His most ardent supporters debate whether President Obama is more like
Abraham Lincoln or like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But so far, the
president he most closely resembles is Jimmy Carter.
In 1976, Mr. Carter was a fresh new face with a thin political resume
who blew past better known Democrats in the primaries running as an
"outsider" and a "reformer."
Jimmy Carter, like Barack Obama, took office during tough economic
times. Mr. Carter coined the term "misery index" (the rates of
inflation and unemployment added together).
Mr. Carter proceeded to make a bad situation worse. The misery index
stood at 13.57 in the summer of 1976 when he was clubbing President Ford
with it. Four years later, it had risen to 21.98.
It's way too early to pass judgment on President Obama's economic
stewardship. But the early signs are not favorable. Treasury Secretary
Timothy Geithner rolls out a vague proposal for TARP II, a second
bailout of the banks. The stock market tanks. President Obama signs
the "stimulus bill." The stock market tanks. President Obama unveils
his plan to subsidize some home mortgages. The stock market slips, and
the president is mocked on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
As a candidate, Jimmy Carter pledged to have a higher ethical standard.
But he suffered embarrassment when Bert Lance, his director of the
Office of Management and Budget, was forced to resign over alleged
mismanagement and corruption at the Calhoun National Bank in Georgia
when Lance was chairman of its board.
President Obama has suffered one embarrassment after another with his
nominees. Mr. Geithner was confirmed despite not having paid his
payroll taxes for four years, but tax troubles forced Tom Daschle, his
nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, to withdraw. New
Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination for Secretary of
Commerce when it was revealed the FBI was investigating the governor in
connection with a "pay to play" scandal in New Mexico.
Most presidents describe the economy in rather more rosy terms than the
facts may warrant in order to keep the spirits of Americans up. The
only two in modern times to talk the economy down are Mr. Carter and Mr.
In 1979, Mr. Carter gave his famous "malaise" speech. "The public and
political pundits reacted very harshly to the speech, criticizing Carter
for not offering enough solutions to the problems he identified," said
the Encyclopedia of Earth.
President Obama has said repeatedly the economy is in its worst "crisis"
since the Great Depression though the statistical evidence indicates
the 1982 recession was worse and has predicted "catastrophe" if the
measures he seeks aren't enacted into law.
"The danger for him is using the Jimmy Carter malaise rhetoric,
particularly for Mr. Obama, who was elected because people thought he
was the solution," said pollster Frank Luntz. "There's only so much
negativity they will tolerate from him before they will feel betrayed."
In foreign policy, President Carter believed he could charm America's
enemies by reaching out to them, and by apologizing for American
"arrogance." But events were unkind. On his watch, the mullahs took
power in Iran and seized the U.S. embassy there, and the Soviet Union
So far, the substance of Barack Obama's foreign policy has been very
like that of George W. Bush. But his rhetoric echoes that of Mr.
Carter. The first interview he granted to a foreign news organization
was to al Arabiya, which has had kind things to say about Islamist
terrorists. The president was apologetic for U.S. policy toward Muslims
in the past.
"When his self-inflation as a redeemer of U.S.-Muslim relations leads
him to suggest that pre-Obama America was disrespectful or insensitive
or uncaring of Muslims, he is engaging not just in fiction but in
gratuitous disparagement of the country he is now privileged to lead,"
said JWR contributor Charles Krauthammer.