The Presidency of Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) was the 39th President of the United States (1977-1981). Carter was an obscure, former governor of Georgia when he was selected by the Democratic Party in 1976 as its candidate for the presidency. He had been recruited and packaged by a brilliant advertising executive from Atlanta, Gerald Rafshoon.
Jimmy Carter operated a peanut farm that he had inherited. He was formerly a naval officer and nuclear engineer. He was a Baptist Sunday school teacher who proudly claimed to have been "born again." He was modest and wholesome. He displayed folksy charm.
It seemed inevitable that a Democrat would win the 1976 presidential election. One leader of that party said, "We could run an aardvark this year and win." Carter barely won the election over the weakest incumbent in history, Gerald Ford, by 40,828,587 votes to 39,147,613.
Jimmy Carter became the first president from the Deep South since 1849. He liked to be called "Jimmy," and ran as a political outsider whose inexperience would be an asset. Carter's political hero was Woodrow Wilson. His best campaign phrase was "I will never tell a lie to the American people."
The 1976 Election
By 1976, some Leftists in America were openly advocating Socialism. They favored nationalization of industry and large businesses; and wanted huge income tax increases to provide every person with government housing, transportation, and health care.
Liberal intellectuals thought America needed a complete overhaul to be remade in the image of Europe. Some believed that America should emulate Japan. Most wanted the Constitution amended to fundamentally transform American government into a European parliamentary style where the same party (the Democratic Party, of course) would control the Congress along with the Presidency.
Liberal intellectuals did not want to be bothered by having to explain their ideas to the People, and thereby gain popular support for their programs. They wanted an all-powerful central government with their opponents disempowered, and the nation run by bureaucrats who make laws called regulations without answering to the electorate.
But some Democrats already saw the pernicious effects of the Social Liberal agenda. Barbara Jordan—the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after reconstruction, and the first Southern black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—said at the 1976 Democratic Convention these prescient words: "This is the great danger America faces; that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups. . . . Each seeking to satisfy private wants."
Jimmy Carter was a hard working, practical man, who had a good grasp of complex legislation and administration. His campaign stressed his personal integrity. Carter made vague promises couched in comforting language that avoided offending any voting bloc, and in fact made most groups feel like he agreed with them.
Jimmy Carter remains the only American president to ever sit for an interview with Playboy magazine. Carter admitted to "feeling lust in his heart." The interviewer, Robert Scheer, tried to make a fool of Carter; to portray him as a fanatic who wanted to impose his religion on the masses. Carter performed admirably. He demanded respect for his religion. He made clear that he had compassion for sinners and was tolerant of other beliefs. Carter said it was "ridiculous to think he would run around breaking people's doors down to see if they were fornicating."
President Carter would have the power to accomplish whatever he wanted. He had enormous majorities in both houses of Congress. His first two years in office, the Democrats controlled the Senate 60-37 and the House of Representatives 292-143. During his final two years as president, the margins were reduced but Democrats still had huge advantages of 58-41 in the Senate, and 277-158 in the House.
President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter scored points with the American people when he walked to his inauguration rather than ride in a limousine. He ended the practice of playing "Hail to the Chief" upon his arrival. In his inaugural address, Carter warned that "even our great nation has its recognized limits. "
Carter started televised "fireside chats" with the citizens in which he wore a cardigan sweater. It was observed that during one such chat—the fire went out. He diagnosed the condition of his constituents this way: "Our people are sick at heart."
President Carter included more women and blacks in his administration than any of his predecessors. In a widely applauded initiative, he launched a new jobs program for unemployed military veterans. Less popular was his grant of amnesty to draft dodgers of the Vietnam War.
Carter did have one notable achievement in foreign affairs. He brokered a treaty between Israel and Egypt—the Camp David Accords—that brought a fragile peace to the Middle East in 1978. However, the other Arab nations blasted Egypt as a traitor to the Islamic cause.
One of the first moves by President Jimmy Carter was to set up a "human rights" group to operate inside the State Department. Carter based this policy on the Helsinki Accords. While his group worked to enforce human rights among allies of the United States, Communist countries ignored the Helsinki Accords, and in fact arrested any persons who tried to monitor abuses in their countries.
