I have written several articles on our Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A list of the links have been provided at the bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional Presidents and their places in history.
On the Jimmy Carter vs. Joe Biden Comparison
Joe Biden’s appalling tenure in the White House has gotten many people comparing him to Jimmy Carter.
In this Independent Institute post, Jon Miltimore of the Foundation for Economic Education argues that in terms of damage done to the country, it isn’t even close — Biden is far worse.
Crucially, Carter approved a number of important moves to deregulate the economy, whereas Biden has done nothing but expand the scope, power, and cost of the federal behemoth.
Now, Carter is responsible for one of the worst federal agencies, the Department of Education, but never contemplated anything so Orwellian as Biden’s Disinformation Board.
Problems With Jimmy Carter-Joe Biden Comparisons
As summer approaches and midterm elections loom, it’s hard to imagine a worse climate for President Joe Biden.
The average price of gasoline is creeping toward $5 a gallon, inflation is at 40-year highs, and stocks are red, with the Dow, S&P, and Nasdaq down 9.8 percent, 14 percent, and 23 percent year-to-date, respectively.
While there are no 1970s-style gas lines yet—the result of price controls passed by President Richard Nixon—the gloomy environment is drawing comparisons to the Jimmy Carter era, a period associated with economic turmoil and malaise.
“Morale inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is plummeting amid growing fears that the parallels to Jimmy Carter, another first-term Democrat plagued by soaring prices and a foreign policy morass, will stick,” Politico’s Jonathan Lemire reported on June 5.
In some ways, the Carter–Biden comparisons make sense. Both presidencies took place in the aftermath of catastrophic wars—Carter in Vietnam and Biden in Afghanistan—that ended badly and required massive amounts of deficit spending (and money printing).
Both Carter and Biden also inherited troubled economies.
When Jimmy Carter took office in January 1977, annualized inflation was north of 5 percent, and the unemployment rate was even higher, 7.5 percent. Biden, meanwhile, took office during a pandemic that saw widespread government lockdowns, business closures, and unprecedented stimulus spending.
Carter initially responded by passing an ambitious legislative agenda that required the Federal Reserve to further expand the money supply. This made inflation worse. By December 1979, inflation had reached 13.3 percent.
Similarly, Biden extended federal benefits and money pumping that saw the government run a $2.8 trillion deficit in 2021—the second largest in history—followed by a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill.
The similarities between the Biden and Carter presidencies are clear. However, there are also notable differences, and a closer look at the Carter presidency shows Biden has not yet earned the comparison.
Jimmy Carter: An Underrated President?
Though Jimmy Carter is the president most associated with rampant inflation, it’s important to note that his presidency is just one chapter in a period remembered as the Great Inflation (1965–1982), which witnessed a huge expansion of the money supply and federal spending.
Carter didn’t start the Vietnam War or sever the United States from the gold standard—LBJ and Nixon deserve most of the credit there—but he had to address the inflationary consequences of these policies. And he eventually did.
The move helped trigger two recessions, drove the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate to 18.5 percent, and probably cost Carter the 1980 presidential election—but it put the U.S. economy on a path to monetary healing.
Second, it’s true that both the Biden and Carter administrations suffered from high gas prices due to supply shortages, something American consumers are sensitive to. But they responded quite differently.
Facing a hostile oil cartel (OPEC) and rising prices, Carter signed the National Energy Act of 1978, which slashed federal red tape and freed up America’s energy sector, increasing U.S. energy production and easing supply constraints.
“The deregulation of oil and natural gas prices that resulted would lead to a vast increase in the supply of energy in the 1980s, and consequently a lowering of prices,” wrote Robert A. Strong, professor of politics at Washington and Lee University.
Biden’s actions are a stark contrast.
Unlike Jimmy Carter, Biden inherited an economy that was essentially energy independent (as recently as 2019 the United States was producing more energy than it was consuming). But upon taking office, Biden began to choke energy production and distribution through various executive orders, regulations, and treaties. Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian-conservative political advocacy group, points to no fewer than 25 policies Biden passed that have made energy more expensive.
To what extent high energy prices stem from these actions versus other external factors—such as inflation and the war in Ukraine—is debatable. What’s clear is that Carter deregulated the oil and gas sector when faced with supply shortages, which lowered prices. Biden—with the exception of releasing supply from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve—has done the opposite.
Biden could learn a lot from “the Great Deregulator.”
In addition to liberalizing oil and gas, the former Georgia governor deregulated everything from railroads and beer to the airline and trucking industries, which put the U.S. economy on much sounder footing and helped propel the economic explosion of the 1980s.
Biden’s legacy is not yet written in the history books. But at this stage, the Biden–Carter comparison is unfair—to Jimmy Carter.
Joe Biden is so bad he makes Jimmy Carter look good
Jimmy Carter owes Joe Biden big time.
Because if it weren’t for Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter, 97, would still be ranked as the worst president in modern U.S. history.
Now Joe Biden has that honor all to himself. And it did not take him long to wrest the trophy away from Carter either.
Biden began his campaign on the first day of his presidency when he declared war on U.S. fossil fuel and shut down the Keystone XL pipeline.
In his war on domestic drilling, he took a once energy-independent nation and turned it into a country begging for oil from Saudi Arabia.
Thanks to Biden, the country now has the highest gasoline prices in the nation’s history.
That is only one of Biden’s failures, however, but it set the tone for all the others. The failures that followed accumulated so rapidly that they are hard to keep up with.
Suffice it to say that never has a president inflicted so much damage on a once thriving country. And he is only halfway done.
What put Biden over the top in his drive for the Worst President in History Award — and the top prize of a two-week all expenses paid vacation to Chicago — was silently standing by when he was insulted by the president of Mexico.
Joe Biden is a punching bag.
No matter how bad a leader President Carter was during his single term (1976-1980) — gasoline shortages, inflation, high interest rates, a sluggish economy, the Iranian hostage crisis — he never was dumped on by the president of Mexico.
Despite months of White House pleading, Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador last Monday announced that he would not attend this past week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angles.
The snub was a blow to White House plans to show Biden off as a regional leader in addressing issues ranging from climate change to trade.
Obrador, one of the region’s most prominent leaders, said he would not attend because Biden failed to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, three authoritarian nations.
Others wryly suggested that Obrador was too busy paving the way for another 15,000 illegal immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua who are currently crossing Mexico seeking to cross into the U.S.
It was also pointed out that while the Biden administration blackballed Venezuela from attending the Summit, it had no problems wheeling and dealing with Venezuela to buy its oil.
And while Biden barred some countries from attending, he was at the same time pressuring others to attend. It was like a parent rounding up kids to come to a birthday party for a kid they all hate.
For instance, Biden sent Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd to Brazil to persuade a reluctant President Jair Bolsonaro, who Biden has dissed because Bolsonaro is a Trump fan, to attend the summit.
Nor does Biden have any problems dealing with oil rich Saudi Arabia, whose crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman is accused of plotting the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Back then Biden said the prince and the Saudis had “to pay the price” for the killing and be made “the pariah they are.”
Now Biden is going hat in hand to Saudi Arabia to beg the Kingdom to drill for more oil to sell us at top buck rather than dig for the oil that lies beneath his feet in the U.S.
Jimmy Carter was a vigorous 52 years old when he became president, and he could hardly handle the job. Joe Biden was an old 78 when he became president, and the results are obvious.
In 1980 fellow Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy sought to oust Carter from office by running against Carter’s re-nomination in the Democrat presidential primaries. He failed. Today’s Democrats do not have anyone of Ted Kennedy’s stature to challenge Biden.
This means that Biden will have more time to concentrate on cementing his title as the Worst President in History. Bar none.
Joe Biden is no Jimmy Carter. He should wish he was.
“Jimmy Carter must be the sexiest man in the country,” Mario Cuomo, lieutenant governor of New York, joked privately to friends in 1979. “Everywhere I go, people say, ‘F— Carter.’”
“Let’s go Brandon” is today’s more public version of that refrain, routinely turning up on T-shirts, at Republican rallies and even during a Christmas Eve call-in event with President Biden and first lady Jill Biden. Comparisons between the 39th president and the 46th have become inescapable: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted that “Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) claimed that Biden is “worse than Carter.” Carter has even crept into Democrats’ rhetoric: In a recent interview, Vice President Harris described a “level of malaise” amid the new surge in coronavirus cases, an echo of the “malaise speech” Carter delivered in July 1979. (Carter never used that word; he described the country as suffering from a “crisis of confidence.”)
While historical analogies are often glib and partisan, they can also be illuminating. Biden faces challenges that are strikingly similar to those that bedeviled Carter: surging prices for gasoline and other consumer goods, serious new tensions with Iran and Russia, anemic poll numbers. The danger for Democrats is that the bad odor surrounding Carter’s presidency — the smell of failure that led fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to marginalize him at four Democratic conventions — has begun to waft onto Biden, who was the first senator to endorse the former peanut farmer’s candidacy in 1976.
The two men won the White House under similar circumstances. Carter beat incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976 as the un-Nixon, a moderate post-Watergate candidate of integrity and healing; Biden — though 25 years older than Carter was in 1976 — won against Donald Trump in 2020 with a campaign that struck the same themes. (A huge difference is that Ford immediately conceded after a closer election than 2020′s, and soon befriended Carter.) Both Carter and Biden inherited sour national moods: Carter faced a widespread sense of ennui and decline laced with fear; at least for now, Biden has it worse, with an angry and divided country exhausted by the pandemic and witnessing the Trump-dominated Republican Party’s assault on democracy. Under Carter, more than two-thirds of the nation thought we were on the wrong track; ditto for Biden today.
The analogy can be stretched yet further: Carter and Biden both stand for an idealistic but pragmatic noninterventionist foreign policy, one that places a premium on avoiding casualties. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan late in 1979, Carter was depicted by conservatives as ham-handed for not having anticipated it; so was Biden when he presided over the clumsy withdrawal of U.S. forces from the same country last year. In response to the invasion, Carter made the mistake of boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Biden, in December, announced a diplomatic boycott of February’s Beijing Olympics in protest of China’s human rights abuses, though it is unlikely to anger Americans as Carter’s decision eventually did. Both men were dealt bad hands in Iran: Carter didn’t play his well, allowing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to all but paralyze his presidency after Iranian militants seized hostages inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran; Biden must cope with the fallout of Trump’s unwise decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Beyond the normal hazards of misusing history, there are two major problems with the Carter-Biden analogy. Carter — stubborn and prickly with a high IQ — was the quintessential outsider, arriving in Washington with no national experience and little interest in making new friends. Biden — warm and accommodating with high emotional intelligence — is the classic insider, and it has helped him achieve a surprising level of party discipline, Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema notwithstanding. This stands in sharp contrast to Carter’s chilly relations with many other Democrats, especially Ted Kennedy, whose 1980 challenge for the party’s presidential nomination hurt Carter badly.
The second major problem with the analogy is that it’s based on an apples-and-oranges comparison between Biden’s first year and Carter’s fourth. At this stage in their presidencies, Biden — polling in the mid-40s — is actually much less popular than Carter, whose approval rating was well above 50 percent throughout his first year in office. In the 1978 midterms, Democrats lost 15 House seats but easily maintained control of both chambers. They’ll have less chance of doing so this November.
Despite some early miscues, Carter wasn’t truly swamped until the second half of his term. Even then, his popularity fluctuated wildly, plunging below 30 percent when Americans lined up for gas in the summer of 1979, but six months later surging toward 60 percent as the public rallied around the flag in the early days of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then it fell again during the 1980 campaign amid double-digit inflation and interest rates and frustration over the fate of the hostages, who were not released until just after Carter left office the following year. That crisis was a much more serious political wound than anything Biden has suffered so far.
American politics is less fluid and more polarized than it was in the late 1970s. Biden is unlikely to experience either Carter’s highs or lows in the polls. And the historical odds suggest that he probably won’t face the array of debilitating challenges that beset Carter in the months before he was trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.
That year, inflation averaged 13 percent and interest rates went as high as 21 percent. Today, inflation is running at roughly 6 percent and interest rates are negligible. Even if perception is reality, that’s a nontrivial difference.
Yes, gas and fuel prices were up by about 50 percent last year (from near-record low levels during the start of the pandemic the year before). Prices are rising faster than wages, a condition that makes Americans cranky. And yes, inflationary cycles can be hard to stop once they get going. Unlike high unemployment rates, which wallop only a subset of the workforce, inflation makes life at least marginally harder for everyone. The fact that we haven’t felt that sting for four decades only deepens it.
But for all the deja vu, it’s ahistorical to assume that today’s status quo will apply as the 2024 election gets underway. Given the underlying strength of the economy, Biden is unlikely to face a repeat of “stagflation” — a ruinous combination of slow growth and inflation. In the 1970s, generous labor union contracts and automatic cost-of-living increases embedded inflation in the economy. Skyrocketing energy costs — arguably the main driver of inflation — were a product of post-revolutionary supply disruptions in Iran and OPEC’s stranglehold on oil, neither of which exist today. And Carter’s unpopular remedy for dependence on foreign oil — asking Americans to drive less and undertake other painful sacrifices — is not one Biden will embrace.
Carter’s most important economic decision holds up well, though his timing was off. If he had appointed Paul Volcker as chair of the Federal Reserve in 1977 instead of 1979, Volcker’s harsh medicine — nose-bleed-level interest rates — would have had more than three years to work, probably ending double-digit inflation while Carter was still president. Had that happened, Carter might have avoided the Kennedy challenge and survived the hostage crisis. Instead, Reagan was elected in 1980 and reelected in a landslide (after an inflation-free boom) in 1984, at least in part because of the actions of Volcker — a Carter appointee.
