Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Look Back at Jimmy Carter’s Presidency

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.

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail