibited the regional and ideological realignment behind Republicans’ success in the 1980s was the 1972 presidential election, in which Nixon won 49 states against Democrat George McGovern. The Watergate scandal and Nixon’s subsequent disgrace and resignation gave Democrats a brief respite, but Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, would very likely have been reelected against any Democrat other than Carter, whose regional appeal gave his party a host of electoral votes from states they had been losing regularly and wouldn’t carry again until the 1990s (or ever, in some cases)

Everything in the article is accurate but a few things were left out. Continuing the articles theme of it is not the 70s, back then Washington was a boys club. They would call each other names in public than at night go into bars get soused and make deals. People from both parties were often friends with each other. Obviously todays tribal zero sum game, the other side is an evil existential threat is the opposite. The difference came up during the campaign with the revelation the Biden was friendly with segregationists. So while they were ideologically more divided thenIMHO overall they are more divided today.

The article correctly noted inflation is not nearly what it was when Carter was running for reelection. That is now. Inflation is hard to control, it builds on itself. Inflation might be at Reagan killed it at the cost of a quick sharp recession that saw unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent and left a permanent underclass. The Democrats will not be cutting spending. Unemployment and fear of unemployment effects a percentage of voters, inflation effects all of them.

Both Biden and Carter presided over a foreign policy humiliation. In Carter’s case the Iran hostage crises was ongoing on election day. The defeat in Afghanistan will be over a year in the past by the midterms and over three years in the past for the Presidential election. Republicans will try and make it an issue but will only be successful if a consequence is ongoing or very recent.

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Last edited by ASPartOfMe on 18 Oct 2021, 8:46 am, edited 3 times in total.


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18 Oct 2021, 7:57 am

When Jimmy Carter talked about a "crisis of confidence" within the psyche of the American people, he lost himself the election of 1980, and the esteem of many.

He gained back considerable credibility through his works after his Presidency.

It was rather like William Howard Taft, in a way. A pretty lousy President---a great Chief Justice.