Saturday, October 9, 2010

How Much is President Obama's Presidency Similar to Jimmy Carter's?

In order to figure out what chances President Obama has of being reelected in 2012, we have to look back to the last Democratic Party president who presided over intractable economic troubles and foreign policy crises, neither of which he was able to contain.

Jimmy Carter had the misfortune of Iran taking American hostages, which left the media and the public wondering what Jimmy Carter would do about it.  Ultimately, Jimmy Carter was able to do little at all about this problem that the country came to see as a top priority:
On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of young Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than sixty Americans hostage. "From the moment the hostages were seized until they were released minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as president 444 days later," wrote historian Gaddis Smith, "the crisis absorbed more concentrated effort by American officials and had more extensive coverage on television and in the press than any other event since World War II."
If Jimmy Carter had bombed and Iranian city to ruins and promised more mayhem unless the hostages were released, this would probably have been perceived as a strong response, "not negotiating with terrorists" as Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, so often explained his overt public policy.  However, Jimmy Carter did not want to see senseless deaths on either side and was unwilling to lose thousands of US soldiers to save two-dozen US hostages.  His unwillingness to do anything other than negotiate made him seem week and prepared the way for the election of Ronald Reagan.

No one doubted that Jimmy Carter was intelligent, well-intentioned and Christian, but they ultimately concluded that he was ineffective and his policies were ineffectual.  Likewise, few people doubt that Obama is intelligent, well intentioned and Christian, but his policies are proving bureaucratic, incomprehensible  and he seems to be biting off far more wars than he will be able to chew.

Like President Johnson, President Obama now sees himself in the middle of too many unpopular wars--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, potentially Iran, as well as Columbia, where US troops have built bases and are setting up fighting positions.  When it became apparent that President Johnson was unable to achieve his goals in Vietnam, Nixon was elected.  When it became obvious that Carter had no more ideas for saving the hostages in Iran, then Ronald Reagan was elected.  And when it becomes apparent that President Obama has no end game for his wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and covertly in Iran and overtly in preparations for Columbia vs. Venezuela, then any Democrat or Republican who claims to have a better plan might be nominated and elected.

Obama is similar to Jimmy Carter in another way.  Both Obama and Carter faced intractable and insufferably high unemployment rates; Blacks were substantially more unemployed than whites, costing the support and enthusiasm of the one group whose fidelity to the Democrats most makes it essential that that Blacks see a clear-cut reason to go to the polls on Election Day.  There seems to be a strong likelihood that many Blacks will be unemployed in 2012, having also lost their homes to mortgage foreclosures.  It is not clear how Obama will demonstrate to Blacks that his presidency has done us substantial rather than merely symbolic good.

While Obama faces negative economic statistics on virtually ever side, Jimmy Carter faced unprecedented inflation as well as high gas prices and rationing at the pumps.   If intractable economic and military problems show that a president has lost control and can assure neither domestic economic security nor national security as he has defined it, then Obama might find himself like Jimmy Carter did in 1980--first facing a challenge from within the Democratic Party, and then facing a Republican opponent who can convince the public that she is more resolute and more determined to do what needs to be done, domestically and internationally.

If President Obama's efforts to help people save their homes is any harbinger of his health plan, the health plan will have been proved useless to most people even before many of its provision take effect in 2014.  In fact, one of the poorest decisions Obama may have made as president was to provide health care relief only after his first term ends.  He seems to have assumed that he would get a second term during which he would implement this plan rather than see a Republican Congress and president undo all of the change that Obama hopes will someday come.

President Obama had better "check himself."  The people whom I know of who have homes in foreclosure, seeking relief, are not getting that relief from any of the programs the Obama Administration put in place.  The only things guaranteed by Obama's mortgage legislation has been bank and bank executive lucre, as well as overwhelming bureaucracy and hesitance from banks to reformulate mortgages, even when paid to do so by the Federal Government.

Obama privatized the response to the banking crisis by giving individual corporations money in the hopes that they would subsequently take actions that have not been forthcoming.  Obama privatized the Gulf Oil Spill by depending upon BP to fix their machinery and clean up the coasts, as well as indemnify those who lost income.  Those who have lost income say they face daunting bureaucracy.  And Obama privatized the response to individual home-owners with mortgage problems when Obama left the banks themselves to make the crucial decisions in these cases.

Obama might ultimately find that he is a right-leaning Democrat for whom the Democratic base has no respect or desire, but his ineffectual policies leave him indefensible across the political spectrum. 

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