Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Couple of Words for Ol' Jimmy

I mentioned Jimmy Carter in “Gas Fumes”, and it might be recognized by the perceptive reader that I have a soft spot for the former president. Well, I do.

It’s not that I think he was a great president. He could have been, but he wasn’t. He was a man of great intentions and wonderful ideas, but he had no idea how to get them done. He is the Democratic equivalent of Herbert Hoover. Hoover didn’t create the Great Depression; Carter didn’t create the fuel crisis or the hostage crisis. Hoover couldn’t understand the common folks; Carter couldn’t fathom those who had the power and the wealth. I don’t say that sarcastically. Great leaders don’t thumb their nose at any group whether weak but numerous, or few but powerful. Carter put fear into the hearts of corporations and the defense community. Great leaders mobilize everyone during a crisis. Hoover was oblivious to what the economy was doing, then paralyzed at the start of the Depression. By the time he realized he had to do something, it was too late. In Carter’s case, his energy solutions were wonderful, but needed to have been put into effect 10 years earlier. What he needed to do was along the lines of Kennedy did to stop the steel industry from increasing prices: Use a carefully crafted strategy combining threat, sweet-talk, and media manipulation to get the industry to back down. Without the support of the powerful in industry and finance, Carter couldn’t even begin to pull that off, even if he and his advisors could muster the nerve. As to Iran, well, there is the matter of Carter’s staff.

Carter’s biggest problem was the people he trusted. Some, like Bert Lance (I’ve probably spelled that wrong), were political hacks who had no business in Washington. Others were worn-out Kennedy-era Democrats who should have retired long before. All in all, this group managed to consistently generate the wrong answer to most of the important questions of Carter’s term in office. They completely misread the Iranian situation and it cost them.

Carter’s gutting of the nation’s defense forces was his ultimate failure (although begun during the Ford administration). It culminated in the gut-wrenching humiliation of the botched rescue attempt in Iran.

(Parenthetically, it was Carter who negotiated the release of the hostages. Even with all his failures during his term, he didn’t deserve to have to listen to Ronald Reagan taking credit for their release during his inaugural.)

But, the man’s ideas and ideals were something to be admired. No man has had a greater desire for peace in the world. No one. Period. Unlike the many Bible-quoting pious hypocrites who talk about prayer while either starting wars or supporting conflicts in the name of “democracy”, Carter was a true Christian, a man who seemed to desperately want to live by the precepts of the New Testament. Unlike, say, Pat “take him out” Robertson. Jimmy Carter works have earned a Nobel Peace Prize; evidently Robertson thinks Jesus wants Mutant Ninja Christian Soldiers.

Ultimately, though, there’s one really ironic legacy of Jimmy Carter that most people don’t even seem to recognize. For the last 15 or so years, military minds have gone ga-ga over stealth technology. During the first Gulf War, stealth bombers were a key to clearing the way so conventional bombers could their job without being blown to bits by antiaircraft weapons. There are stealth ships now in the Navy, even stealth tanks. Know who proposed that the country develop stealth weapons? By now you do. It was the ol’ peanut farmer himself. And when he did, “experts” in the media and the political circuits had a field day. One of the funniest cartoons showed a stealth blimp, simply the word “Goodyear” floating through the air. Everyone made fun of the smiling guy in the White House, even Ronald Reagan. But when Mr. Reagan went to Washington, one of the first things he did (besides generating the biggest deficit in U.S. history) was push hard for the development of stealth aircraft.

I’ll bet Jimmy has always gotten a chuckle out of that. He’s the sort of guy who would.

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