Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama — Differences and Similarities

Jimmy Carter, aged 86, has published his White House Diary. He is now on a book tour. In an interview with Maureen Dowd for The New York Times (September 21), Obama’s name came up several times.

“Before he got elected, Barack Obama praised Reagan as a ‘transformative’ president,” she writes. “Now in a slump, Obama morphs into Carter, an eat-your-peas president for an ice-cream-sundae nation…. In 1976, the former peanut farmer from Georgia exploded out of his shell, buoyed by the same sort of anti-establishment frenzy – or ‘malaise,’ as he puts it, recycling the word that caused him so many problems – that we see now.”

Jimmy Carter – and Maureen Dowd – wisely refrain from drawing any conclusions. They know that the “malaise” that helped Carter in 1976 is very different from the reasons for Obama’s slump, caused by the disillusioning financial meltdown.

Whether Carter’s alleged “ineptitude” in dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis, and on other occasions, is in some way comparable to Obama’s apparent inability to deal with the Tea Party’s surge is a question that raises the difference in Zeitgeist but also the difference between the two men’s characters. Would Carter have made the Afghan war his war in his campaign? Would he have retained, once in office, men as key economic advisers who are thought to be responsible for the meltdown? Is Obama as tough as Carter was?

Maureen Dowd:

“One of his military commanders admiringly called Carter ‘tough as woodpecker lips.’ His former strategists still cringe when they recall the flash of contemptuous blue steel the president would level at them when they would go into the Oval Office to suggest a politically expedient move…. Carter says Obama has it worse than he did because of the psycho-polarization and because for most of Carter’s presidency there was no cable news. “Fox News deliberately lies about Obama’s religion and about his beliefs and about what he has in mind for the country and about his racial background.”

So far Obama has not said anything about his views on lust and adultery.

Maureen Dowd:

The last time the phrase “lust in your heart” swept through American politics was in 1976 when Carter admitted to Playboy that, while he had always been faithful to soul (and sole) mate Rosalynn, he had committed adultery in his heart.

“I dropped 15 percentage points, and I almost lost the election,” Carter, recalls, adding with some wry hyperbole: “It was the most copies of Playboy ever sold.”

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2 responses to “Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama — Differences and Similarities

  1. I like both Carter and Obama.

    Both are outsiders with strong humanist streaks and the mental toughness to required make difficult choices. We forget that the president has relatively little real power when we take into consideration the check and balances, special interest groups, media and the growing confrontational culture in the U.S.

  2. Of course you are right. After I wrote the blog I saw a short piece in the current New Yorker about the forthcoming memoirs by Walter Mondale (Carter’s V.P) . He also makes comparisons between Carter and Obama.