Carter's policy led to the overthrow of an admittedly distasteful regime in Nicaragua. But it was replaced by a Communist, pro-Soviet government—beloved by the liberal American press—that abused human rights on an even larger scale and worked to overthrow every government in Central America.
President Carter's Bureau of Human Rights also alienated Brazil and Argentina. Its core mission seemed to be to harass countries who were our friends. But Carter's human rights campaign did nothing while the Khmer Rouge murdered millions of people on his watch.
President Carter's policies also aided Communist takeovers in Africa, where by the end of his term ten nations were Soviet satellites. Carter's ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, openly supported anti-American, Marxist revolutionaries in the Third World.
Meanwhile, Carter's drunken brother Billy became a paid lobbyist for the staunchly anti-American, terrorism-sponsoring government of Libya, and was subsequently involved in a kickback scandal involving military aircraft.
In an incredibly unpopular move among U.S. citizens, President Carter gave away one of America's most critical assets: the Panama Canal. Nine million Americans sent letters to the president to express their outrage.
President Carter severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1978, as he turned his back on yet another of America's long time friends. The United States did not participate in the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics because the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
The Iranian Crisis
The policies of President Carter led to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, who was replaced by a group of Muslim terrorists, whose human rights abuses made the Shah look like Mother Teresa. This Carter inspired revolution immediately caused fuel shortages in the United States and enormous increases in fuel costs. OPEC raised oil prices by 50 percent to a new all-time high. Motorists stood in long lines at gas stations, gas rationing reappeared, and 60 percent of America's gas stations had closed because of fuel shortages by June of 1979. The approval rating of President Carter fell to 26 percent—lower than Nixon at his lowest.
Iran was the most dependable ally the United States had in the Middle East, except for Israel. Iran was a stabilizing force on world oil markets and had refused to join in on Arab oil embargoes. Iran was growing economically very rapidly and was perhaps going to catch up with European standards of living within one generation.
But the Shah of Iran had a repressive secret police force that irked the liberals in Jimmy Carter's administration. After Carter took office, the U.S. sharply reduced military and intelligence support. When hardcore Islamists grew increasingly hostile to the Shah's regime, American liberals piled on with their own denunciations of the Shah.
President Carter betrayed the Iranian people. Because of him, a nation that included many defenseless minorities was handed over to a Muslim priesthood with no experience or knowledge of how to govern a nation. 8,000 Iranians were summarily executed, including 23 army generals, 400 army officers, 800 police officers, 600 liberal intellectuals, and 700 supporters of rival Ayatollahs. Churches and synagogues were destroyed, cemeteries desecrated, and shrines demolished.
After the Shah was overthrown, the decline in the standard of living among Iranians was of a scale rarely seen in modern history.
When America's former friend, the Shah of Iran, was allowed to be overthrown, the revolutionaries showed their contempt for America by storming the American Embassy in Tehran and holding the 52 Americans who worked there as hostages. The new leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, supported this gross violation of diplomatic sovereignty and international law by a frenzied mob.
The American people demanded immediate action. President Carter appealed to the United Nations. Khomeini laughed at its demand for the release of the hostages. Carter finally authorized a commando raid, which failed because funds for Defense had been so gutted that the helicopters didn't work properly and crashed in the desert, killing eight soldiers.
The American hostages were held for 444 days. They were only released after Ronald Reagan was elected the new President of the United States. The Iranians were rightly afraid of Reagan as he was about to open up a can of whoop-ass on them, big-time. The hostages were flown out of Tehran the very day of Reagan's inauguration.
Central Intelligence Agency
President Carter appointed Stansfield Turner the head of the CIA. Turner fired 800 highly experienced operatives in what became known as the Halloween Massacre. Turner and Carter disdained "spies" and covert operations. This purge had long aftereffects worldwide but particularly in the Middle East.
The 1978 book Perjury by Allen Weinstein proved that there were indeed Soviet spies in our own government back in the days of FDR and Truman, including Alger Hiss. The Left had spent decades defending Hiss and maligning Whittaker Chambers, but it ends up Chambers was telling the absolute truth all along. This book forced Americans to reassess the evil intentions of the Soviet Union and it finally demolished much liberal mythology.
