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Carter Was a Good President

The Financial Times story by Edward Luce says that Jimmy Carter has been wronged by history. He was a much better President than he is portrayed to be. Luce says:

The downside to US political memory is that substance often counts for little. If it were taken more seriously, Jimmy Carter would be credited for having seeded the Soviet Union’s demise and Ronald Reagan would not have been canonised as a modern saint.

A US president who preached universal rights helped America turn the corner from its Vietnam-era notoriety. Carter’s weaponisation of human rights lit a fuse that contributed to the Soviet Union’s peaceful implosion. He is unique among modern presidents in having no US combat deaths on his watch.

The second liberal gripe against Carter is that he lost to Reagan. As the saying went, Carter was defeated by the three Ks — Khomeini, Kennedy and Koch. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iranian revolution led to the hostage crisis that was a millstone round Carter’s neck. After 444 days in captivity, the US hostages were released a few minutes after Carter left office. It has not been proved that Reagan struck a back channel deal with Khomeini’s government to keep the hostages until after the 1980 election. But the evidence is very strong. Carter believes that William Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager, did strike a bargain. Such an unnatural Rolodex would also explain Reagan’s Iran-Contra shenanigans a few years later.

Carter’s Camp David deal neutralised Egypt — Israel’s most potent enemy — and thus did more for Israel’s security than any US president since. No good deed goes unpunished. Carter was the only Democratic president to get less than half of the Jewish vote.

Paul Volcker’s last name does not start with a K. However, the then chair of the US Federal Reserve is probably the largest contributor to Carter’s defeat. With interest rates at 20 per cent, Carter stood little chance at the ballot box. It is worth noting that Carter picked Volcker in full knowledge of his anti-inflation credentials.

On that, as so much else, Carter did the right thing but got no credit. The left hated him for it. The right pretended it was Reagan’s doing. Much the same can be said of how America won the cold war. The moral of Carter’s story is that virtue must be its own reward. History is a biased judge.


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