Was Jimmy Carter really a bad president?

I’m a little too young to remember much of Carter as a President. Was he really such a bad President? What did he do to have a negative effect on the economy? Was he really so bad on foreign policy?

Well, boggled the Iran Terrorist situation badly, and the US lost a lot of international respect for that.

That, and despite being a nuclear engineer in the Navy, he still mispronounced the word as “nukular”. :mad:

Really? From most of the stuff I’ve read he got props from all over the world for even daring to try something like that. The Iranians weren’t cheering, and the America haters were thrilled, but all in all it was my impression that he garnered a lot of respect for that, even in failure.

The economy, during Carter’s presidency, was an absolute disaster area. Inflation rose to 9% during 1978, to 13% in 1979, and then to 18% in early 1980. For those too young to remember, it may be hard to understand how annoying this was. It was impossible for either consumers or businesses to make any kind of a sane investment decision. At the same time, we had a recession and gas shortages. We’ve lived through a recession with 2% inflation the last three years, and it has been painful enough. Imagine it with 18% inflation and lines to buy gasoline. Trust me, it wasn’t fun.

Was this Carter’s fault? Not really. The Federal Reserve, at the time, refused to admit that if they grew the money supply by 18% per year, we’d have 18% inflation. In 1979, Carter appointed Paul Volcker to the Fed, and he was the man who finally put a stop to that nonsense. But by then, it was too late to do Carter any good.

The gas shortages could have been avoided by deregulating the industry, as happened during the 1980’s, but Carter lacked the courage to pursue that avenue. This was unfortunate, because he did sign bills deregulating several other industries, including airlines, trucking, and telecommunications. (Many companies in these industries subsequently went bankrupt, but consumers were flat-out winners as prices fell through the floor.) These bills marked the first rollback of the regulatory state since the New Deal. Again, however, he lacked the vision to extend this to energy policy.

In foreign affairs, Carter’s presidency was marked by the Iran hostage crisis (our first encounter with Islamofascism) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I’ll leave it to others to debate whether these could have been handled better.

So was Carter a bad president? Well, a lot of bad stuff happened on his watch, and he failed to convince people he had the toughness to respond appropriately. Ultimately, he was a smiley-button early-70’s president out of his depth in a more difficult era.

Attacking an embassy is generally considered an act of war, since embassies are considered the sovereign territory of the country that owns the embassy.

Carter did not respond to an overt act of war carried out by the Iranian government. That hurt the US’s credibility.

As for the economy, it was already looking bad, but his tax and spend policies only made it worse.


So should Carter have invaded Iran in response to the hostage-taking?

That’s a good way to get all the hostages PLUS who knows how many American soldiers killed. I don’t think even Dubya would be bone-headed enough to pull something like that.

I was a child during those times, and that period of 1979 to 1981 was rough. Like it was mentioned before, in that period, the inflation rate was 18% and the interest rate topped out at a staggering 21%. Added to this, there was the hostages in Iran. For all of you too young to remember, the hostages were a phychic shock to the soul of the country, that some third rate, small bullshit country that few Americans have heard of before has the gall to hold 52 of our people. Carter tried a rescue attempt, but the mission failed when the helicopters crashed in the desert.

I truly believe that the era between 1963 and 1980 were an incredibly rough time for this nation. JFK was killed, Vietnam war, race riots, rising crime, drugs, RFK murder, MLK murder, Watergate, withdrawl from Vietnam, losing the war in Vietnam,the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, back when the USSR was a truly scary power. The American people have become greatly cynical during this period, which has lasted until now.

I believe Carter had the misfortune of being the first President after the Vietnam War. The economy had been strained under Ford also. Ford would of been a better President during this period because Jerry had friends and connections in Washington. He was a Washington insider who was liked and admired by members of both parties. Jimmy on the other hand is much more intellegent than Ford, but was a Washington outsider. He brought his own people in from Georgia. Carter liked to micro manage everything in the office, when truly the office of president is more than a one man job.

