Echoes of Carter

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of numerous books, including "Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America," now available from ISI Books. Read Daniel's blog at www.flynnfiles.com.


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Do you ever get the feeling that you’re really living in a television program? For 2011 America, the rerun we are collectively forced to act in is That ’70s Show.

Supermarket prices have skyrocketed. An energy crisis looms. The economy sputters along. Back then, the president imposed price controls on oil as a misguided means to keep consumer costs under control; now, the president is poised to implement price controls as part of his health care plan. People talk openly of an America in decline.

We may have traded in CB radios for Facebook, streaking for celebrity sex videos, Betamax for Blueray, and eight-tracks for MP3s. But the similarities between our times and those times are uncanny.

“I believe we can have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values, and that uses power and influence, which we have, for humane purposes,” Jimmy Carter announced at Notre Dame’s 1977 commencement ceremonies. The 39th president committed America to regarding “human rights as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy.”

“Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security,” Barack Obama explained in his recent televised address on the Libyan intervention.  He continued that America, by working alongside allies, should “see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.”

One hears the echoes of Carter not only in the call for a foreign policy occasionally divorced from national interest and tethered to human rights. The echoes reverberate loudest in the manner foreign policy is carried out in the Middle East. The Carter administration in 1979, and the Obama administration in 2011, cheered on the fall of a garden-variety strongman as the dawn of something better.

The Shah of Iran, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, was a U.S. ally in an unfriendly region. Both were sick old men who had ruled their countries for more than a generation. Mubarak stood by an unpopular peace treaty with Israel while the Shah supplied the Jewish state with oil. Both men stood athwart religious fanatics threatening their regimes. Both sometimes did so through unsavory means.

By dwelling on the ways in which the Shah and Mubarak were like other Middle Eastern rulers, and overlooking the ways in which they differed from neighboring strongmen, Presidents Carter and Obama undercut longtime U.S. allies. The local currents were probably too strong for distant presidents to hold back regional change in 1979 and 2011. But transfixing on the human rights abuses of the dictator in power left them blind to the human rights abuses that might follow their departures.

When events went sour in Iran and Egypt, President Carter and President Obama reversed course on support for dictators who had supported the United States.

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  • Chezwick_mac

    I never thought it possible, but over the years, Carter has evolved into a worse former-President than he was President. Let's just hope that Daniel Flynn's observation becomes an accurate barometer: If history is indeed repeating itself, may Obama follow in Carter's footsteps as a one-term President.

    • William_Z

      It would be nice if Obama was a one turn president, but I fear it’s worse than the Carter Era; yes, he lost Iran, but now, America may lose the whole of North Africa and the Middle East as well.

      When history repeats it always seems to do so in multiples of one-hundred.

    • Jim_C

      Obama learned from Carter's mistakes. Remember, Carter couldn't even work with a Democratic Congress. He would have come in and dictated a health care plan. With regard to the economy, people were hurting before Obama took office, so they understand the economy hasn't been especially healthy for nearly ten years. Reagan's optimism in those dark times was precisely what people wanted to hear, and conservativism sounded fresh; that's just not a dynamic in play, today, where everything coming from conservatives is doom and gloom or Randian self-interest.

      Face it, by painting Obama as a Kenyan Communist Muslim usurper, you guys have really blown it. All Obama has to do is look reasonable; when the Left painted G.W. Bush as an idiot, all he had to do was seem sensible.

    • Jim_C

      As students of politics, you and I know how Republicans can win this election: articulate an everyday, nuts and bolts vision of reducing the influence of federal government, ceding more autonomy to the States–but this vision has to include the hows and whys. Conservatives have too much faith in their philosophy–you think it will just automatically strike people as right. The problem is, who can articulate that? It sure won't be any of the choices we've seen on the menu so far: much like the elections of 1996 and 2004, the opposition to Obama seems to offer only a bunch of shopworn hacks or weird demagogues.

  • Jim_C

    Oh, really? Name one way President Obama's foreign policy differs substantially (NOT stylistically) from that of President Bush.

    • ajnn

      huh ?

      1. opposition to syrian dominance of lebanon and syrian oppression

      2. opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

      3. opposition to Iranian expansionism and militarism

      4. support for Palestinian Authority reform

      5. support for Israeli security and a realistic PA/Israel endgame (contents of peace treaty)

      6. closer ties with India

      7. resistence to dictator-for-life Chavez in south america

      8. support for eastern european fledgeling democracies

      just a couple of broad outlines. not a serious list or essay

  • Jim_C

    OK, fair enough, I see where you're coming from, but I'm not sure whether you advocate more of a role for the U.S. abroad, or less involvement?

    I kind of feel like that ship has sailed, in we're heavily vested in promoting "stability," for better and worse.

