It is the ultimate no-fly zone for Democratic presidents. No matter what happens, you never, ever want to enter into the zone of comparison with the 39th president of the United States. But as the news just keeps getting worse and the crises mount one on top of another for the nation’s increasingly embattled chief executive, the question has become unavoidable. Is Joe Biden the political reincarnation of Jimmy Carter?
The most obvious comparison begins with their candidacies, both of which succeeded only because of strikingly unique historical circumstances. It is fair to say that the previously unknown dark horse Jimmy Carter – running on a pledge to return decency to politics – could never have been elected president absent the Watergate scandal, resulting in the only resignation of a president in American history. And Joe Biden, in obvious decline after almost five decades in national politics, almost surely would not have landed in the White House were it not for the pandemic which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans on Donald Trump’s watch.
President by Default
The results of both the 1976 and 2020 elections were comparable in one particularly crucial way. They both represented rejection of a crisis-plagued presidency far more than an affirmation of the alternative. It is hardly a secret that little if any passion existed in the land for placing the career politician from Delaware in the Oval Office; a man who had flamed out badly twice before in his quest for the presidency. But the four-year-long marginalization of Trump by the forces of the established order worked in harmony to assure that the pandemic would be his ultimate downfall, and it mattered little what Democrat would take his place by default. Joe Biden needed the sole qualification of not being Donald Trump to become the beneficiary of 45’s orchestrated demise.
Likewise, average Americans appalled by the Watergate scandal and the steaming cauldron of corruption it unmasked in Washington’s corridors of power, reacted by electing a pious Southern Baptist promising, “I will never lie to you.” Such a pledge would be laughable in today’s unrelentingly cynical, jaded and tribal brand of politics, but it resonated with the American people at the time. While Carter actually defeated Gerald Ford, who had replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon, it was the resignation-worthy behavior of Nixon and his administration which animated the voters.
In both cases, the people who voted for Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter were so consumed with removing one man or party from power that they failed to adequately consider the downdraft from electing instead someone who was little more than a placeholder or one-trick pony who could not triumph – for good reasons – in ordinary times. And in both cases, the country has been made to pay the price.
The Carter years were defined by the m-word: malaise. Does it feel terribly different now? If you lived through the bad old days of the late 1970s, you will remember a term which was invented for the time, and had not reared its head again – until now. Stagflation. It is the devastating pairing of a stagnant economy and damaging inflation that flat-out killed the Carter presidency. Food and energy prices went through the roof as unemployment plus inflation, forming yet another new expression, the misery index, surpassed 20%. Combined with his perceived weakness on the international stage, fueled by a seemingly never-ending hostage crisis in Iran, and the general sense that he was just in way over his head, Carter became wildly unpopular.
Sound familiar? Well, we just learned that prices at the pump are up 43% from a year ago, new cars are costing almost 10% more, and food prices continue to rise as Biden’s supply chain crisis, unlike anything experienced by Carter, starts to explode.
Biden Out-Carters Carter
But as we consider the comparative fates of the 39th and 46th presidents, incredibly, the outlook for Biden may be even worse. Both men were considered likable when elected, but while Carter maintained his personal popularity throughout his presidency despite his political failures, Biden severely diminished his compassion Q-rating through his callousness during the Afghanistan fiasco.
Both presidents had defining international crises, but while Carter’s failed hostage rescue in Iran was largely the result of misfortune, Biden’s appalling surrender in Afghanistan was the product of his own design.
And while Carter was considered genuinely moderate, even stingy by the liberal left, Biden supports an all-you-can-eat buffet of socialist initiatives – even though the voters demanded no such thing. Indeed, while Carter advocated for relative fiscal rectitude as the national debt in his final year in office amounted to less than one trillion dollars, Biden supports massive taxing and spending as it now approaches $29 trillion.
Oh, and Carter also did not create a crisis on the border through his own policies, as Biden has done.
Like Donald Trump, Biden is also dealing with factors beyond his control, specifically prevailing economic conditions that have resulted in wrenching changes from “before times,” pre-pandemic, when the economy was firing on all cylinders. As the coronavirus now shrinks ever so slowly from our lives and collective consciousness, the way we conduct our lives and do business has been dramatically altered in this new work-at-home world.
Indeed, life has changed. Is Joe Biden the man to lead us into this land of the great unknown, as people hoped Jimmy Carter would be when he pledged to rid politics of corruption? While Carter’s legacy is complete, Biden’s is not. And yet, it seems the people have already rendered their verdict – only 38% approve in the latest survey. The best hope for this 46th president, with more than three years left to serve, is that they somehow change their mind.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.