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Re-evaluating Jimmy Carter
Posted by: Jon Henke on Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's often said — and widely accepted — that Jimmy Carter was an absolute disaster as a President, but has recovered to become "the best former President". I'm not at all sure this is right — at least, as it pertains to domestic politics. In fact, an approximate reverse — tolerable domestic President, horrible ex-President — might be far more accurate.

Arnold Kling made the case for Carter in this 2004 TCS Daily (nee' TechCentralStation) piece...

Show/Hide

Now, Jim Henley is doing a bit more research into that question from a libertarian perspective and Carter comes out looking comparatively decent...
Deregulation of the trucking industry - GOOD!

Deregulation of air travel - GOOD!

Support of Paul Volcker’s inflation-busting tight money policies, at considerable political cost - GOOD!

Creation of Department of Education - BAD! but arguably (largely) immaterial

Energy Policy - REALLY BAD! Almost Nixon-Bad!
(feel free to leave additional insights into the Carter Administration's domestic policies at Henley's blog) It seems to me that Jimmy Carter qua President is best remembered as the unlucky placeholder in office when the unintended consequences of previous administration's policies came to fruition. There are many things he could have done far better on the domestic front, but most of the difficulties during his term were inherited, rather than created, by Carter.

But then there's ex-President Carter. And that's a very different story.

While Carter is often credited for his work with Habitat for Humanity and election monitoring. However, there's also room for criticm in those areas. Habitat for Humanity has been called a "wildly expensive way to help small numbers of the non-poor"; the Carter Center, while often useful, has also certified thoroughly flawed elections that provided legitimacy to autocrats, and has been said to provide "essential political cover to anti-democratic forces" (Center for Security Policy).

Let's leave that alone, though. The intentions are noble, whether the results are uniformly helpful or not.

No, as an ex-President, Jimmy Carter's most notable stands have been alongside tyrants. Not as necessary realpolitik compromises, but in an apparently-genuine belief that the tyrants deserve better treatment from the US. A few brief, but not comprehensive, examples...
  • "After the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia was mad at Arafat, because the PLO chief had sided with Saddam Hussein. So Arafat asked Carter to fly to Riyadh to smooth things over with the princes and restore Saudi funding to him — which Carter did." — Jay Nordlinger [Carter also "served the PLO head [Arafat] as PR adviser and speechwriter."]


  • Jimmy Carter, speaking of (and to) brutal Yugoslavian strongman Marshall Tito: "This is a world leader who has led his people and protected their freedom almost for the last 40 years." Yes, that Marshall Tito. He also said Tito was "a man who believes in human rights", if you can believe it. (actually, he was still President during this one)


  • In 1994, Jimmy Carter was sent by the Clinton administration to conduct negotiations with North Korea. As Chris Suellentrop noted in Slate, Carter "conducted some free-lance diplomacy, this time on CNN. After meeting with Kim Il Sung, Carter went live on CNN International without telling the administration. His motive: Undermine the Clinton administration's efforts to impose U.N. sanctions on North Korea." Suellentrop also observed that, according to Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley, "a Clinton Cabinet member referred to Carter as a "treasonous prick" for his behavior."


  • During the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Jimmy Carter went even farther, "conducting a guerrilla foreign policy operation" in an attempt to "undermine the foreign policy of America's democratically elected president". Carter wrote letters to "the heads of state of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council" urging them to "drop their support for Bush's proposed military solution" and even "to oppose the impending military action".


As the Baseball Crank once put it, "Carter may not be on the other side, but he has repeatedly and consistently shown up to offer his help to the other side in such a broad variety of international controversies that you can't help but wonder what on earth the man does think he's doing."

Jimmy Carter deserves a re-evaluation. As a President, he wasn't as bad as he's often been remembered; a tolerable placeholder who did little damage, perhaps, which is more than can be said of many Presidents. As a former President, however, Jimmy Carter has been a relentless disaster.
 
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