Change is All You Need

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G. K Chesterton said, “Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes.” I recall this quote (from Orthodoxy) every time I hear Barack Obama speak of “change.” Obama’s change is about old errors, not new ideas. But the children, like Oprah, croon.

Why do I say this? How am I qualified to say, as I did on Saturday, that four years of Obama will look much like the four years of Carter?

Fair questions. First, let’s revisit the Jimmy Carter years January 1977 to noon, January 20, 1981.

Carter’s Economic Malaise

1979 2007
Inflation: 12 percent 2.7 percent
Unemployment:  13 percent 4.7 percent
30-year Mortgage: 17 percent 5.9 percent
Marginal Tax Rate: 70 percent 35 percent

Stagflation

About.com sports a history of the US Economy. Not the stuff of post-grad work, but informative, nonetheless. About chose a single word to describe our economy under Jimmy Carter: Stagflation.

The term “stagflation” — an economic condition of both continuing inflation and stagnant business activity, together with an increasing unemployment rate — described the new economic malaise.

In desperation, President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) tried to combat economic weakness and unemployment by increasing government spending, and he established voluntary wage and price guidelines to control inflation. Both were largely unsuccessful.

Quite. Stagflation was, in fact, a predictable result of the Carter’s domestic, foreign, and monetary policies. In a nutshell, America was miserable for 4 years under Carter.

Carter’s Very Foreign Policy

His foreign policy was worse. The Soviet Union felt no fear of invading Afghanistan. It did. After Carter failed to support the Shah of Iran, radical Muslims seized control of Iran, launching a war against the West that rages today. In November 1979, “students” of radical Islamic schools in Tehran stormed the US Embassy, taking more than 100 hostages. Eighty were held for more than a year.

In the spring of 1980, Carter ordered a failed rescue of the Iranian hostages. The aborted rescue was a famous and horrible failure costing America both lives and prestige.

Carter and the Democrats had gutted the military and eviscerated the CIA following Vietnam. This twin attack on our country’s eyes and fists left America more vulnerable to encroachments on its national interests than at any time since Pearl Harbor.

Blinding the Intelligence Community

First, in a kindhearted but misguided effort to shift American foreign policy from one of preparedness and force to kindness and humanitarianism, Carter destroyed America’s ability to gather intelligence and conduct covert operations:

Former CIA covert action chief Theodore Shackley has claimed that over 2,800 intelligence officers, many of them paramilitary specialists were fired or forced out of the CIA.28 Turner himself has given a figure of 820 staff positions cut from the clandestine service, but maintained that the tightening up of personnel policies had actually improved both human and technical intelligence collection capabilities.29 Turner’s critics also tended to be vociferous about the relative decline in the strength and status of the army Special Forces-the CIA’s partner in paramilitary action-which in fact began during the Nixon administration. Special Forces had diminished in number since their withdrawal from Vietnam in 1971, from a peak of 9,000 to about 2,000 in the late 1970s.30 [source]

Not only did Carter’s policy place America, and innocents in allied countries, at risk, it made human rights abuses worse:

[D]uring the Carter years, human rights abuse reached its peak in Argentina and Nicaragua, and reached new and unprecedented levels . . . in Guatemala and El Salvador. The United States’ response to the pogroms and death camps of Argentina, the creeping demolition of Nicaragua, and the rustic genocide in Guatemala was largely one of silence, smoke screens, quiet diplomacy, and business as usual.32 The U.S. government, on balance, did nothing to stop mass murder by its allies. But the nominal aid cuts provided an effective alibi, while a significant part of the United States’ apparatus without question contributed directly to the slaughter through military aid, advice, and the global screen of diplomatic defense against impolitic criticism.

The Military

Carter’s first act as President was to pardon all Vietnam-era draft dodgers who fled to Canada. The ones who stood up for their beliefs and went to jail received no such reprieve from the consequences of their acts. Just the ones who fled. That wasn’t a good a start, though it probably made Carter feel good.

And while Carter may not have cut military spending every year of his administration, he micromanaged military programs to the point of dispiriting the forces. He destroyed esprit de corps by telling the military its job was to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and wear civilian clothing.

But Carter also visited financial hardship on the men and women who served.

Phil Donohue aired a program devoted to American servicemen living in tent cities with their families, relying on welfare and food stamps to clothe and feed their dependents. As described by Time Magazine:

“Outrageous and deplorable conduct.” “The height of hypocrisy.”

“He’d better wake up.”

The object of all these choice phrases from the big, booming voice of South Carolina’s [Democrat] Senator Ernest F. Hollings was none other than the President of the U.S. The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee was indignant because Jimmy Carter had just appeared to change his mind about the budget that Hollings had shepherded through a House-Senate conference committee. In the same week that Carter told the crew of the homecoming nuclear aircraft carrier Nimitz that he favored higher pay for servicemen (see cover story), the President also told a group of civic leaders that Congress’s proposed budget provided too much money for the military.

If 1984 was Morning in America, then 1979 was bleakest of nights.

From Then to Now

Listening to the “change” mantra among the Obamatons tweaks dark memories in my mind. It reminds me of the Jimmy Carter crusade of 1976. His campaign slogan was, “A Leader, for a Change.”

