Soaring inflation. Lines at gas stations, with increasing gasoline prices. Tense negotiations with Iran involving hostages. A deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Calls to boycott an upcoming Olympics to be hosted by a hostile, expansionist Communist power known for human rights abuses. A big push for solar energy.
President Joe Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, stopped in Plains, Georgia, recently to visit with former President Jimmy Carter, who is 96, and Rosalynn Carter. The visit was closed-door, but one can imagine there was plenty to talk about.
The meeting prompted some sparring over Carter’s reputation. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that Biden is ''the next Jimmy Carter.'' That was intended as an insult, since Carter was a one-term president who lost his reelection bid amid stagflation and the Iranian hostage crisis. Twitter editors remarked that ''people are confused by'' the tweet from Donald Trump Jr., ''given that former president Carter is a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose humanitarian record is largely respected.''
Jonathan Alter, author of ''His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life,'' told me that the Biden visit was a sign of how Carter’s stature in the Democratic Party has improved recently, from pariah to moral exemplar. ''The stench has worn off,'' Alter said.
There are some areas where Biden emulating Carter might not be such a bad idea.
Carter appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, who eventually, (though too late for Mr. Carter's reelection) succeeded in reining in inflation.
Carter signed into law (albeit reluctantly) the Steiger Amendment, named for William Steiger, a Republican of Wisconsin. That cut the capital gains tax to 28 percent from the effective 49.875 percent rate to which it had been increased under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Biden himself, by contrast, has proposed to double the capital gains tax rate.
Carter worked with Congress to pass the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which led to lower fares, the abolition of the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the rise of discount carriers like People Express and Southwest. He also passed the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, deregulating trucking. Air cargo, railroad freight, even to some extent banking and energy saw bureaucracy rolled back during the Carter years, paving the way for the growth of FedEx and alternative energy.
In October 1978, Carter asked a rally, ''Do you want a government that will get the regulatory agencies’ and government agencies’ nose out of the private sector’s business and let our free enterprise system work in the United States? Well, that’s the kind of government we’re trying to bring you in Washington.''
Carter’s volunteer housing work with religiously inspired Habitat for Humanity points a way to homeownership and a kind of poverty relief and upward mobility that is different from the public housing projects or Section 8 rent vouchers of Big Government Democrats.
Even on foreign policy, where President Ronald Reagan successfully depicted Carter as weak, Carter deserves some credit for the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat won the Nobel Peace Prize for that treaty. Biden would be foolish to attempt a similar effort in the absence of a Sadat or a Begin. Carter’s post-presidential engagement in the Middle East has been less than constructive. But the violence against Israel at the moment is a reminder that the Israel-Egypt peace, for which Sadat was assassinated, has been durable.
Perhaps Carter is old enough, and ill enough, that he’s nonthreatening. That can’t be said of the other Democratic past presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Biden talks regularly on the phone with Obama, but the White House won’t say how frequently or get into the details of what they talk about. In that sense the photo put out of the Bidens and the Carters is a classic case of misdirection. The White House would prefer that swing voters think about Biden and Carter, not Biden and Obama.
Republicans can take solace in the fact that both Carter and Obama were succeeded in the White House by Republicans. If Biden wants to avoid following that pattern, he’ll need to chart his own course, imitating his predecessors’ successes but also trying to avoid their failures. Otherwise he risks, like Carter, being shunned for years before historians reassess his legacy and some future president is bold enough to visit and pose for one last photo.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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