Fed chair Jerome H. Powell (a Trump appointee initially) is facing some of the same choices about interest rates and inflation that confronted Volcker. He appears to be heeding the advice of William McChesney Martin, a Fed chair during the 1960s, who famously said that the job of the central bank was “to take away the punch bowl just when the party gets going.” With impressive growth, low unemployment and a roaring stock market, today’s economy is much stronger than it was in 1980, which gives the Fed a chance to take away a little punch in the form of slightly higher interest rates. The easing of supply disruptions that began during the holiday season may make it possible to tamp down inflation without doing significant damage to the recovery.
Of course, making historical comparisons between different leaders of different eras is always a tricky game. In this case, the picture is further complicated by an emerging revisionist view that Carter was a much better president than most people think — a tone-deaf political failure crushed and overshadowed by Reagan, but a substantive, even visionary, success.
The easy shorthand on Carter — bad president, great ex-president — is misleading. His record in office has been consistently underrated and his achievements in the years since, while inspiring, are slightly overrated. For all his impressive humanitarian work fighting disease, championing democracy and building houses for the poor into his nineties, he simply didn’t have the power to accomplish as much after leaving the presidency as he did in office.
The list of unheralded presidential accomplishments is long. Carter doubled the size of the national park system and brought the first true diversity to the federal government, including the appointment of five times as many female judges as all his predecessors combined. He signed major ethics bills and civil service reform, as well as airline and trucking deregulation that boosted productivity, and established two new Cabinet departments, Energy and Education. First lady Rosalynn Carter spearheaded efforts — now being reversed in some states — that led to all 50 states requiring school-age children to be vaccinated against contagious diseases.
In foreign affairs, Carter brought Israel and Egypt together at Camp David to forge the most durable peace treaty of the postwar era; normalized relations with China, which became the foundation of the global economy; won ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, which prevented a major war in Central America; and established the world’s first true (if sometimes hypocritical) human rights policy, which even Republicans agreed helped end the Cold War, helping to spur a democratic revolution around the world that is only now being rolled back.
In retrospect, Carter’s presidency proved to be ahead of its time, especially on the environment (and not just because he put solar panels on the roof of the White House, which Reagan eventually took down). Carter signed 15 major pieces of environmental legislation, including the first comprehensive energy policy, the first green energy bill and the first toxic waste cleanup. Had he been reelected, he planned to begin addressing a little-known issue called “carbon pollution” — a painful “what if” of human history.
The danger for Biden is that he may follow Carter’s pattern of receiving little credit for his achievements, which already include record job creation, a huge and rapid vaccination campaign, and a long-sought bipartisan infrastructure bill, with the voting rights bills all but dead and his Build Back Better package hanging fire. It’s easy to forget that Biden won an astonishing $3 trillion in public investment in 2021, dwarfing in constant dollars anything Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson did in their first year.
Voters seem to have pocketed these victories. Both Carter and Biden suffer from what political scientist Brendan Nyhan has called the “Green Lantern Theory,” in which Democratic presidents are expected by the press and public to have the powers of a superhero in bending Congress to their will — and are seen as failures when they cannot do so every time.
To succeed, the president will have to do more than tamp down inflation and keep the economy humming — he must sell his accomplishments, which will prove challenging in today’s hyper-partisan political culture. And he must do so while easing doubts about his age and by continuing to fight the anti-democracy Republicans.
In the meantime, Biden doesn’t seem to mind the association with his 97-year-old predecessor. Last spring, he and Jill made a point of visiting the Carters at their home in Plains, Ga. Perhaps he understands that if one judges Carter fairly, the comparison can actually be flattering.
Biden vs. Carter: The Jimmy Carter Presidency Has Returned
It’s been only six months for Joe Biden, and yet it feels just like the late 70’s.
With so much damage already being done, some are calling it Jimmy Carter 2.0! With Biden gaining ground in the race for one of the worst presidency’s ever.
The easy comparison would be the sky high oil prices, which are completely unnecessary, other than to make other countries like Russia rich. But as Virginia Kruta, who writes for the Daily Caller points out probably the biggest thing Biden has in common with Jimmy Carter is what they call the ‘misery index’. Now this has nothing to do with how people feel, with our company heading towards socialism. The misery index is a number that combines the inflation rate, to the unemployment rate. And since Biden has been in office, that number is skyrocketing.
“That misery index ever since Joe Biden took office has ticked upward” Kruta told KTRH, “Joe Biden is up to 11.6, and nothing has happened to drive it there except Biden being in the White House. So how do you argue that Joe Biden is not trending towards what happened with Jimmy Carter.”
The numbers don’t lie, and Kruta says the reasons are pretty simple. “You have a lot of things that are contributing to this” Kruta said, “But the major issues are policy issues that are coming directly from the White House.”
As for the comparisons of Biden to Carter? “If you listen to former president Donald Trump, he thinks it’s not fair to Jimmy Carter to compare them because Biden is much worse” Kruta said.
Because of the similarities, many believe that Biden like Carter, will be a one and done president. “There’s the hope among Republicans that they will both be one term president” she said, “But Carter at the time was far more eloquent when he spoke.” And that might be the only difference.
Feehery: Biden seems intent on repeating the same mistakes of Jimmy Carter
The president went down to Georgia, but he wasn’t looking for a soul to steal.
Instead, he met with Jimmy Carter, perhaps the best ex-president we have ever had, at least in comparison to his manifold failures during his tenure in the White House.
It’s unclear if Biden was going down there to gain wisdom, inspiration or to just pay his respects.
It looks from the outside, though, that the current president wants to use the same playbook used by Carter during his one disastrous term in the Oval Office.
Like the former president, Biden is constantly embarrassed by the antics of a family member. For Carter, it was his brother Billy, who inspired Falls City Brewing Company to name a beer after him and got in real trouble for signing up the Libyans as a client.
For Biden, his son Hunter has been criticized for his close ties to the Chinese communist regime. We are still waiting to see what bombshells come out of a close examination of his lost and then found laptop.
Like Carter, Biden campaigned for the White House as the moderate in the race. But both turned out to be far more liberal than their moderate visage.
Both Carter and Biden promised to bring the country together after the tenures of Republicans reviled by the media elite. But instead of national unity, they are embarking on policies that will make it hard to bring people together.
Carter inherited an energy crisis when he came to the White House.
Biden seems intent on creating his own energy crisis by pushing through a Green New Deal.
OPEC was king in the mid-’70s and when they embargoed all oil shipments to the United States as a protest against American support for Israel, it nearly stopped the American economy in its tracks.
During the Trump years, America became not only energy self-sufficient, but also a natural gas exporter. Biden’s first action was to stop the Keystone pipeline and he has promised to stop oil and gas production on federal lands, all because of misplaced belief that America can survive by wind and sun alone.
As a result, gas prices are going through the roof. Who needs OPEC when you have John Kerry and Gina McCarthy?
I first learned of the term stagflation during the Carter years.
The Federal Reserve seems intent on letting inflation run a little wild until they even threaten to raise interest rates. But rising prices are starting to hurt working-class families the hardest.
Lumber prices are through the roof, making new home construction prohibitively expensive for younger families who want to buy their first house.
Because of Democratic policies that give generous unemployment benefits, it is hard for retail businesses and restaurants to find workers at an affordable cost. Wage inflation is a natural result and that will cause these businesses to raise their prices.
For some pockets of the economy, especially working-class voters of all races and creeds, stagflation is already here. Biden’s spending plans will only make stagflation worse.
Carter, in a national address, said, “All the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America … The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence … The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”
Carter never said malaise in this infamous address but that is how it is remembered to history.
Biden’s every utterance reminds one of national malaise. His first address to Congress, to a masked, hushed and socially distanced collection of legislators was more notable for who it put to sleep (Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), countless millions in the television audience), than for who it inspired.
His solitary masked walks, as captured by the media, don’t inspire confidence, they don’t project strength, they don’t emote energy. They point to national malaise, much like Carter did in 1979.
Biden reportedly is a big fan of Carter, who has become a national icon in his later years, and rightfully so. But Carter’s four years in the White House were a disaster. It seems that Biden would rather repeat history than learn from it.
How the Biden economy compares with Jimmy Carter’s
You might have heard: Joe Biden is shaping up as the next Jimmy Carter.
As a Democratic president in the 1970s, Carter had to deal with surging inflation, as Biden does now. Carter also faced an energy crisis, triggered abroad, much as Biden is now trying to tackle soaring gasoline prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Carter famously claimed the nation faced a “crisis in confidence,” which is arguably the case under Biden, too, given that consumer confidence, by some measures, is at the lowest levels on record.
Republicans, of course, hope there’s one more similarity between Jimmy Carter and Joe Biden. Carter was a one-term president who lost his 1980 reelection bid in a landslide victory for Ronald Reagan. Republicans controlled the White House for the next 12 years. It’s not yet clear if Biden will run for reelection in 2024, but Democrats do seem teed up for a drubbing in this year’s midterm elections.
As part of the Yahoo Finance Bidenomics Report Card, we compare Biden’s performance on the economy with past presidents, going back to Carter. We follow six economic indicators, with data provided by Moody’s Analytics, and compare Biden with his predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. So we have the data in hand to directly compare the Biden and Carter economies in the 17th month of each president’s term.
For now, it’s a tie, with the Biden economy doing better on three metrics and the Carter economy doing better on the other three. Many Americans remember the Carter years as a gloomy era characterized by high inflation. But that didn’t really happen until late in Carter’s presidency, including a seven-month recession that began in January 1980. During Carter’s first couple of years in the late ’70s, the economy was actually doing well.
The economy was strong during Biden’s first year as well, partly because of lucky timing. Biden came into office in 2021 as the recovery from the COVID recession was just kicking into gear, and COVID vaccines were finally allowing parts of the economy to slowly return to normal. There was also an extraordinary amount of fiscal and monetary stimulus that shortened the recession and accelerated the recovery.
The five charts below show how the two presidents compare on growth in total employment and manufacturing employment, plus GDP growth, the stock market’s performance and average hourly earnings.
Biden has the edge on total job gains, and in fact he leads all presidents on that metric, because of the rapid post-COVID recovery. Carter is second among the eight presidents, indicating the strength of the economy early in his career. We do not adjust this measure for population growth, which makes the job gains early in Carter’s presidency even more impressive.
Carter wins on job gains in manufacturing, with Biden second among all presidents. That reflects the larger share of the workforce employed in manufacturing jobs in the 1970s. Manufacturing work has gradually declined on a share basis since then, as the U.S. economy has shifted toward services.
Biden has a slight edge over Carter on GDP growth, which we do adjust for population growth. Again, Biden and Carter are one and two among the eight presidents, another reflection of the strong economies they both oversaw early in their terms.
Both are middling when it comes to the performance of the S&P 500 stock index. Biden ranks 4th, Carter 6th. Barack Obama had the best performance on stocks at the 17-month mark, again, largely because of timing. Obama came into office near the end of a stock-market wipeout, with stocks bottoming out and starting a record tear in Obama’s second month. Biden ranked second on stock-market returns until last December, when stocks were peaking and about to enter the bear market they’re still in.
Biden ranks worst in average hourly earnings, while Carter ranks second-best. Our Bidenomics Report Card doesn’t measure inflation directly, but we adjust earnings for inflation, to measure the “real” income gains that determine Americans’ purchasing power. Inflation has eroded income gains under Biden, which is why he comes in last. Strong real income gains under Carter were yet another measure of a solid economy back then.
As for inflation itself, it was 7.4% during Jimmy Carter’s 17th month, while it’s 8.6% at the same point in Biden’s presidency. Advantage Carter, yielding our 3-3 tie.
The direction of the economy is something that matters a lot, and of course we don’t know where it’s headed for the rest of Biden’s presidency. But the direction of the economy clearly explains why Carter lost overwhelmingly in 1980, and why many Americans think of his term as a failed presidency.
The Carter economy stayed strong until his third year of office, when growth began to slip and inflation started to skyrocket. Inflation peaked at 14.6% in April 1980, and GDP declined in the second and third quarter of that year. Layoffs mounted and the economy lost jobs from March through July. Things improved slightly by the time of the election that November, but not nearly enough to make a difference. There is literally no worse time for a president to encounter a recession than six months before he asks voters to reelect him.
Under Biden, Americans clearly feel things are getting worse, not better, and the data supports that. Inflation has been consistently worsening for the last year, and gas prices, now nearly $5 a gallon, are at the highest levels ever, unadjusted for inflation. GDP growth is slowing after a muscular 5.7% gain in 2021. Job growth is still strong, but the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes mean to rein that in too, as a way of cooling the economy and taming inflation.
None of this, however, means Biden is destined to endure the same fate as Carter and end his presidency trying to explain away a recession. The Fed’s inflation-fighting plan could work, slowing the economy just enough to bring prices down while keeping growth going. A meaningful drop in inflation ought to cheer consumers. Biden still has two years before he or a successor needs to convince voters they should stick with the Democratic economic plan and give Dems another four years in the White House. It’s quite possible, during that time, there could be some resolution in the Russia-Ukraine war, the single-biggest way to bring oil and gasoline prices down. Maybe way down.
Even if there’s a recession, it could be brief enough to take the steam out of the economy, break inflation and leave the country looking pretty good by 2024. We can tell that by looking not at the Carter presidency but at that of his successor, Ronald Reagan, who was trying to lead the nation through yet another recession in his 17th month, in June 1982.
Of the eight presidents in our report card, Reagan ranked last in GDP growth and stock market returns at that point in his presidency, and not much better in the other categories. But the Fed managed to ratchet inflation down and the recession ended in Reagan’s 23rd month. A powerful recovery ensued, and Reagan won reelection in 1984 by an even bigger margin than he beat Carter by in 1980. That’s the bull case for Biden.
Biden wants to get out more, seething that his standing is now worse than Trump’s
Frustrations are mounting and the window for a political revival is closing.
President Joe Biden and his aides have grown increasingly frustrated by their inability to turn the tide against a cascade of challenges threatening to overwhelm the administration.
Soaring global inflation. Rising fuel prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A Supreme Court poised to take away a constitutional right. A potentially resurgent pandemic. A Congress too deadlocked to tackle sweeping gun safety legislation even amid an onslaught of mass shootings.
In crisis after crisis, the White House has found itself either limited or helpless in its efforts to combat the forces pummeling them. Morale inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is plummeting amid growing fears that the parallels to Jimmy Carter, another first-term Democrat plagued by soaring prices and a foreign policy morass, will stick.
“It’s something that has bedeviled quite a few previous presidents. Lots of things happen on your watch but it doesn’t mean there is a magic wand to fix it,” said Robert Gibbs, a press secretary under President Barack Obama. “The limits of the presidency are not well grasped. The responsibility of the president is greater than the tools he has to fix it.”
The West Wing believes there is still time for a course correction.
The plan is to put Biden on the road to highlight progress being made, even incrementally, in meeting the series of tests, with visits this week to California, where he will preside over a summit of Western Hemisphere allies, as well as New Mexico to push for his climate agenda. The administration will also set aside its reluctance to work with “a pariah” nation with hopes to spur oil production. And it plans to sharpen its attacks on Republicans, aiming to paint the GOP as out-of-touch with mainstream America on issues like gun safety and abortion, all while hoping the upcoming Jan. 6 congressional hearings will further color the party as too extremist and dangerous to return to power.
But first aides need to quell the finger-pointing that’s been erupting internally and the increasing concern over staff shakeups, according to five White House officials and Democrats close to the administration not authorized to publicly discuss internal conversations. They also increasingly are trying to soothe the greatest source of West Wing frustration, coming from behind the Resolute Desk.
The president has expressed exasperation that his poll numbers have sunk below those of Donald Trump, whom Biden routinely refers to in private as “the worst president” in history and an existential threat to the nation’s democracy.
After publication, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said: “This depiction of the White House is simply divorced from reality.”
Far more prone to salty language behind the scenes than popularly known, Biden also recently erupted over being kept out of the loop about the direness of the baby formula shortage that has gripped parts of the country, according to a White House staffer and a Democrat with knowledge of the conversation. He voiced his frustration in a series of phone calls to allies, his complaints triggered by heart-wrenching cable news coverage of young mothers crying in fear that they could not feed their children.
Biden didn’t want to be painted as slow to act on a problem affecting the working-class people with whom he closely identifies. Therefore, when aides convened a meeting with formula company executives, the president — against the advice of staffers — publicly declared it took weeks before details of the shortage had reached him, even though the whistleblower complaint that led to the shutdown of a major production facility was issued months ago. Some aides feared the moment made Biden look out of touch, especially after the CEOs in the very same meeting made clear that warnings of the shortage were known for some time.
Members of Biden’s inner circle, including first lady Jill Biden and the president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, have complained that West Wing staff has managed Biden with kid gloves, not putting him on the road more or allowing him to flash more of his genuine, relatable, albeit gaffe-prone self. One person close to the president pushed for more “let Biden be Biden” moments, with the president himself complaining he does not get to interact enough with voters. The White House has pointed to both security and Covid concerns in restricting the travel of the 79-year-old president.
“A lot of things are out of his control and we are frustrated and all Democrats — not just the White House but anyone with a platform — need to do a better of job of reminding Americans of how terrible it would be if Republicans take control,” said Adrienne Elrod, a senior aide on Biden’s transition team and aide to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Complicating the White House’s efforts to turn around the president’s midterm fate has been the exodus of staff from its communications shop: from press secretary Jen Psaki to several deputy press aides. Psaki’s successor, Karine Jean-Pierre, took the post with little experience, and allies were critical when, days later, the White House brought over her Pentagon counterpart, John Kirby to join the staff. Kirby has been a candidate for Jean-Pierre’s role but will serve on the national security team.
The staff drama hasn’t ended there. While Biden is undyingly loyal to his small inner circle of advisers, whispers in the building have built over whether the return of Anita Dunn — back to a senior adviser post — could portend her eventually succeeding Ron Klain as chief of staff.
With worries rising about the Democrats’ fate this November, the White House switched to more aggressive attacks on Republicans recently. Frustrated that the GOP has not been called to task for releasing few policy ideas of its own, Biden has gone hard after a tax plan put out by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). But those broadsides have gained little traction.
“The president is taking action to lower prices and fight the global rise in inflation, building on the unprecedented job creation and the manufacturing resurgence he has delivered,” said Bates. “And he’s working with Congress to cut the deficit as well as many of the biggest costs families face, like energy and prescription drugs. He knows what families are going through and is moving to help them.”
But much of what the White House can accomplish is only around the edges. Biden has sounded the alarm about the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade and continues to push Congress to act on guns in the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas. But he also signaled in his Thursday evening speech that he knows that Congress, at most, will pass small measures on firearms that will leave much of his party dissatisfied.
And while Biden has received high marks — even from some Republicans — for holding together an alliance to stand up to Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, voters this fall will likely care far more about some of the war’s aftershocks: its further strain on supply chains has only added to rising inflation and, most painfully for the White House, soaring gas prices.
For nearly a month, Biden and his inner circle have agonized over whether to make a trip to Saudi Arabia, a nation the president deemed a “pariah” after its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden, for a time, angrily rejected meeting with the crown prince, arguing the presidency “should stand for something,” according to two people with knowledge of his thinking.
But he has recently relented, recognizing a need to push Riyadh for more oil production. Still, the dates for the trip remain fluid, leaving some aides to wonder if the president will change his mind again.
Biden’s inner circle is well aware of recent presidential precedent. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both overcame a rough first midterms only to benefit from economic turnarounds and cruise to reelection. But George H.W. Bush and, especially, Carter were felled by shaky economies and rising inflation.
“[Carter] lost because of inflation and bad feelings about the economy and a sense that America was flailing and Biden is finding now that it’s hard to be a leader when other things are unraveling,” said Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian at Rice University. “He can’t just be a mourner-in-chief, he can’t just play defense. He needs to be on offense and convince Americans that, despite the challenges, better days are ahead.”
Opinion: How Biden can avoid Carter’s one-term presidential fate
President Joe Biden delivered a bold speech on Thursday night, calling for a ban on assault weapons and other gun policies, including strengthening background checks and enacting new “red flag” laws. “Enough, enough,” he told the nation, urging Congress to take action after a slew of mass shootings rocked the country. “We can’t fail the American people again.”
The speech comes at a difficult moment for Biden. The administration is facing multiple escalating crises, which are slowly undermining his leadership and political strength. There’s the Russian war in Ukraine, inflation and stock market turbulence, mass shootings, a pending Supreme Court decision that could upend a woman’s right to abortion and an ongoing pandemic, with all the uncertainty that brings.
Meanwhile, a vast majority of Americans say they are either concerned or scared about the way things are going in the country, according to a new CNN poll. Regardless of whether these problems are a result of the President’s performance, polls show that public perceptions of his leadership have been damaged.
The notion that a president is not in control during a period of cascading crises can be extraordinarily damaging. To make matters worse, there is a circular effect, since a president’s diminished political standing makes it all the more difficult to tackle the crises, which only exacerbates the problem even more. Just look at former President Jimmy Carter, who lost reelection in 1980 after he failed to swiftly confront a number of issues from stagflation to the energy crisis.
Of course, a fair analysis of Biden’s presidency needs to start with an acknowledgment that he faces a radical Republican Party where obstruction is the name of the game, making it nearly impossible to garner the necessary votes to pass legislation. The 50-50 split in the Senate certainly doesn’t help either. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have blocked the President’s agenda at key turns, and while the enormity of the pandemic afforded him some wiggle room with the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure bill, Biden’s progress has largely stalled.
Biden won the 2020 election based, in part, on the idea that he would offer political experience the nation had not enjoyed since former President George H.W. Bush and provide the legislative prowess of former Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. He established a striking contrast to the turbulence of the former President, promising to be a steady leader who could govern.
But two years into his presidency, Biden appears increasingly overwhelmed — and powerless. And while voters no longer have to deal with the chaos of near-constant Twitter tirades, they are growing increasingly pessimistic amid an onslaught of bad news. And if Biden can’t turn things around, or offer some modicum of hope, he could meet the same fate Carter did.
By the time Carter was running for reelection, it seemed like he was struggling to keep up with events — rather than effectively containing them. Like Biden, Carter faced a series of major crises: economic stagflation; an energy crisis that resulted in high gas prices and low supplies; the Iran hostage crisis; and a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that put the Persian Gulf region at risk.
Though Carter worked extraordinarily hard to tackle these problems, engaging in a series of secret negotiations to free the hostages, for example, most American voters saw a President who had been rendered ineffective. And while the nation was on edge, Carter did not seem to be in command. It wasn’t a surprise that Ronald Reagan, his opponent in the 1980 presidential election, energized the crowds when he said: “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”
What happened next had a profound impact on national politics. Not only did Democrats lose power in the Oval Office and Senate but the election opened the door to Reagan and a sweeping conservative movement. This rightward shift remade the courts, weakened the social safety net and shifted political debate. When former President Donald Trump cemented a conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, it is fair to say that it marked a culmination of a multi-decade process that started in 1980.
If the current trajectory continues, Biden could end up ushering in a new era marked by the radicalized Republican Party, headed by Trump or a more polished — and politically savvy — version in the form of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
What can Biden do to avert this outcome? The combination of a number of unfolding crises and an opposition party hellbent on opposition certainly limits his options. However, executive power remains a formidable lever to address issues that Congress won’t tackle. With inflation, as Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California argued, the White House should establish an emergency task force on inflation and enlist the Departments of Agriculture and Energy to manage the federal purchasing of essential food and fuel to stabilize prices.
Biden can also make a bold push for vital legislation such as common-sense gun control and hammer away at Republicans when they stifle progress. It seems that this is the direction in which Biden is moving, given that his speech last night called out Republican obstruction for being “unconscionable.” But one speech isn’t enough, and Biden needs to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire, repeatedly pressuring them on gun control measures in the wake of harrowing shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
Biden can also keep providing support to Ukraine in its ongoing efforts to stave off Russian aggression while continuing his efforts to maintain the NATO alliance. Biden has played a key role on this front, and he should drive home the fact that he staved off an existential threat to democracy and restored the US’ standing on the international stage.
Although messaging is often overblown, Biden can certainly help to shore up public confidence with clear, concise and forceful explanations of his plans to move the nation forward out of difficult times. In doing so, he must continue to highlight the kind of radical leadership that a Republican majority would produce and acknowledge the hard reality that this is no time to yearn for bipartisan solutions.
Even if he is realistic, admitting that progress will be slow, voters value a commander-in-chief who acknowledges the many challenges before them and offers a plan to alleviate these crises, as former President Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The communication needs to be clear, it needs to be decisive, and it needs to provide hope for the future.
Biden still has time to shore up his standing — many presidents have survived tough second years and gone on to win reelection. Of course, easing inflation will be the most pressing issue, and we can expect Biden’s position to improve if price increases can be controlled.
But if he doesn’t manage to turn things around soon, the mounting crises can quickly erode the paths to victory.
Joe Biden’s Choice: Jimmy Carter or Harry Truman
His presidency is going off the rails. He needs to engineer a turnaround to get America out of its funk.
President Biden has to decide: Does he want to be remembered as a Jimmy Carter or a Harry Truman ?
Messrs. Truman, Carter and Biden assumed office hoping to reassure a traumatized nation only to have their plans dashed by surprises. Like Truman and Mr. Carter, Mr. Biden is struggling with inflation, and all three labored to unite a fractious Democratic Party pulled left by those who denounced the traditions of the moderate middle.
Just as Mr. Biden has strained to keep pace with international events, dramatic transformations forced Truman and Mr. Carter to reassess America’s place in the world. Mr. Biden’s messy retreat from Afghanistan raised questions of competence. World energy producers have been squeezing prices higher. Regardless of whether Mr. Biden strikes a nuclear deal with Iran, critics will claim that the administration’s desire for retrenchment hit the shoals of Middle Eastern realities. The picture from America’s southern border indicates a loss of control. And Ukraine will most likely remain a bloody, battered battleground for months if not years.
In the 1946 midterm elections, voters repudiated Truman’s “accidental presidency,” electing Republican majorities in the Congress for the first time in 14 years. Truman adapted: He became a foreign policy president, creating economic plans and alliances that laid the foundation for America’s global leadership throughout the rest of the 20th century. By contrast, Mr. Carter tried to recover from economic and international setbacks, but continuing stumbles created an impression of drift.
Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address in March revealed a White House unsure of how to adapt to altered circumstances. He opened by rallying Americans to Ukraine’s defense before pivoting to a laundry list of outworn, rejected domestic schemes—sounding more interested in pleasing the left wing of his party than in appealing to the nation.
Mr. Biden will have other opportunities to engineer a Truman-esque turnaround. When they arise, he should explain how dramatic events have changed the world and why he is changing, too. His new message can rest on three pillars:
First, the U.S. must boost its military investments. The administration drafted its defense budget before the Russian invasion of Ukraine altered the security landscape in Europe. Mr. Biden now needs to match new commitments with updated strategies. Ukrainians need the weapons and technologies to defend themselves. The U.S. needs new plans for forward defense across the Atlantic and Pacific. Pacts addressing nuclear weapons, missiles, and American troops in Europe are out-of-date. The administration needs modern technologies and new concepts of flexible response, combined with a willingness to negotiate, so that weapons of mass destruction—including calamitous cyberattacks—are never used.
Second, the U.S. must grow stronger and more resilient at home. The bedrock must be respect for the core constitutional principle of free elections, including acceptance of the results; a bipartisan reform of the Electoral Count Act is long overdue. The country also needs to prepare for the next pandemic. Mr. Biden could encourage gas and oil production alongside a transition to renewable energy through market incentives. Americans may struggle to understand climate models, but everyone has seen the severe storms and flooding along with the need for adaptation. The president can boost scientific research and development for computing, communications, energy and biology. He should focus schools on educating for the future by speaking to political centrists who aren’t interested in identity politics. America should attract the world’s talent and encourage newcomers. The president would also be wise to distance himself from those in his party trying to defund the police. He can do this by committing to safe streets while respecting everyone’s civil rights.
Third, the president needs to explain that only the U.S. can build a new type of international coalition, working with allies but also looking beyond to appeal to developing countries that are abstaining from the Russia-China challenge. Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. led the global effort to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria. The Biden administration should do the same for Covid. Americans can help build global resilience in the face of food price shocks and climate changes by offering the world emergency supplies, seeds and fertilizers. All this can be done while keeping markets open and encouraging investments for future production, efficiency and trade. Washington’s strategy for the long-term should stress openness and opportunity, in contrast with authoritarian lockdowns.
Mr. Biden may reasonably worry that the Congress is short of Arthur Vandenbergs—the Republican senator with whom Truman worked to design America’s successful international architecture. But the response of most Republicans to Ukraine suggests the president could negotiate support for the three pillars of national safety and strength if he acts resolutely.
Presidents like to associate themselves with the feisty Truman, especially when their poll numbers sink. But they rarely recognize how bold he was. Breaking with the past will anger powerful constituencies in Mr. Biden’s administration. White House staff and political advisers who advanced through the old system will counsel caution. But the memoirs of the diligent people in the Carter administration make for sad reading. Mr. Biden needs to write a modern Truman tale.
Five lessons for Joe Biden from Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency
Biden should learn these lessons from Carter who also faced soaring inflation and an energy crisis
On the evening of July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter gave his infamous “malaise” speech, in which he blamed Americans discouraged by soaring inflation and an energy crisis for losing confidence in our country.
Days ago, Joe Biden gave his own malaise speech. Sitting down with an AP reporter for a rare interview, the president described the American people as “really, really down,” and repeated: “They’re really down. Their need for mental health in America has skyrocketed because people have seen everything upset.”
Like Carter, the president insisted that he wanted Americans to “be confident. Because I am confident.”
When consumer sentiment and small business confidence hit an all-time low – worse than when our country is in the midst of a pandemic or in a deep recession – something is terribly wrong. That’s where we are now, according to the University of Michigan and the NFIB, which track the nation’s mood.
There are many parallels between Joe Biden’s first year and a half in office and Carter’s presidency: soaring inflation, a looming recession, international crises and an energy shortage, for starters.
With the benefit of hindsight, there are also five lessons Joe Biden should learn from Carter.
Lesson one is the critical importance of energy independence. After the 1979 revolution in Iran, a sudden dip in global production tightened markets, just like we’re seeing today from the war in Ukraine, which has cut Russian oil exports. OPEC raised prices 9% in 1979, which quickly led it higher gasoline prices for Americans and unhappy voters.
The vulnerability of the U.S. to global supply shocks then – and today — stemmed partly from declining domestic production.
As Carter explained, “In little more than two decades we’ve gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll…”
Two years ago, under President Trump, we were energy independent for the first time since 1957; the pandemic and Biden’s war on fossil fuels have caused U.S. production to slump, adding to upward price pressures on oil.
The second lesson is the danger of price controls. Richard Nixon had imposed widespread wage-price controls beginning in August 1971. The price of domestically-produced crude oil was set by the federal government below the price charged on imports; when Carter lifted price controls in April 1979, oil companies were being paid $9.65 a barrel on average, while imports were priced at is more than $16.
The result of this cock-eyed program was sinking U.S. production.
In December 1970, the year before controls were imposed, the U.S. produced 10 million barrels per day of oil, a level not reached again until 2017, when higher prices and new technology boosted output.
Biden, whose approval ratings on managing the economy are in the tank, is doubtless tempted to impose new controls on oil prices. That would be a mistake.
The third lesson is that a windfall profits tax, such as that being encouraged today by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., do more harm than good.
When Carter ended price controls on oil, he worried that Americans would resent the inevitable rise in prices at the pump. To offset any political hit he might suffer, he urged Congress to pass a windfall profits tax.
Congress did so and Carter signed a windfall profits tax in 1980, which was eventually repealed in 1988. As the Congressional Research Service reported, the tax was lifted because it resulted in declining U.S. oil production, disappointing receipts and a greater dependence on imports.
Lesson number four is that presidents are expected to take responsibility for problems that arise during their time in office, and to be honest with voters. Carter’s “malaise” speech, which does not, by the way, include the word “malaise,” was honest, and from the heart. Carter admitted that “I’ve worked hard to put my campaign promises into law, and I have to admit, with just mixed success.”
But he also discussed a “crisis of confidence” in the country, saying that it “strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.”
In words that resonate today, Carter described “a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”
And he criticized the American people, saying “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.”
That speech won Carter an 11-point pop in his approval ratings, but the gains were short-lived, which brings us to Lesson Five.
Two days after Carter’s famous speech, he fired nearly his entire cabinet, which unnerved voters and reinforced the idea that the White House was adrift. The lesson is: voters expect a steady hand at the helm. Joe Biden does not have a steady hand; he appears weak, erratic and dishonest.
Ronald Reagan blasted Carter’s pessimistic assessment of America and easily ousted the Democrat president.
Prior to his election, Reagan said, “I find no national malaise, I find nothing wrong with the American people. Oh, they are frustrated, even angry at what has been done to this blessed land. But more than anything, they are sturdy and robust, as they have always been.”
The American people preferred Reagan’s confidence and optimism and made Carter a one-term president. There’s a lesson there.
