Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Jimmy Carter must be pleased. He got to surrender his “worst postwar president crown” to Barack Obama, and now with Obama’s recent return to public appearances, Jimmy is hopeful that his award for “worst postwar ex-president” will soon be gone as well. The real question for the rest of us is whether Obama will help or hurt the Dems in November.
Carter and Obama are competing in the same category: reactive presidents. In 1976 Carter seemed the antidote to the scandal-plagued Nixon years. The church-going peanut farmer from Georgia appeared to be the principled outsider who could cleanse the stains of Vietnam and Watergate. No matter that Vietnam’s escalation had been a Democrat show, or that Nixon had drawn down U.S. troops in Vietnam from nearly half a million in 1969 to 27,000 in 1972. Or that Watergate, as Conrad Black described the Europeans’ bemused reaction, was “a pious exercise in Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy covering the crucifixion of a capable and successful president,” one confected and peddled by the Nixon-hating media. As democracies are wont to do, the electorate swung from a good president perceived to be bad, to a bad president perceived (at first) to be good.
Carter didn’t take long to show Americans that their reactive votes were a mistake. Carter was a knee-jerk moralizing internationalist who accepted the lie that America’s “recent mistakes,” as he said in his inaugural address, were the font of all the global disorder. Hence “principled” behavior by mere force of example would defuse conflicts and end human rights abuses. Disarmament, arms control agreements, the “disintegration” of the CIA, as Henry Kissinger put it, and the promotion of human rights would convert our inveterate rivals and enemies into friends and liberal democrats. As Carter said in his memoirs, “Demonstrations of American idealism” and “moral principles” should be the “foundations” of American power.
The consequences, of course, was the amoral Soviet Union’s global rampage, and Carter’s befuddled and timid response to the Iranian hostage crisis, which jump-started today’s neo-jihadist terrorism. His arrogant, misplaced piety, and his sermons about a “crisis of confidence” and an “inordinate fear of communism” disgusted many Americans. They knew that American confidence depended on vigorous action and patriotic pride, not homilies about our sins. Ronald Reagan was their answer, and a revived economy and a dismantled Soviet Union was the result.
Obama similarly was the response to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and wars mismanaged by naïve democracy promotion. Obama’s failures are still fresh in our memory: more debt, more tax-and-spend domestic policy, a historically sluggish recovery, an unleashing of federal agencies against political enemies, a subordination of American sovereignty to the globalist technocratic cartel, a worsening of racial divisiveness, and a Carter-like foreign policy idealism of “engagement,” “leading from behind,” and “strategic patience” that culminated in the appeasement and bribery of Iran, and the furthering of the mullah’s nuclear ambitions and genocidal anti-Semitism. Obama’s lectures about America’s “mistakes” and dismissal of its “exceptionalism” disgusted voters. They knew that weakness invited aggression, and strength deterred it. Donald Trump was their answer, and a revived economy and greater respect––which is not a synonym for “affection” ––abroad, was the result.
In the worst president bout, Obama takes the gold because Jimmy Carter at least recognized his mistakes with Iran and at the end of his term increased defense spending, and showed some muscle with the Carter Doctrine, which put the world on alert that the U.S. would use military force to defend its interests in the Persian Gulf. Obama, without the nuclear-armed Soviet Union still fighting the Cold War, ended his second term with the disastrous Iran nuke agreement, and with Russia and Iran rampaging through Syria in support of a psychopathic autocrat.
As an ex-president, Carter had scant respect for that alleged “tradition” of ex-presidents keeping quiet about their successors. (A tradition, by the way, that George W. Bush should have considered more honored in the breach than in the observance during Obama’s eight years of “transforming” the U.S. from a constitutional Republic to a progressive technocratic oligarchy. Worse yet, when Bush did speak out, it was to trash Donald Trump not based on actions but on rhetoric and decorum and bad manners.)
