Steven A. Leibo
“Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama”
Harry Truman’s been on my mind a lot lately. Oh, not because I remember him personally. Sure, I was alive during his presidency; but I mostly know him the way a historian does. My personal presidential memories only begin with President Eisenhower. Though my guess would be that for a great many of today’s voters a personal memory going all the way back to Eisenhower probably makes me sound like an old duffer of the first sort.
I mean for lots of first time voters the only president many would have a real sense of is probably George W. Bush. One would have to be into the upper 30s to remember well a president before Clinton, deep into the 40s to remember Ronald Reagan. And to have a real sense of President Carter who left off over thirty years ago; well, you get my point.
Which is sort of amusing considering all those aging republicans operatives who are clearly nervous about allowing President Obama to be compared in the public mind with the last two term and still relatively popular democratic President, Bill Clinton. Yes, a president who largely kept us out of war while producing, can you believe it, a budget surplus. A record certainly more impressive than Clinton’s successor, George W. who blew out the national debt and not satisfied with a war thrust upon us in Afghanistan, had to start another one in Iraq. No, avoiding linking President Obama with the Bill Clinton’s presidency is just plain good politics. So the republicans have had to reach back more than a generation ago, to our last one term democratic president Jimmy Carter. Yes, Jimmy Carter, who in the public eye is probably seen as our most effective ex president, yet understood somehow to have presided over a failed administration during his own time in office. Rather like Harry Truman was for so long.
And it’s true Carter was defeated by the ever optimistic Ronald Reagan who was infinitely better at acting and sounding like a president? While Carter, had this really bad habit of telling the truth. A president trained as a naval energy engineer Carter understood a generation before other American leaders that we had to begin the transition away from ever more problematic fossil fuels that had driven our growth in the 20th century to a more diversified portfolio of green renewable energy.
And yes, let’s admit it President Carter had this terrible habit of waging peace not war. Accomplishing a peace between Israel and Egypt which has only begun to waver in the last year, and almost as impressively though less well remembered President Carter successfully finalized Richard Nixon’s great accomplishment by finally fully putting Sino-American relations on a more stable framework. Another accomplishment that has lasted to this day, not forgetting Carter’s heading off what could have been a generation of US Latin American tensions over our continuing colonial hold over Panama and the canal.
No, it seems to this commentator that the republicans are well advised to avoid comparing President Obama’s administration to that of Bill Clinton’s. After all, there are still too many people who remember those economically peaceful and prosperous years when the only thing we had to concern ourselves about was not our economic future but Bill’s highly entertaining extracurricular activities.
But the republicans are at their peril reaching back to the memory of Jimmy Carter to taint Barack Obama. Because the effort just might force a reevaluation of Carter’s presidency as time has done for Harry Truman. And turn out to be yet another plus in President Obama’s already long list of accomplishments