It is hard to believe, but Jimmy Carter is 90 years old today. Like any president, he is a mixed bag. For one thing, he was the proto-New Democrat. He was very good on most issues, but when it came to the economy, he was pretty conservative — at least for that time. Now conservatives would have to come up with new ways to describe them. “Double plus bad communist double socialist plus plus Marxist”?
But he still has a bad reputation — especially among conservatives. About the worst thing a conservative can say about a Democratic president is that he is like Carter. This is a remarkable thing and shows the total lack of knowledge among conservatives. In terms of foreign policy, he negotiated that little Nobel Peace Prize winning Camp David Accords. This not only has kept the peace between Israel and Egypt for 35 years, it is also the last really helpful thing we’ve done in the region. Of course, he also did things I don’t like. He ended Nixon’s détente policy and revved up the Cold War. Conservatives should love this, of course. But they don’t, mostly because they don’t even know about it.
On the economy, it was Carter who appointed Paul Volcker to the Federal Reserve and it was Volcker’s policies that ended stagflation. It also was a major factor in making Carter a one-term president. And the end of those policies was what cause “morning in America,” which pretty much everyone alive thinks was due to Ronald Reagan’s policies. (In fact, Reagan’s policies made the economy worse.) Carter also deregulated the airline industry. Again: this is something that I think was a mistake, but something that conservatives should love.
One thing that everyone should love is that Carter is a man of integrity. While it is true that during the early part of his political career, he was less than forthright about his beliefs against segregation, it is hard to fault him. An increasing percentage of Republicans are just fine with segregation. And as president, he was quite good. And since being out of office, he has often acted as the conscious of America. He has been very clear of his criticism of Republican and Democratic administrations — and rightly so. I don’t remember him ever being far off the mark.
In the end, conservatives especially, but everyone generally, tends to give Carter less respect than he deserves. And it is really all because he didn’t win a second term. There is also this feeling — which is totally ridiculous — that if only the smiling Ronald Reagan Action Hero™ had been president, there would have been no oil crisis (even though it started under Nixon), there would have been no stagflation (even though it was going strong under Ford), and there would have been no Iranian hostage crisis (even though it was the result of decades of bad American policy in the country). I am so sick of all of this.
Above all, I’m sick of how ignorant Americans are about their history. If you want to hate Carter, then hate him for what he actually did and not how you remember feeling during his presidency. The same thing happens to Reagan in the opposite way. People felt so great in 1983 when the economy was booming because of Paul Volcker that now they “know” that Reagan was a great president. Well, he wasn’t. He was one of the worst president in the last century. Carter was one of the better ones. Yet as we head straight into climate catastrophe, I still hear conservatives scoff at the solar panels that Carter put on the White House and how cool it was when “manly” Reagan had them taken down. As I watch the American empire fray and disintegrate, I can’t help looking at us and not thinking we don’t deserve it. I can’t say that Carter was a better president than we deserved in in the late 1970s, but he is certainly a better president than we deserve now.
Happy 90th birthday Jimmy Carter!
See also: Jimmy Carter Is Not Dead