Outstanding piece of dynamic historical reflection
Charles Ashbacher | Marion, Iowa United States(firstname.lastname@example.org) | 07/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the men who have been president of the United States, Jimmy Carter is clearly tied for first place in the "in the right place at the right time" category. After the assassination of John Kennedy, the failed involvement in Vietnam and the associated lies of justification by Lyndon Johnson; the scandal of Watergate and the uninspired leadership of Gerald Ford, the American people were looking for someone else. In keeping with the "Mr. Smith" tradition of the upright and honest citizen legislator, the relatively unknown Georgia governor Jimmy Carter succeeded in capturing their gaze and narrowly defeated incumbent President Ford. Given Carter's lack of experience and name recognition, it is clear that absent these preconditions, he most likely could not have been president.
On the other hand, Carter is also tied for the lead in the "being in the wrong place at the wrong time." In keeping with the American political tradition, the incumbent is blamed for all the problems, independent of how long they have festered. As one of the commentators points out, the expenses of the Vietnam War were never properly handled, and the consequences finally arrived when Carter was president. What is often overlooked is that the process of wringing inflation out of the American economy was begun in the Carter administration under the leadership of Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. Carter planted the seeds of the economic recovery that occurred during the Reagan administration.
Americans were accustomed to cheap gasoline and when the prices rose as OPEC began to increase in strength and the Arab nations started to assert their national interests, the blame fell to Carter. The chaos in Iran after the Shah fell and the drop in oil production served to push oil prices even higher. Carter happened to be president at that time, when the consequences of America leading the coup that installed the Shah in the early fifties finally arrived.
There is no question that Carter was inept and ineffectual as a leader, seeing him giving his infamous "malaise" speech again was not pleasant. I watched it live and simply could not believe that he would give such a terrible speech. There were many times when his religious faith got in the way, and in this case it was a mild catastrophe. He sounded like a schoolmarm, scolding her students for not wanting to learn their lessons and misbehaving. In my opinion, it remains the worst presidential speech that I have witnessed, and since I go back to the speeches of Lyndon Johnson, the sample size is large.
However, Carter was also the architect of the major American foreign policy success in the last forty years. I watched when Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went before the nation and announced the Camp David accords. The United States almost had a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union during the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and everyone agreed that the most likely place for such a confrontation was still the Middle East. This treaty changed all that. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel meant that Israel could not possibly be defeated by the remaining Arab neighbors in a conventional war. Therefore, this more than anything else, meant that Israel would continue to exist. When watching those events again, I was reminded how significant an event it was.
Jimmy Carter's administration will be forever linked to the Iran hostage crisis, which was a national obsession. He appeared to be ineffectual, although as is correctly asserted in this tape, there was really nothing he could do. Carter press secretary Jody Powell reminds us that the cold war was not over and all possible options had to be tempered with the knowledge that Iran shared a border with the Soviet Union. I was reminded of the later event when a Soviet fighter shot a commercial airliner out of the sky and cold warrior and hard liner Ronald Reagan did almost nothing, even though over 500 people were murdered.
As I recently told a much younger co-worker, Carter is a much better ex-president than he ever was as a president. His work in causes such as Habitat for Humanity, supervising elections in dangerous places, lecturing Fidel Castro about human rights, and convincing dictators to leave is very impressive. The scene where Castro is visibly fidgeting while Carter is telling him to lighten up is one not easily forgotten. It takes courage and conviction to do that. Contrary to the opinions of some conservatives, who continue to ridicule him, he very much deserved his Nobel Peace Prize. He is a good, honest man, and his failure as a president says much about how valuable those skills may be in a president.
This tape captures the man, his enormous ambition, his intelligence and his personal integrity. Given the lies mouthed by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, I found that integrity to be refreshing, all the while acknowledging that it hurt him politically. His work as a force for good in the world is a model for all other politicians once they are out of politics. Other ex-presidents have made a lot of money on the lecture circuit, he chose to do something constructive. The tape is an extraordinary lesson in recent history and how time is needed to accurately judge the accomplishments of a president."