New evidence surfaced during the Carter years that worldwide terrorism was being secretly sponsored by the Soviet Union. The KGB was using global terrorism as a tactic to destabilize the West.
In 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States kicked God out of the public schools—where He had held a hallowed position for 300 years. The Bible and prayer were banned as inappropriate for children. This led to a national movement to establish Christian schools.
Social Liberals, who were nearly all privately Atheists and Marxists, pressed the government to force all children to attend public schools where they could receive the proper indoctrination into progressive ideology. The number of Christian schools was on the rise due to the fact that public schools were increasingly pushing Secular Humanism. Liberals wanted to force all children to be indoctrinated with this new, official State Religion.
In 1978, the Internal Revenue Service—under a new appointee of President Carter—issued new guidelines that would in effect remove the tax-exempt status of Christian schools. The new IRS rules were a deliberate attempt to suppress Christian schools by using a politicized tax policy to achieve liberal social goals—by targeting children.
It was in direct response to this that the Moral Majority was founded in 1979. Before this IRS move, Evangelical Christians mostly avoided partisan politics. They were focused on individual salvation not national politics; they were content to withdraw from the corruption of the secular world. Now they were provoked to battle the federal government that had gone from neutrality to promoting evil.
The Jimmy Carter years saw liberal views on crime and criminals reach their full flower. Liberals had long argued that crime was the result of "societal oppression," such as poverty, unemployment, and inadequate housing. Fighting against crime was seen by social liberals as imposing the culture of the law-abiding white middle-class—as opposed to respecting all cultures, including the criminal culture.
Since the liberals were heavily invested in moral relativism—that there is no right or wrong—laws were simply the product of the dominant culture. Criminals were mostly just misunderstood social rebels. One man's crime might be another man's natural reaction to oppression. This is believed in spite of the fact that poor people around the world are not demonstrably prone to become violent criminals. The truth that liberals sought to bury is that to commit a crime is an individual moral choice. Criminals are not victims.
By the end of the Jimmy Carter years, the results of this idiocy were evident: From 1961 to 1981, violent crime had exploded fourfold from 146 victims per 100,000 Americans to 577. The years that Jimmy Carter was president were the most violent in American history. In his last year in office, 1980, violent crime increased ten percent over the year before. 20,000 Americans were murdered that year.
James Q Wilson brought some Americans back to sanity in his 1975 book Thinking About Crime. As Wilson pointed out, since the 1960s the United States had waged a massive war on poverty through the enormous social welfare programs of the Great Society. If poverty and oppression caused crime, then surely crime should have decreased since the Civil Rights legislation of President Johnson—which had expanded exponentially after he left office. But instead, the crime explosion seems statistically linked to the explosion of social welfare programs themselves.
Wilson convinced millions of Americans that liberal ideas about crime effectively made excuses for criminal behavior. Crime is the work of ruthless social predators, usually habitual offenders with long records. Spectacular career offenders made foolishness of liberal theories about criminals.
Wilson wrote: "Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling and calculating of their opportunities, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a cue to what they might profitably do. We have trifled with the wicked, made sport of the innocent, and encouraged the calculators."
A 1981 article in Time magazine noted that violent crime in America had become "more brutal, more irrational, more random, more senseless. . . . murder seems to be just a form of recreation." A new generation of remorseless criminals was prone to wanton bloodshed and sadism, and seemed to seek out the most defenseless victims.
America no longer worried about urban riots—there was a constant urban riot (to quote a 1977 article in Newsweek). In spite of all this, liberals dismissed concerns about violent crime as nothing but racism, and liberal judges continually enhanced the rights of criminals.
In May of 1980, riots erupted in the Liberty City section of Miami in which savage blacks targeted whites and Latinos, whom they casually murdered and mutilated in pure race-based hatred. White civilians barricaded their neighborhoods.
Also in 1980 came the ABSCAM corruption scandal, which involved bribes for political influence from a man posing as an Arab sheik. The scandal showed how anxious liberals were to betray their own nation. Among the many elected officials indicted—including six members of Congress— only one was a Republican.