    • Cuban Refugee

      "Stability" is not the word I would use for the current orchestrated, fiery revolutions in the Middle East that are obliterating nations along with thousands of innocent lives, and threatening to give rise to a Caliphate. "Peace" is not what is being instigated both in this country and abroad at the urging of Marxist radicals and their union thugs. I advocate the Love of God on personal and universal levels, but it seems we have collectively stepped out of Love, light and Divine order into chaos, division, darkness and hate — Jim_C, our ship is rapidly sinking, and there are no life preservers on board except One.

  • zsqpwxxeh

    There was a remedy to Carter.
    Reagan.

    There is a remedy to Obama.
    Palin.

  • BLJ

    What is really scary is that Obama is much worse for America than Carter ever was. Carter waited until he was out of office to embrace Marxism. Obama hugs it like his favorite stuffed animal.

  • conservative4ever

    Excellent points, all._ It disturbs me that nobody commented on the term "tax expenditure". Do you realize what that means? That phrase assumes the GOVERNMENT owns our income and assets and maybe, just maybe, they'll let us keep some of it. This is dark, socialist, Marxist language. Today they take our mortgage interest deduction, tomorrow our 401k's. Then our cars. Then our houses. _ Obama's deficit-speech-that-wasn't was disturbing in another way. His 'fail-safe' (whatever he called it) that would kick in if the debt wasn't sufficiently reduced by 2014, would require the White House and Congress to work out a deal to do so. He thinks we're totally stupid. If they can't bear to tackle the debt now, how will they do it then? The Left doesn't care about reducing the debt

  • BS77

    Get involved….get organized for the 2012 election…Trump, Romney, Bachmann….let's get someone elected who can do the job.

  • Yetwave

    Just as Carter was the anti-Nixon, Obama is the anti-Bush. Reagan was a very effective antidote to the Carter malady. However, I don't see anyone on the Republican horizon with the presence, articulation and vision of Reagan, not that he can be cloned or that I'm looking for his replacement. But the field of horses pawing in the Republican presidential paddock is sorely lacking in a candidate that I believe has the presence, appeal and message to get elected.
    Jim-C's words about the extreme rhetoric ring a little false. No president was ever the target of greater opprobrium than GW Bush. Jim-C's message on the need for a penchant for sensible discourse as qualification for a serious candidate is good advice. It separates the field of serious candidates from those who are simply flamethrowers.

    • Jim_C

      I like your analysis of Carter/anti-Nixon, Obama/anti-Bush. But you don't have to look back too far to find bitter opprobrium in the hounding of Bill Clinton. In terms of divisiveness, though, we also have to remember that during Clinton's era, the rise of cable, radio, and even the internet all provided new avenues for speech that just weren't there before. That was the real beginning of the sort of 24/7 foolishness we see in the media, now.

  • zsqpwxxeh

    Then why do the Democrats fear her candidacy? Why do they attack her viciously at every opportunity?

    Use your head. If she were "clueless on the issues" they would leave her alone and even try to encourage her to run–the result would be an Obama landslide as she self-destructs on campaign, right? Instead we have a kind of liberal psychotic derangement when even her name is mentioned.

    Palin knows her issues well. Where have you been over the last year? Have you seen her speaking out on policy issues on an almost daily basis? You may not remember, but the usual line on Reagan in 1979 was that he was an uninformed dolt who did not have the smarts to be POTUS. Fortunately the electorate thought otherwise.

    • Jim_C

      "Fear?"

      Speaking personally: RUN, SARAH, RUN!!!!!

      • zsqpwxxeh

        Don't worry, she's coming.

        • Jim_C

          I doubt it…but I hope you're right.

  • Jim_C

    Re: Reagan, you have to remember that "The Left" and the more rank and file democrat of the time had quite differing views on Reagan–which is why Reagan was relatively successful.

    Bachmann is too wacky–a more capable Sarah Palin. You might like her but it won't be hard to make her look silly, nor take long for her to say something really foolish. The problem is that who the average conservative likes will not necessarily be who the public will go for.

    No, I haven't seen anyone yet that I would take over Obama. I don't know much about the GOP governors; maybe one of them? With them, it's either lack of charisma (a la Pawlenty) or crappy record (Perry from Texas). It's gonna be tough for you guys. Obama may not be the best in terms of leadership, but no one doubts his campaign skills.

    • Jim_C

      Someone mentioned Rand Paul–not a bad spokesman, actually. Many liberals admire his dad for his consistent principles but Ron's views can certainly be "out there." Rand is sort of an unknown quantity and I'm not sure he has the bona fides to galvanize the party.

  • Cuban Refugee

    I was just struck by the thought that, with some identifying numbers underneath each image, the two pictures at the top of this article's header could be mugshots.

  • Wesley69

    Carter is responsibe for the terrorist supporting regime in Iran.

    Obama will be responsible for the radicalization of Egypt, possibly, Yemen.

    While Carter's failure was a defeat for American interests, Obama's is a disaster that is still unfolding. The events in the Mideast are not limited to one country, but several. The real danger is that strict Islamic Republics will rise from the ashes. This is what you get when you elect a Community Organizer as President.