FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Look Back at Jimmy Carter’s Presidency

by

Not to be morbid, but with Jimmy Carter having been diagnosed with cancer, this might be an appropriate time to look back at his term as president. No, we’re not suggesting he’s going to die. After all, people beat cancer every day. But Carter is 90 years of age, his cancer has been described as “advanced,” and should the worst happen, his presidential accomplishments and failures are bound to be reviewed.

Call it historical perspective or simple nostalgia, but it’s worth noting how many things tend to look better in the rearview mirror. Take the hapless Carter administration for example. Arguably, among the (many) negative things Carter will be remembered for are runaway inflation, the Iran hostage debacle, and the deregulation of the transportation, communication, and financial industries, moves that, arguably, hurt us as much as they helped.

Vilified by the Republicans and mocked by the Democrats, Carter reached the point where he was regarded by his own party as such a political liability, they (in the person of Ted Kennedy) tried to torpedo him in the 1980 primary. Not something that happens to a successful incumbent.

But despite the bad memories, a closer look shows that Carter accomplished some fairly important things during his single term in office — things that, given the near-paralytic gridlock that defines today’s politics, seem all the more impressive in hindsight. Here are ten of them.

1. Created the Department of Energy. The DOE provided the administration with the bureaucratic chops to formulate and implement what could have been a comprehensive, long-term national energy strategy. Had Carter’s aggressive gas mileage standards continued to be pursued by subsequent administrations, we would today — 30-odd years later – not be dependent on Saudi oil.

2. Created the Department of Education. Despite howls from anti-government groups who opposed yet another federal agency, the decision to carve out Education from the already over-burdened Department. of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services) was a bold and necessary one.

3. Supported SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). It sounds trivial today, but in the 1970s a nuclear non-proliferation pact, even a flawed one, was seen as an important step in forging a lasting peace with the USSR. A generation ago, people were genuinely frightened of a nuclear holocaust. Although Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed the agreement, the U.S. Congress, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, refused to ratify it.

4. Brokered the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. By initiating the Camp David Accords between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (which led directly to the landmark treaty), Carter laid the groundwork for improved Israeli-Arab relations. That good relations in the region never materialized wasn’t Carter’s fault.

5. Installed solar panels in the White House. This was not only a practical gesture, but a symbolic one as well, demonstrating to the world that America was serious about conserving energy, and that conservation does, indeed, begin at home. Alas, Ronald Reagan believed solar panels made the United States look pathetic and needy, and had them removed.

6. Boycotted the 1980 Olympics. In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter boycotted the Moscow games, a decision that earned him ridicule and scorn, even though Japan, West Germany, China, Canada, et al, supported his decision. Boycotts are unpredictable. Some work, most don’t. Still, who knows what would have happened if the world had boycotted the 2004 Olympics to protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq? It might have made a difference.

7. Granted amnesty to Vietnam draft-dodgers. Even though Carter issued these unconditional pardons on January 21, 1977 (his first day in office), the political fallout was severe enough to cost him votes in the 1980 election. Reagan’s people showcased it. Controversial as it was, his gutsy call helped move the country forward, providing closure to one of the most divisive chapters in American history.

8. Established diplomatic relations with China. Officially transferring U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to mainland China seems like a no-brainer today, but in the year 1979 it was a singularly progressive move.

9. Pushed for comprehensive health care reform. Carter’s plan was bigger, better, cheaper and — right out of the blocks — had a greater chance of passing in its original form than either Clinton’s or Obama’s plan, but inertia, timidity, and old-fashioned politics (both Democratic and Republican) ultimately killed it.

10. Returned the Panama Canal to Panama. Another gutsy move that surely cost him votes. By ceding the canal to tiny (and deserving) Panama, the mighty U.S. looked confident and magnanimous….rather than paranoid and petty. Although Carter was able to secure bipartisan support, of the 20 senators who voted in favor of the treaty, and were up for re-election, only 7 were re-elected.

We hope Carter beats this thing and lives to be 100. In any event, half a century from now, historians and political pundits are bound to view Jimmy Carter far more generously, dwelling more on his accomplishments than his mistakes. Good luck, Mr. President.

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail