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Barack Obama and The Parallel to Jimmy Carter

Jim Merriner 24 March 2009 31 Comments

Throughout the presidential campaign until now, well into President Obama’s first 100 days, I have been waiting for some pundit to explain how Obama is like Jimmy Carter. Nobody has, so I guess the job falls to me.

As political editor of the Atlanta Constitution, I covered Carter as governor of Georgia and as president. He was a calculating, dissembling politician who pretended to be something else.

As a freelance writer, I covered Obama as a U.S. senator and presidential candidate. He was a calculating, dissembling politician who pretended to be something else.

Both men seemed to have the mean streak that lies, however well hidden, in the spleen of every great leader. It’s forgotten now, but the governor that Carter replaced was the ax-handle-brandishing, red-faced segregationist fool, Lester Maddox. On his first week on the job, Carter drove to the Georgia Capitol with his top adviser. The adviser said he hated how they would spend the day firing all the Maddox holdovers in state government, throwing them out of work with families to support and all. Carter bared his teeth and said, “I can’t wait.”

After he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama tried to put his pal Will Burns in his old Illinois Senate seat. The local Democratic committeemen, who did not especially like Obama, balked and named Sen. Kwame Raoul instead. Afterward, Obama could hardly bring himself to speak civilly to Raoul.

Both men ran against the evil Washington establishment. Once elected, Carter filled his cabinet will luminaries of that establishment, guys like Cyrus Vance at State.

Once elected, Obama filled his cabinet with luminaries of that establishment, gals like Hillary Clinton at State.

Early on, Carter defended his budget chief, Bert Lance, long after scandals had caused Wall Street and Congress to lose confidence in him.

Obama defends his Treasury chief, Tim Geithner, long after scandals have caused Wall Street and Congress to lose confidence in him.

Carter promised to balance the budget after a few years. His fiscal policies caused runaway inflation.

Obama promises to slice the deficit after a few years. His fiscal policies potentially could cause runaway inflation.

There were investigations of funky transactions at the Carter family’s peanut warehouse, but nothing ever really stuck.

There were investigations of the Obama family’s funky transactions with Tony Rezko, but nothing every really stuck.

Carter had little experience or interest in foreign policy, leading to gaffes like going to a state banquet in Mexico and discussing “Montezuma’s revenge.”

Obama had little experience or interest in foreign policy, leading to gaffes like giving the British prime minister a bunch of American movie DVDs that can’t work on English players.

Both men sucked up to a mayor named Daley to get where they are.

Perhaps most important, neither man engaged the legislative process. As governor, Carter openly detested the Georgia legislature. As president, he started out by overloading Congress with fiscal, energy, environmental and health-care initiatives.

Obama was an inattentive, bored legislator both in Springfield and Washington. (True, once Democrats won a legislative majority in either city, his mentors helped him promote certain bills.) As president, Obama started out by overloading Congress with fiscal, energy, environmental and health-care initiatives.

I expect now to get emails instructing me in how Obama is totally different from Carter. Truly, I wish that you were right and I am wrong.

But there is one more point, again overlooked by the pundits, that scares me about the future of this presidency. The former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, wily and tough, did not seem to fear Carter at all. The incumbent Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, wily and tough, does not seem to fear Obama at all.

Jim Merriner is a regular correspondent for the Chicago Daily Observer


  • Mary said:

    Great column. So timely. So needed.

  • Bill Baar said:

    I think one difference will be the Rezko stuff eventually sticks. Blagojevich will squeeze the glue gun to make sure of that.

  • Pat Hickey said:

    Powerful parallel! Well done Mr. Merriner.

    My 86 year old father voted for President Obama and I did not. Two weeks after the President\’s Innauguration, my Dad told me \’this guy does not have the grapes for the job. He\’s back-peddled on everything he said. He can\’t get his team lined up. He will not fill out his term office.\’

    I asked, \’Do you think some racist will JFK him?\’

    My Dad offered, \’Naw, he\’ll quit. He ain\’t got the Grapes. He\’ll find an excuse and quit. You got to have the Tripes to wear the Stripes.\’

    I think the Old Guy is right.

  • Dan Kelley said:

    How appropriate that the t-shirt that is selling features Obama’s mug with the caption parodying the television sitcom title, “Welcome Back, Carter.”

  • DanGiaco said:

    Good piece. Agreed that education policy is one of the most divisive issues of Obama’s young presidency.

    What do you think about his education goals? Why not let him know yourself?

    Visit EDVOTERS.ORG and sign the petition today.

  • Hugh Brennan said:

    You left out the most important and worst part of Carter’s regime: his absolute feckless foreign policy.

    Carter’s weakness greenlighted the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and Carter’s idiocy prevented the Shah from stopping Khomeni’s revolution in Iran.

    Of all things so many evils flow from Carter permitting the Mad Mullah’s seizure of Iran. The Iranians themselves have ample cause to curse his name. The rest of us may yet see his folly reflected in the glow of atomic blasts.

    Our new fool is going to slash the military. Our weakness will invite attack. Mark my words.

  • Wesley M Archer said:

    Didn’t Carter bury himself under stacks of paperwork? I get the feeling from Oblahblah that he leaves the details to other people.

  • Tim said:

    both refuse to admit when they are wrong

  • Ashlyn said:

    This article is based completely off of opinion. There is no fact. Opinions are only good when they can be backed up.

  • Pat Hickey said:

    ‘Opinions are only good when they can be backed up.’

    Says you!

  • Class said:

    This is really not that great of an article at all. I mean come on. We just had a HUGE inflation problem caused by 8 years of BUSH in the office.

    And DVDs can be played on computers regardless of the format. Lest not forget BUSH Sr. vomiting in front of foreign dignitaries. Also him flipping the bird in Austrailia (the backwards peace symbol with the back of your had toward the audience) Don’t forget Dan Quayle speliing Potato (NO “E”) wrong.

    Not to mention that all of Carter’s actions didn’t take place in the first 100 days.

    So you wrote an article and that’s great. You’re probably getting link bait and that’s even better. You shared your opinion and that’s the greatest gift in the USA.

  • mjk said:

    Great comparisons! I had a nightmare on election night that this Oblahblah was like Carter! I also had a nightmare before Clinton won, and I thought he would be a terrible president….and he had a daughter that reminded me of Carter’s daughter. I think those nightmares came true!

    To the poster who said that DVD’s play anywhere…WRONG…if you had ever lived overseas, you would know that the US has one system, and that the rest of the world uses a different system. You have to have a multi-system player to play US movies! That just shows how naieve most US citizens are!

    Let’s hope Oblahblah is out soon! Let’s clean up the Congress and House in TWO years! Clean sweep!!

  • Carol Felsenthal said:

    Tip O’Neill was a sweetheart compared to Nancy Pelosi; could you imagine Pelosi having a relationship analogous to O’Neill’s with Ronald Reagan.

    This is an exceedingly interesting comparison/analysis..

  • Z BoMan said:

    Great Article; You know when we went to war with Irack, it was asked how would the US be toppled? The Jehadest said that the way to bring down the USA is from within. Now we have a Hussein in the oval office. Osama Benladen and Obama Biden. Sound familiar. We will be under Martial Law by late 2010 or sooner. Both Bush’s had the balls to take a stand against evil. Now you so called Americans have invited evil a dinner plate at the head of the table. Only good thing about it is that G-D is still in control. Sad thing is, is the USA is not mentioned in the Bible. Qustion is, will it be Nuclear destruction or Divine Intervention……. G-D help us….

  • Laura Schneider said:

    Although I do not share Carter\’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I must point out that the economy Carter inherited was basically the fallout from the poor economic policies of Johnson and his use of inflation to hide the cost of the Viet Nam war. Johnson abandoned the gold standard \"temporarily.\" But by the time Nixon took office, inflation was so out-of-control that it would have caused economic collapse for Nixon to reinstate the gold standard, so he abandoned it permanently. Watergate distracted us from the economy, but by the time Carter got into office, the full brunt of the economic disaster caused by Johnson\’s Great Society and the Viet Nam war was felt. You can\’t blame Carter for this, or certainly not him alone.

    I am not a fan of Obama either. And certainly the \"off budget\" war cost and the poor management of the economy by GWB cannot be dumped on Obama alone. But at least he did participate in the ill-advised votes on the TARP bill, et al., which does not parallel to Carter, who did not hold a national office prior to his presidency.

    Hillary is one of the few cabinet appointments that I support. Geithner is another Paulson — part of the crowd that created this financial mess — and that does not inspre confidence.

    Given the TARP and stimulus bills both did not have any real accountability or tools to enforce any terms, it seems likely that all we taxpayers are really doing is rewarding Wall Street for their bad judgment, greed and even criminal behavior. I find this astounding.

  • Concerned Citizen said:

    “We just had a HUGE inflation problem caused by 8 years of BUSH in the office.”

    I think you need to educate yourself on the term inflation.
    We had little to no inflation under Bush.
    In fact Bush inherited a recession from Clinton and Bush turned it around by lowering taxes and capital gaines tax like most intelligent leaders.
    The Market grew to 14,000, higher than anytime in US History.

    Obama’s plan will cause massive inflation in the future.
    He didn’t inherit inflation he’s causing it.
    Obama didn’t inherit AIG, he caused it as well.
    Now he’s running the auto company firing CEO’s and becoming a true dictator.
    I really can’t wait to see what’s next.

  • JohnBoy said:

    Interestingly, Carter was still somewhat popular after his first year, more so than Obama. Obama has crashed faster, but has more time to recover.

    Carter actually kick-started the Reagan revolution by appointing Volker and building up the military in 1979. It took the Iran hostage affair + the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to wake him up.

    Wonder what will wake Obama up?

  • Mahon said:

    It now looks like “Carter’s second term” is the best case scenario. So do we start looking at Warren G. Harding, or skip right to James Buchanan?

  • nohype said:

    Great piece. A lot of people have wondered if Obama is another Carter, but Obama seems almost certain make Carter look good by comparison. (Although Carter was a disaster in foreign affairs, he should be given credit for supporting some important deregulation efforts in transportation.)

    When is the speculation going to begin about whether Obama will run for re-election in 2012? Even those who voted for him are beginning to understand that a leftist ideologue whose only experience has been in self-promotion is not fit to be president.

  • Carol Herman said:

    James Buchanan was at Lincoln’s inauguration. He was leaving. Lincoln was coming in. And, Buchanan said “I’m going to be the last president of this Union.” That Buchanan is forgotten, now, is how history deals with losers.

    What wasn’t well understood in the election of 2008, where McCain was a terrible choice, was OBama’s very deep interest in socialism. This is what his team wants to install. By hook. Or by crook.

  • gs said:

    I thought Obama might be Pierre Trudeau, but the Carter comparison is looking like a better fit.

    If Obama is Carter, who is Reagan?

    Palin? Romney? Huckabee? Give me a break.

  • uberVU - social comments (author) said:

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  • Milwaukee said:

    Ashlyn said:

    This article is based completely off of opinion. There is no fact. Opinions are only good when they can be backed up.

    Ashlyn: You can refute all of these wild opinions by providing solid facts which prove the fallacy presented. Or not. Actually, President Obama is probably scarier than Carter. Carter had spent time in the military, and was trained as an engineer. I’m not sure what flaky coursework is in President Obama’s past. The classes he taught at University of Chicago Law School must have been a blast: all class discussion and little work, supposedly very popular, probably an easy grade. What difficult thing has President Obama accomplished in his lifetime, besides winning a presidential election and the presidency?

    His election wins before the presidency were cake walks: either uncontested or against imploding opponents. But then his main primary opponent in the presidential contest, Hilary, by arrogance, refused to contest caucus states. Her math skills must be really weak: primary states award delegates proportionately, getting 55% of the vote only yields 55% of the delegates. Not contesting in caucus states yields almost no delegates. Duh. Then Candidate Obama promised to use public financing, and broke that promise. Something about liars: they tell lies. Repeatedly. So he outspent McCain by outrageous amounts, and had the support of unions, and ACORN. Good old Acorn: how many tax dollars have found their way into Acorn accounts? McCain, was a “moderate” Republican. To quote my brother, why vote for a moderate Republican, who acts like a Democrat, when a person can just vote for the real thing?

    President Obama refused to write articles or publish anything. (Except for those books he allegedly wrote.) What has he done? Better yet, when has he failed, and then recovered from that failure? As Lombardi might say, ‘It isn’t how many times you get knocked down that counts, its how many times you get back up.’

  • Chuck said:

    Lets hope Bambi and Carter have another thing in common; one term presidencies.

  • The Strategic MC said:

    “Carter actually kick-started the Reagan revolution by appointing Volker and building up the military in 1979. It took the Iran hostage affair + the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to wake him up.”

    Minor quibble. Carter’s first year of increased defense spending was for the FY81 budget. This would have gone into effect in the fall of 1980, just in time for Reagan’s victory in the November 1980 election. But true, the military build-up of the 1980’s begun during Carter.

    The FY80 budgets were out the door prior to Iran and Afghanistan (Nov’79 and Dec’79, respectively). Additionally, the failed hostage rescue attempt in April 1980 provided additional incentive to bolster defense spending for the upcoming fiscal year. At the same time, the Desert One failure provided additional incentive for the electorate to wake up and find a new President.

  • Charles Collins said:

    Both Carter and Obama came after highly unpopular military engagments, and both also offered Hope and Change. As one commentator pointed out, Carter had to deal with the Iran hostage crisis – which we may forget was quite humiliating for the US (I am certain the Soviet Union would have gone to war with Iran if they had tried it with them).

    Hopefully, Obama will avoid a similar crisis, considering the neighborhood has gotten even more dangerous.

  • Merrill Guice said:

    I hate to have to point out to a former Georgian (I am a native of that land) that he is not first in this well plowed furrow. The National Review did a cover on this back when most of Chicago didn’t want to hear it: 1976 is Back – Oct 2008 National Review.

    Let me tack a few more lines to your nice repetitive close:

    Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, wily and tough, did not fear Carter at all. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wily and tough, does not seem to fear Obama at all.


    The best thing Carter ever did for me was to get me out of a 1976 traffic ticket in Quincy Illinois when the cop spotted J.C.’s signature on my driver’s licence and wanted to talk politics. He was obviously a Democrat so I shamelessly told him that Carter had been a great Governor and got on famously with everyone. People in love with a politician will believe anything.

  • FM newswire for 15 February, articles for your morning reading « Fabius Maximus (author) said:

    […] this obvious during the election?  “Barack Obama and The Parallel to Jimmy Carter“, Jim Merriner, Chicago Daily Observer, 24 March […]

  • RR said:

    DVD’s can’t be played on computers regardless of zoning. The copy protection (zoning) that is part of the DVD specification is a requirement through the licensing. There is software available to get around this for computers. What is usually done is you have 2 times to choose the zone of your product before the DVD Players is permanently set. In Europe there is a huge market for zoneless DVD players (which are not legal to sell in the US under the DMCA of 1998) which has resulted in many Europeans buying DVD’s in the US for use in Europe due to price differences and the availability of Zoneless DVD players. Some DVD’s are also zoneless (but usually from from the major movie studios).

  • Jimmy Carter II « Ramparts 360 (author) said:

    […] More here. […]

  • gsr said:

    This fool is the 2nd coming of James Earl Carter times two! Barry is exactly what he appears to be: a man-child, who never really worked in his life, never served in uniform, was raised by rabid anti-American, socialist/communist far left wingers and above all else, an effeminate academic utopian.

    One term wonder, then this country will get back to the common sense of growing economically, through reducing the size and reach of the federal government and maintaining a strong, proud national defense.

    Very sad Barry is, very sad. T-minus two years, seven months and counting until he is de-elected.

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