Carter was all about change. He offered an “outsider’s perspective” of Washington, a popular image two years after Nixon resigned. Carter spoke of reaching out to our enemies, a popular position one year after Saigon fell. Carter spoke of renewing American values, a popular sentiment as violent crime and drub abuse rates soared.

Carter as a man of principle, dedicated to civil rights, education, the economy, the environment, alternative energy, and that’s good an wholesome. From a Carter-Mondale 1976 campaign brochure:

Jimmy Carter and a Democratic Administration are pledged to bring about the changes we need:

THE ECONOMY: To get the economy moving again by providing a job for every American who wants to work and by bringing inflation under control.

ENERGY: To establish a coherent energy policy, and to increase emphasis on coal production and increased research on renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and geothermal. To lead in directing a voluntary conservation program.

WELFARE REFORM: To establish a streamlined, simplified welfare system with strong work incentives that promote family stability. To take those able to work out of the system and provide them job training and a job. To give those who cannot work because of age or disability nationwide, fairly uniform benefits varying only according to the cost of living from area to area.

ENVIRONMENT: To maintain strong environmental protection laws. To protect against relaxation of our current standards for air quality, water quality or automotive emissions. To preserve the natural heritage of America, and to turn over to future generations a country that is environmentally sound.

EDUCATION: To increase the federal share of the total cost of education. To assure that the average American family can afford to send their children to college.

AGRICULTURE: To develop an agriculture policy which insures farmers a predictable and fair return for their labor, yet is fair to the American consumer. To avoid the Republican policy of embargoes on farm products, and aggressively develop our export markets abroad.

TAX REFORM: To move toward a truly progressive and simplified tax system, with reduced tax rates for the average American.

ELDERLY: To recognize that elderly constitute one of our most precious resources. To insure adequate income for retirement; to increase housing for the elderly. To relax mandatory retirement laws. To work or subsidies for reduced fare on public transportation for the elderly.

HEALTH CARE: To establish a comprehensive national health program which will make adequate health care a right for all people, be uniform in scope, and preserve the private relationship between doctor and patient.

DEFENSE: To guarantee the security of our nation — a guarantee of freedom from the threat of successful attack or blackmail and the ability with our allies to maintain peace.

FOREIGN POLICY: To stop treating our allies as if they were our adversaries. To make it clear that detente is a two-way street. To promote human rights abroad and to deal affirmatively with the social and economic problems of the developing world. To make our total commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state absolutely clear.

REORGANIZATION: To reorganize completely the executive branch of government, making it fair, efficient, effective and responsive to out people’s needs.

Now, Obama’s “priorities”:

Civil Rights: Before the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes and property requirements disenfranchised many Americans, especially minorities. More than 40 years later, there are still numerous obstacles to ensuring that every citizen has the ability to vote.

Economy: He will increase investments in infrastructure, energy independence, education, and research and development; modernize and simplify our tax code so it provides greater opportunity and relief to more Americans; and implement trade policies that benefit American workers and increase the export of American goods.

Education: Obama believes that we must equip poor and struggling districts, both rural and urban, with the support and resources they need to provide disadvantaged students with an opportunity to reach their full potential

Energy & Environment: Senator Obama has been a leader in the Senate in pushing for a comprehensive national energy policy and has introduced a number of bills to get us closer to the goal of energy independence. By putting aside partisan battles, he has found common ground on CAFE, renewable fuels, and clean coal.

Ethics: In a politically charged election year, Obama acknowledged that corruption was a problem that plagued both political parties. He subsequently enlisted the help of Republican allies to limit lobbyist influence, shine sunlight into the earmarks process and promote open government.

Foreign Policy: As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Obama has fought to strengthen America’s position in the world. Reaching across the aisle, Obama has tackled problems such as preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and stopping the genocide in Darfur.

Health Care: “I…believe that every American has the right to affordable health care. I believe that the millions of Americans who can’t take their children to a doctor when they get sick have that right…We now face an opportunity – and an obligation – to turn the page on the failed politics of yesterday’s health care debates.”

Poverty: There are 37 million poor Americans. Most poor Americans are in the workforce, yet still cannot afford to make ends meet. And too many poor Americans are single mothers who are raising children. Barack Obama has been a lifelong advocate for the poor — as a young college graduate, he rejected the high salaries of corporate America and moved to the South Side of Chicago to work as a community organizer. As an organizer, Obama worked with churches, Chicago residents and local government to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after school programs for kids.

And so on. Nearly interchangeable platitudes espoused 32 years apart.

National Review recognize the Carter-Obama link months ago.

Senator Obama has yet to prove he can take a political punch, and, inevitably, he will experience a serious media downdraft at some point. These perilous times certainly call for a more experienced politician than Obama, and his utterly orthodox liberalism – whatever the seductions of its disarming presentation – is not the answer to the nation’s challenges. But voters have turned once before to a newcomer with thin experience in the midst of a dangerous international environment. His name was Jimmy Carter.

The Obama Years . . . Tomorrow night. Bookmark this page.