Is it a coincidence that the crime wave, which was especially prominent among juveniles, came 17 years after God was thrown out of the public schools by Atheist Progressives? Is it coincidence that the late seventies are the time in which serial killers came into the national spotlight?
Had the forced absence of God created a vacuum into which had rushed pure moral evil that included an epidemic of random, sadistic violence from dangerous psychopaths who were not—as liberals contended—in need of therapy but who were flat out evil people?
What to make of the wave of satanic cults that erupted across the country in the late 1970s? One of these covens of Satan worshipers prompted the San Francisco police department to issue a warning against "animal mutilations and ritualistic homicides of human beings wherein internal organs are removed from victims and used in rituals."
While traditional labor unions were in decline, public employee unions began to grow spectacularly. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) grew from 680,000 members in 1975 to well over a million by the end of Jimmy Carter's presidency.
Public employee unions focused their recruitment efforts on minorities. These unions, and the wages and benefits of the union members, are funded by the general public through taxation. Strikes by them are felt most directly and painfully by ordinary citizens. Public employee unions flourished at the public expense.
Under President Jimmy Carter, regulatory bureaucracies continued to expand. Before his term, the United States produced one-third of all industrial goods in the world. By the end of his presidency, compliance with ever-growing regulations was costing American business $100 billion annually, and American taxpayers were paying billions more for various regulatory agencies.
Now this was not all President Carter's fault. He did his best at first to slow the growth of bureaucratic power, reduce paperwork, and minimize the cost of any new regulations. He said early in his presidency, "It is a major goal of my administration to free the American people from the burden of over-regulation."
President Carter wanted a "revolutionary change in the relationship of government to business." To this end, he deregulated the airline, trucking, banking, and communications industries. But then President Carter created two new bureaucracies: the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.
The Gross Domestic Product of America had doubled three times since the 1940s. Now it came to a standstill due to government regulation and intervention; as well as the effects of decades of labor union work rules and extortion. America's share of world automobile production fell from 32 to 19 percent. America's share of world steel production declined from 20 to 12 percent. By the end of Carter's presidency, America had slid from 1st to 7th in Standard of Living among the nations of the world.
Under President Carter, inflation accelerated dramatically. By his third year in office, inflation was above 12 percent. By this time, his own aides sensed a lack of leadership, one saying publicly of the administration "No one seems to be in charge."
Under President Carter, interest rates mushroomed to triple the average rates. By his fourth year in office, the Prime Rate was 18 percent.
In 1980, the American economy experienced a recession coupled with double-digit inflation. Inflation had only been at 5 percent when Carter took office. The first quarter of 1980 inflation was at 18 percent—a signal of impending collapse of the US dollar.
July 15, 1980, President Carter made a strange speech—the "malaise speech"—in which he described ordinary Americans as selfish and short-sighted. He said that the country needed redemption through national repentance and personal self-sacrifice. He noted that America had a "crisis of confidence" that was "a fundamental threat to American democracy." Carter said: "We see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of unity of purpose for our Nation."
Home mortgage rates were at 15 percent; unemployment was 7.5 percent; interest rates were the highest in American history: 20 percent. The second quarter of 1980, the Gross National Product suffered the steepest decline in American history.
This Inflation Caused Permanent Damage to America
Before the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Americans had always been conservative with their finances. Americans were by and large thrifty, never threw things away, were suspicious of good times, and saved for the "rainy day" that was sure to come. They resisted credit and debt—seen as moral weakness.
But with inflation at 12 percent a year, to let money sit in a savings account earning 5 percent interest was a losing proposition. Hard-earned savings were becoming worthless. To save money meant to pay for tomorrow's higher-priced goods with yesterday's diminished dollars. Instead, why not purchase today on credit, and pay later with inflated dollars?
As Alfred Kahn, President Carter's inflation "czar," said, "[the] inflation that we have experienced has given rise to a permanent change in our attitudes toward savings." American began to spend more, borrow more, speculate more, and save less—trends that have continued to this day.
