Half a Cheer for Carter
The obvious answer to John McCain’s recent, lame, anti-Obama soundbite, “Carter’s Second Term,” is that while Carter was no Gerald Ford, at least the man wasn’t as bad as Richard Nixon, the nearest recent historical parallel to George W. Bush. Though even that may be unfair to Nixon, who after all did not start the Vietnam War, and at least made peace with China. Moreover, despite his extravagant theories of executive power, Nixon at least disclaimed the right to lock up American citizens without charges or a trial, signing the Non-Detention Act of 1971. For the story behind that act, which the Bush legal team considers unconstitutional, see this piece [.pdf] by the indispensible Louis Fisher.
His administration deregulated trucking and air travel, market-friendly reforms that had huge, beneficial effects on American economy and life. (I’m old enough to remember when flight was for business travelers and the rich.) He appointed Paul Volcker to the Fed and backed his tight-money policies right through an election year.
I’m not convinced, nor is Jim, entirely. He runs through some of Carter’s bad points, like his godawful energy policy and his creation of two additional cabinet departments (one more than Reagan). I’d add the Desert One operation which, to read Mark Bowden’s account, was the craziest military operation approved by a president since the Bay of Pigs. Of course, Jimmuh’s unbearable sanctimony and self-righteousness shouldn’t count, but I’m sure it’s colored my assessment. But the fact that people reflexively rank Carter among the worst of the modern presidents says something about the bias toward presidential activism that warps our public debate.