Carter had no compunctions about staying in the public eye. His 1994 freelance diplomacy with North Korea miffed the Clinton administration. Carter negotiated a “parchment barrier,” one as thin as Hitler’s Munich agreement, for stopping the Kim clan’s development of nuclear weapons. Years later, in the run-up to the second Gulf war, his outspoken and politically opportunistic public attacks on what the Dems called Bush’s “unilateralism” and “failed diplomacy” in seeking authorization for a war against Saddam Hussein, won him a Nobel Peace Prize and publicly expressed gratitude from the Nobel Committee for opposing a war the Europeans opposed. So much for foreign policy debates stopping at the ocean’s edge. His later noisy participation in the dishonest and politically opportunistic antiwar movement culminated in his sitting next to Michael Moore, creator of the fictive anti-American “documentary” Fahrenheit 9-11, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. These are just the highlights of Carter’s politically biased intrusions into American politics.
Barack Obama has now decided to compete with Carter in the worst ex-president category. His speech last week at the University of Illinois went after Trump with more sustained criticisms than his prior occasional snarky sniping. His comments were a tired reprise of the usual whining from two years of NeverTrump complaints and media distortions. There was this chestnut: “It should not be Democratic or Republican, it should not be partisan to say that we don’t pressure the Department of Justice or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.” Talk about hutzpah. Who was it that used the power of federal agencies to go after the Associated Press, Fox News’ James Rosen, and conservative Christian groups?
Or how about this howler: “Or to explicitly call for the attorney general to protect members of his own party from prosecution because elections happen to be coming up. I am not making that up. That is not hypothetical.” Indeed, it’s not “hypothetical,” since Obama unleashed his flunkeys in the FBI and DOJ to “protect” Hillary Clinton from the wages of her corruption and willful law-breaking “because” the 2016 presidential election “happen[ed] to be coming up.” But Obama played offense as well, siccing those same flunkeys on the Trump campaign, using questionable FISA warrants to surveil American citizens, and then “unmasking” their names. How’s that for “cudgeling” political opponents? That’s just a few of the 30 different scandals Matt Margolis documents in his book on Obama’s scandal-ridden administration.
Then there’s this decrepit argument that goes all the way back to Nixon’s “Silent Majority,” and then was freshened up by Clinton’s “angry white men” campaign tactic. “You happen to be coming of age” during a backlash, Obama told the Illinois U snowflakes. “It did not start with Donald Trump, he is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear, an anger that is rooted in our past.” I’ll decode this tripe for you: white men who used to be the masters of the universe are angry, fearful, and resentful about their lost “white privilege,” and so lash out irrationally at women and “people of color.” They have been especially enraged by Barack Obama, and so voted for white supremacist enabler Donald Trump in order to get some payback. That’s the simplistic psycho-babble those “bright” progressives have long been famous for.
Finally, we are treated to this howler:
[W]hen you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started. I am glad it has continued but when you hear about his economic miracle that has been going on, when the job number comes out, monthly job numbers and suddenly Republicans say it is a miracle, I have to kind of remind them, actually those job numbers were the same they were in 2015, in 2016.
It’s true that all presidents take too much credit and too much blame for the economic cycles. But let’s remember, the Great Recession ended in June of 2009. No one can credit Obama, since he had been in office a scant five months. Moreover, the recovery under his guidance was historically slow, including jobs recovery. So while Obama is right about the numbers of jobs created compared to Trump, he is silent on all the other Trump actions that have spurred growth: tax reductions for corporations and individuals, and pruning back growth-strangling regulations have lifted the market’s “animal spirits,” long depressed by Obama’s dirigiste policies and anti-business rhetoric. As a result, we had a second quarter GDP growth of 4.1%, with the fourth quarter estimated to be at least that high.
Throw in the booming stock market up 35% just in 2017, and record low unemployment rates, and Trump’s policies have to be given credit for this dramatic swing, rather than claiming that they are predictable results of policies Obama enacted. Remember how many Obama-supporting economists like Larry Summers were predicting GDP growth rates would remain about 2.0%, the “new normal”? How does that gloomy forecast from economists square with the claim that Obama’s actions started the trajectory of improvement that culminated under Trump? I don’t recall these experts predicting the current economic boom. Perhaps their “new normal” was just cover for Obama’s dismal record.
Based on his first foray into rallying the base for November, Obama is on track to best Jimmy Carter in the worst ex-president derby. Stale talking points, rank hypocrisy, and revisionist history will persuade only the most die-hard Obama fans. Voters who value concrete accomplishments over subjective standards of style and decorum will not be impressed. In fact, Obama’s further appearances will only remind voters why they voted for Trump in the first place.