Over the past couple of weeks we have heard a number of references to the Carter administration…and not in a good way.
President Obama has publically admitted that thoughts of Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages and the resulting political fallout was one of the considerations in assessing the raid to get Osama bin Laden. Crowded into a tense Situation Room; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen admitted feeling a sense of déjà vu when the first helicopter crashed while attempting to land inside bin Laden’s compound. Mullen said that upon learning of the crash he immediately glanced over at Secretary of Defense Gates who was in that same room in 1980 monitoring Carter’s ill fated attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages. Carter had to abort the mission when three of the helicopters developed mechanical trouble. Another chopper crashed into a C-130 transport plane on takeoff killing eight servicemen and injuring three others. The failed mission devastated Carter’s presidency and 7 months later he lost his bid for a second term to Ronald Reagan.
Mitt Romney derisively referenced the Carter administration just this week. He said that the Obama administration policies had stifled small businesses in a manner not seen since the Carter administration. “The most anti-small business president that I’ve seen probably since Carter….Who would have thought that we would look at the Carter years as the good old days.” joked Romney.
Romney channeled Carter again when asked if he would have made the call to go after bin Laden. “Of course” Romney said. “Even Carter would have made that call.”
Jimmy Carter is a prickly individual. He has a habit of speaking his mind and not giving a damn when his ruminations are unpopular or overly critical. He has a sense of self importance about him that does not trend toward likability. Therefore it is not often that you find anyone in politics defending Jimmy Carter. But will give it a shot.
Carter should be given credit for having the courage to authorize the mission to rescue the Iranian hostages. Carter understood that there was a general malaise in the country exacerbated by our inability to win the release of the hostages. He took a huge political risk to authorize the mission. That the mission failed was not his fault but the result of a series of unfortunate circumstances. Had the mission succeeded Carter would have been a hero and the country might not have elected a B grade actor to the presidency.
Carter is generally blamed for the sluggish economy that was pervasive during his term in office. We remember long gas lines and rationing. But Carter is the only president to have developed a comprehensive national energy policy; one that included conservation, price controls and new alternative technology. We laughed at him. But had we followed his lead we would be far better off now. Carter wanted to wean us off our dependency on foreign oil. He understood the costly far reaching effects that dependency would have on us both domestically and internationally. Instead we ignored him, manufactured and sold big gas guzzling cars, paid more at the pump and spent trillions on military solutions to assure that oil would continue to flow to our shores. We opened the doors for foreign auto companies and Toyota and Honda made trillions filling the void.
Oh, he also created the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.
Jimmy Carter made a lot of mistakes. But let’s give the guy credit where credit is due.