What I have read about Carter off camera is that he is NOT warm and engaging. As mentioned above, the man did not cultivate friendships and alliances within Washington either. One day he went and played tennis with Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (TX), and when the game was over with, Jimm-uh said thanks and took off. Lloyd couldn’t believe it. Lloyd was angered. Loyd was a powerful figure in the Senate who Jimm-uh needed on his side. Lloyd was pissed that Jimm-uh would not have cocktails and backroom deal. Carter made enemies in his own party, so they did not really mind to send him down the river without a paddle and watch him drown. Remember, during those times Carter’s party had a majority in both houses. I am sure there was an influential group inside the beltway that talked Ted Kennedy (probably over many cocktails) that he should run against Carter in 1980, if nothing else, to make Carter the boob and not them over Iran and the economy.

Reagan had excellent people to micro-manage the office of the Presidency and Ronnie had a warm, charming, engaging style to him. Clinton knew how to play the game in Washington DC, and unlike Jimm-uh, Bill is a snake who does not mind getting in the gutter with the sewer rats that is the US Congress to get some of his agenda done. Of course Bill had Hillary. Jimm-uh had too much integrety and refused to get dirty, if that makes sense.

**So should Carter have invaded Iran in response to the hostage-taking?

That’s a good way to get all the hostages PLUS who knows how many American soldiers killed. I don’t think even Dubya would be bone-headed enough to pull something like that.

Carter wouldn’t have been doing it in response to the hostage taking, but in response to the taking of our embassy.

If Cuba suddenly grabbed South Florida, would you say we shouldn’t fight them because South Floridians might get killed?

When our territory is invaded, that’s an act of war. Simple as that. Carter should have responded appropriately. An invasion is not necessarily the only way to wage a war. A blockade, attacking oil wells, combined with commando attempt to rescue the hostages and retake the embassy would have sufficed.

To me, the words that describe Carter as a president are “well-meaning” and “ineffectual.”

Ditto what NDP said – Jimmy’s heart was in the right place, but he didn’t have the steel needed to make the hard decisions.

Still, his rep has gotten more dings that it deserves, IMO, largely because of the post-Carter Republican Party’s need to demonize all their foes. As jklann and Airman Doors have pointed out, the two big black marks on Carter’s presidency involved situations he only had partial control over. Some folks will also blame Carter for the failed attempt to rescue the hostages, but that requires overlooking the fact that “Desert One” was (a) a very complicated mission to pull off, and (b) the first field mission for the newly-assembled Delta Force.

In the end, though, you gotta give Carter one credit – instead of retiring to an easy life on the lecture circuit, he’s out there bustin’ his chops at Habitat for Humanity, actually doing something to make the world better instead of just talking about it.

He found his role in life. Great Americans don’t always make great American Presidents. Carter isn’t the first great American to be elected and make a terrible President. Ulysses Grant comes to mind.

In the end, though, you gotta give Carter one credit – instead of retiring to an easy life on the lecture circuit, he’s out there bustin’ his chops at Habitat for Humanity, actually doing something to make the world better instead of just talking about it[ /quote]

I totally respect the post-Presidential part of his life, but it doesn’t have anything to do with him being President.

I do agree, Carter has done many good things after his Presidency, its just that he failed meet the circumstances he was faced with. That and his mispronouciation of nuclear really irks me, he should know better.

Crazy and jklann, I know the interest rate was high, but highest figure I found was 20% (not much difference). However, the inflation rate was not that bad! This is from a site not very favorable to President Carter:


The worst of the gas shortage was in 1973 under Nixon.

Inflation was also a problem during the Ford administration – although obviously not as bad. We had these little campaign type buttons that said W.I.N. That stood for Whip Inflation Now.

President Carter was a bright and concerned man but very ineffectual. The “nuke-u-lar” thing drove me nuts also and there was just no excuse for it. It was nice, however, finally to have someone in the White House who didn’t have an accent.

Does anyone remember how long after he left office that the hostages were released? In was literally within minutes.

That doesn’t say much for the intelligence of our citizens if that is true. I can remember learning about both Iran and Iraq when I was in elementary school. Ever hear of Persian rugs? For a while Iran was called Persia. Do you remember when the Shah of Iran was in power? Do you remember that we might have had something to do with that?