The cost-of-living rose at double-digit rates. The prices of meat, milk, and heating oil rose out of sight. The dollar dropped to new lows. Carter's allies in the labor unions demanded higher and higher wages. He abandoned his idea of a federal pay cap because it riled public employee unions.
Credit cards began arriving in the mailboxes of Americans across the country. Credit card spending increased fivefold in ten years. Consumer borrowing doubled in the four years that Jimmy Carter was in office.
Alfred Khan said, "Inflation was not just an economic problem but a profoundly social problem—a sign of a society is some degree of dissolution, in which individuals and groups seek their self-interest and demand more money and government programs that simply add up to more than the economy is capable of supplying."
California voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978 by a staggering two-to-one margin. This reduced current taxation and made it difficult to enact any new taxes. Twenty other states quickly followed suite and reduced tax burdens. Big government was no longer seen by most Americans as the champion of social justice, but instead recognized as wasteful and corrupt. The guaranteed high wages and lavish pensions promised by politicians to unionized public employees angered voters as well. Social Security payroll taxes had risen eightfold since 1964.
The scope of the margin in which Proposition 13 passed stunned nearly every observer. It had won the majority of the voters across all economic levels and all political persuasions. The only groups that did not vote for Proposition 13 were blacks and public employee labor unions. (The progressive answer to this setback was naturally to work over the next thirty years to increase the number of public labor union workers.)
Prior to the vote on Proposition 13 in California, big spending Progressives issued dire warnings that if taxes were cut, scores of schools would have to be closed, thousands of public employees would be terminated, and no longer would citizens be protected adequately by the police and fire departments. The predicted decline in services never came to pass. The progressive prophecies of catastrophe and doom—crippled public services and massive unemployment—were phony as a three dollar bill.
Tax relief had become a national issue. The headline of Newsweek magazine read: CALIFORNIA TO LIBERAL GOVERNMENT: DROP DEAD.
Neoconservatives are former Leftists who came to share the conclusions of the conservative movement. As Irving Kristol defined them, they are "Liberals who've been mugged by reality." Some were even former Communists.
The neoconservatives saw that the New Left had forsaken all moral values. They saw that America's economic woes were the result of a liberal big government interfering too much with the Free Market.
Neo-conservatism is an intellectual movement of urban, highly-educated defectors from the Progressive camp—mostly Jews and Roman Catholics—who were sickened by the excesses of radicals such as the embrace of the murderous Chairman Mao, and the idolization of cold-blooded killers such as Che Guevara.
The American People depend on the president to project strength and confidence. President Carter projected ineffectiveness and weakness. His term became associated with misery and depression. 77 percent of Americans disapproved of his job performance—the highest number in American history.
A severe recession, tenacious unemployment, and a deteriorating dollar combined with staggering inflation during the Carter years had not only never been experienced in all of the history of America—it was inconceivable to economists. A new term was coined to describe it: Stagflation.
An article in the Wall Street Journal declared, "We've already had a woman president: Jimmy Carter. . . . Once in office, he lost no time revealing his true feminine spirit. . . . He did not project the image of being a real man." The Boston Globe ran a headline about a Carter speech that read: "Mush from the Wimp."
Jimmy Carter made many Americans feel insecure and puny. He personified failure. Many other Americans felt the nation was weak because Carter was weak. According to Carter, the power, progress, and prosperity of America were a thing of the past. President Carter wanted Americans to accept diminished expectations. His own chief economic advisor later said the problem with Carter was "lousy leadership."
The Way the World Works was published in 1978 by Jude Wanniski. This book proved to be highly influential in pointing a way in which America could become prosperous again. It called for tax cuts, spending cuts, and less government interference in the economy. These ideas would lead to a booming stock market, the creation of thirty million new jobs, untold wealth, and unparalleled prosperity in the 1980s.
In the 1980 presidential election, Jimmy Carter became the first elected President to be defeated since 1932. He lost in a landslide, garnering only 49 Electoral College votes to his successor's 489.
But that is another story and one to which we shall turn soon in these pages.
A History of the American People by Paul Johnson; America: A Narrative History by George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi; The Seventies by Bruce J. Schulman; Decade of Nightmares by Philip Jenkins; and The Eighties: America in the Age of Reagan by John Ehrman.