Sorry, Republicans: Joe Biden isn’t Jimmy Carter — and these aren’t the 1970s
Never mind the gas lines: Superficial similarities aside, we live in a vastly different world now
Gasoline shortages erupted a few weeks across the Southeast and parts of the Eastern seaboard, reportedly caused by a cyberattack committed against the Colonial Pipeline stretching from Texas to New York. The shortfalls have spurred some of President Biden’s political opponents to invoke comparisons to Jimmy Carter, who suffered politically while long lines of motorists tried to fill up their gas tanks in the late 1970s, and als struggled with several other major economic issues.
On May 7, ostensibly referring to rising fears of inflation as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that “Biden isn’t the next FDR he’s the next Jimmy Carter,” as one of Carter’s main domestic battles in office was also against rising prices. On May 11, when lines at gas stations began to emerge in the wake of the pipeline hack, Trump Jr. retweeted himself with the added comment “As I was saying …” The next day, his father, the former president, put out a statement claiming that the comparison was unfair — to Carter. “Joe Biden has had the worst start of any president in United States history,” said the senior Trump, even worse than the president from Georgia.
Perhaps it’s understandable that the Trumps might want to link Biden to Carter, who left office in 1981 in shame, having been thoroughly defeated in his bid for re-election by Ronald Reagan. But the comparison likely won’t stand for long, because our current situation bears little resemblance to the political morass of the late 1970s that doomed Carter’s quest for a second term in office.
Jimmy Carter wasn’t even the first president in the 1970s to experience gasoline shortages on his watch. That honor belongs to Richard Nixon: In October 1973, when the United States was caught covertly supporting Israel in its war against Egypt over control of the Sinai Peninsula, the nations of OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) instituted gradual cutbacks in exports to the U.S. as punishment. As the embargo intensified over the following months, lines emerged at gas stations across the country, and angry motorists got into verbal arguments and fistfights as they waited, sometimes for hours, to fill their tanks. In November, Nixon proposed a domestic energy production program called Project Independence, but was too consumed by the emerging Watergate scandal to really focus on it. Consumer sentiment soured further as the months of uncertainty dragged on. But eventually, Saudi Arabia worried that its relations with the U.S. might suffer permanent harm if the embargo went on for too long, and called it off the following spring.
But in the meantime, the embargo had done lasting damage to the American psyche. It was the first time in the post-World War II period of U.S. history that Americans faced the distinct possibility that their perpetually rising standard of living might not go on forever. The OPEC nations had successfully used oil as a tool of punishment against America for its foreign policy. What would stop them from doing it again?
After Nixon’s resignation, Gerald Ford signed into law the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and also established fuel economy standards that automobile manufacturers would have to meet. But Carter, who narrowly defeated Ford in the 1976 election, went much further in addressing the energy issue. Carter saw American dependence on foreign oil as an existential threat to the nation’s future but also as a moral failing, calling the energy challenge the “moral equivalent of war” in a major April 1977 speech. For Carter, in the decades following the shared sacrifices of World War II, Americans had become too selfish, greedy, individualistic and wasteful. In order to obviate the possibility of future energy crises, Americans needed not just to increase domestic energy production, but to excavate and restore the sense of shared responsibility from three decades before. Carter convinced Congress to create a federal Department of Energy that would spearhead national conservation initiatives, and spoke repeatedly of the need to rethink fundamental assumptions about the American standard of living.
Unsurprisingly, many Americans opposed this paradigm. In the past few decades, they had seen the American government defeat fascism, provide a bulwark against communism, address serious civil rights challenges and pass laws to clean up the environment. It seemed like a much smaller challenge for the government to figure out how to let Americans drive to work and take their kids to soccer practice without the looming threat of existential energy shortages. But many Americans also followed Carter’s directions, sometimes with a bit of grumbling — insulating their homes to diminish the need to use energy on heating and cooling, combining trips out and carpooling.
But in 1978 and 1979, Carter’s troubles compounded. A revolution in Iran against the ruling shah destabilized the country and brought the hardline anti-American Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Instability in that key oil-producing nation rippled outward, bringing back the lines at American gas stations from a few years before. From the perspective of many Americans, Carter had promised them that acts of individual sacrifice, along with accepting a diminished standard of living, would reap rewards in the form of energy security. Now the shortages were back anyway. In another act of national humiliation, the new Iranian regime took 52 American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In a failed April 1980 rescue attempt, an American military helicopter crashed in a desert sandstorm, killing eight American servicemen. To many American voters, Carter seemed unable to handle any challenge laid before him. In truth, in many ways the problems facing Carter were likely out of the control of any American president, but his lecturing tone certainly didn’t help matters. Voters punished Carter in fall 1980 by handing Ronald Reagan 44 states and 489 electoral votes.
That situation bears little resemblance to the one Joe Biden now faces. The gas shortages of May 2021 were caused not by cutbacks by foreign nations, but a cyberattack against a domestic pipeline. The crisis appears to be resolving itself now that the system is back online. Panic buying among consumers, which exacerbated the problem, won’t go on forever either. Just as toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizer returned to store shelves after the first days of pandemic panic buying, so too will gasoline return to our local stations. Gas prices will likely settle into a price somewhat higher than they were for the past year, but that’s an inevitable consequence of businesses, schools and entertainment venues opening up again. Few Americans would likely accept an indefinite extension of the necessary but dispiriting lockdowns that kept gas prices exceptionally low for the past year. Furthermore, Biden’s tone during his first few months in office has lacked Carter’s pessimism; in fact, Biden has often spoken confidently about the possible American resurgence that could take place as the country claws its way out of the pandemic.
Of course, there is still much uncertainty ahead. Supply chains disrupted for more than a year by the virus will take time to be restored to full operation, and new variants of the virus could continue to pose a threat to public health. But jobs are beginning to return, and the explosive demand for homes means that the construction industry, a major driver of economic vitality, could have an especially bright future. One of Biden’s major challenges will be to make sure that future American jobs are good, well-paying, secure ones, and one way to help make this possible would be to raise the federal minimum wage — but since Trump’s GOP isn’t exactly eager to embrace this, they have little room to complain. Inflation will also be a concern in the near term, but if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates from their current (and unsustainable) near-zero level as the economy recovers, it may not be a major long-term problem.
It’s understandable that Trump and his son might want to link their political foe to the presidency that seemed to define American decline. But it won’t work: Joe Biden isn’t Jimmy Carter, and these most definitely aren’t the 1970s.
Even though Jimmy Carter totally screwed up tour relationship with Iran, by not supporting the Shah, and subsequently resulted in Iran becoming our enemy, I think Biden has done more damage to this country. For one, Carter was a briliant person, who thought he knew best. At least he had good intentions anyways. Biden has none of these things going for him. He is an idiot, he is corrupt and he is trying to destroy our country. He has also sold us out to Russia and China. The problem is that we have not seen the worst of it yet. He still has over two more years to go. What is worse is that we have somebody even more incompetent then him as his backup pitcher. We need to win the House so that at least if the tweedle dee and tweedle dumb get impeached we will have somebody that can replace them besides Pelosi. God help us!
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