If we call incredible countries such as Iran “third rate small bullshit countries,” we will continue to develop the kind of hatred that leads to hostage-taking and terrorist suicide bombings. Do you think they don’t love their country as we do ours?


Another vote in the column of “well-meaning but ineffectual”.

He sincerely believed that the Cold War was all just a big misunderstanding. When he found out it wasn’t, it was too late.

He expected that the Presidency would be like being governor of Georgia, except more so. Then he got to the Oval Office, and it was simply more than he could handle. Add to that his apparent inability to delegate (he personally did the scheduling of the White House tennis courts), and you have a recipe for four years of fumbling.

Then when things continued to go sour, he went on TV and made his “malaise” speech, which went over like a fart in church. And the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and the voters had had enough.

I believe he is one of those people who Joseph Heller described as having “lots of intelligence, and absolutely no brains”. He couldn’t even get the Nobel Peace Prize he lobbied so hard for on his own - the Nobel committee gave it to him as a protest vote against the invasion of Iraq.

He makes a perfectly nice ex-President. He can’t do as much damage there as from DC.


I’m relying on memory here, which is always a dangerous thing. The Iranians announced the hostages would be released either the morning of Reagan’s innauguration or the day before. The actual release was held up until after Reagan was innaugurated. I seem to remember the news people at the time saying everything was in place to return the hostages and the Iranians were merely waiting until Carter was no longer president.

Carter was the unluckiest president in US history. It was in his tenure that OPEC flexed its muscle and the price of oil rose dramatically. Nothing he could have done about that. That inflation in energy costs worked its way through the economy like a calf through the belly of a snake. He was also the only president in history to serve a full term and not appoint a single justice to the Supreme Court. And of course, the crazy Iranian “students” hijacked the last year of his presidency. This really was the US’s first experience with terrorism and he did get the hostages out, although the Ayatollah made sure the final moments came after Jimmy left office.

On the plus side, he did not get us into a war and surely would not have started the quagmire that is now the Iraqi occupation. History will be far kinder to Carter than to Bush II.

…and I remember thinking at the time that the timing was extremely suspicious, even before the (unproven) allegations that Bush Sr. had made a deal with the Iranians to delay the release until after the election to prevent Carter from benefiting from it.

A few other tidbits from Carter’s adminstration: in response to the aforementioned OPEC muscle-flexing, Carter actively pursued research into alternative power sources (IIRC, he even put solar panels on the White House roof, which were subsequently removed (by Bush Sr, I think) – no points for guessing why).

And then there’s that whole Camp David accord thing, for which Begin and Sadat won Nobel Prizes. The Israel-Egypt peace agreement has probably done more to stabilize the region than any other single act in recent history.

I agree that he was far too nice, principled and, let’s face it, naive to succeed as President in the snake pits of Washington, and he suffered for it through a series of defeats and internal scandals (although the problems with the Carter administration were soon overshadowed by those of Reagan’s adminstration). The best thing about him being President, IMHO, is the things he’s been able to accomplish as an ex-President.

“The gas shortages could have been avoided by deregulating the industry, as happened during the 1980’s” -jKlan

Overregulation was strangling a number of industries- for example, the size of airlines’ in-flight lunches was highly regulated- and removing this kind of stuff was one thing I will give Ronny and 'Publicani credit for. But the gas shortages were entirely due to the OPEC embargo.

During the Iran-Contra hearings, it was well-documented that Reagan’s cronys made promises to the Iranians in exchange for their delay in releasing the hostages until after the election.

NDP summed it up well, though. Carter was unlucky on numerous fronts, though his intentions and actions were arguably good. Between the economy (not directly his fault), the artificial gas “shortage” (not his fault), and the difficulty in getting the hostages released (with “thanks” to Reagan &co.) he had little chance of re-election. If he had been re-elected, we would have been spared the nastiness and international black-eye of Iran-Contra, but who knows what the outcome vis a vis the Soviet Union would have been.