May 27, 2007

Carter's Legacy

3-Speed's comment got me thinking about Jimmy Carter's legacy. I dug up this letter from the New York Times (thank you Google):

To the Editor: Like Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter will eventually be remembered for the mistakes he did not make: Not opposing a popular revolution in Iran.

Not overreacting to the Russians in Afghanistan. Not aiding fascist generals in Bolivia. Not squashing a popular revolution in Nicaragua. Not feeding inflation by expanding Democratic Party programs. Not caving in to oligopoly by decontrolling oil without a windfall-profits tax or by carving up Alaska. Not abandoning integration, Israel, Egypt, the boat people, the Cubans.

RICHARD JOFFE Cambridge, Mass. Dec. 15, 1980

There was also this thought-provoking piece published by the Claremont Institute:

The American people elected Jimmy Carter because he seemed to be more an American and less a creature of modern liberalism than his opponent, Gerald Ford. Candidate Carter called the American tax system "a disgrace to the human race." He touted that as Georgia's governor, he had slashed the number of state agencies. He called for "a government as good as its people." In the debate that won him the presidency, he lashed out against the Republicans' acceptance of Soviet tyranny over Eastern Europe. Here was a man wholeheartedly in love with everything America stood for.

Once in office, though, Mr. Carter inflated every noxious government program ever invented. He told the country that we had deserved to lose the Vietnam War. He ... kowtowed to the Ayatollah Khomeini ...and Leonid Brezhnev..

...the former chief executive's flaws are of a solid piece with his sincere Americanism and with his decidedly un-Clintonian character.

...(the) explanation lies in the evolution of American Protestantism... Protestantism... has gone through stages of declension in which personal relationship with God has been replaced by a nonjudgmental commitment to other humans. Mr. Carter may be the most perfect living specimen of Norman Vincent Peale Protestantism: rigorous about himself, value-free about others. We may note that in the next stage of declension, perhaps represented by Bill Clinton, Protestants also become value-free about themselves.

And yet Jimmy Carter's naivete contains a dimension of power that American voters sensed in 1976 but that Mr. Brinkley does not seem to grasp. Americans of the Norman Vincent Peale variety may not be quick in concluding that an enemy is beyond the reach of gentle persuasion. But when they do, they are almost as capable of moral indignation as their forbears were.

The combination of moral indignation and integrity has made America a fearsome enemy: We should not forget that it was Mr. Carter who began the great anti-Soviet military buildup generally attributed to his successor. Mr. Carter would have built 200 MX missiles; Ronald Reagan meekly accepted 50. Mr. Carter imposed the grain embargo on the Soviet Union; Mr. Reagan lifted it. Mr. Carter kept Americans out of the 1980 Summer Olympics. Mr. Carter sent weapons to the Afghanis. Mr. Carter's National Security Council, not Mr. Reagan's, stated the goal of forcefully changing the character of Nicaragua's Sandinista regime.


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