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Jimmy Carter? Really?

August 16th, 2010

I must not be at all in touch with right-wing sensibilities these days; right-wing bloggers chose Jimmy Carter as the #1 Worst American in history. Barack Obama is #2, though one would expect him to be #1, considering how the right wing is so thoroughly vilifying him. But Carter? Really? What for, inflation? The Iran Hostage Crisis? Or is it just because he looks so bad being so proximate in history to the greatest shining beacon of awesomeness in all the universe, Ronaldus Magnus?

But then, this list has Ted Kennedy beating out Timothy McVeigh, and Margaret Sanger tied in infamy with John Wilkes Booth. It is, in essence, not a poll of the worst Americans, but a poll asking “which liberals do you hate and want to smear by mixing them with criminals and other miscreants?” Even at that, one has to wonder why these people despise Jimmy Carter so much. He may have been a less-than-ideal president, but certainly not as destructive as Bush–even by right-wing standards–and as a former president, has been one of the most decent and humane that we’ve ever seen.

Deservedly, this list has been getting slammed as being completely insane–by many on the right as well as the left.

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  1. Troy
    August 16th, 2010 at 16:52 | #1

    Carter was the most Christian president this nation has had. Fitting the right wing would dump on him so. Of course, Carters split from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 due to their increasing wingnuttery (and demonization of Mormons).

    Conservatives don’t like Carter for him giving the Panama Canal back to Panama, per our treaty with them. He gave amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers, which also piss them off since sending Americans must die in third world sh–holes for no good reason is a core value for them.

    He was pro gay-rights of equality, putting him several decades ahead of most people.

    He elevated human rights concerns and stopped aid to the Somoza regime.

    Economically, his administration came at a bad time. Nixon abandoned the gold standard, which meant our economy was going to go untethered and inflate away from past norms.

    Additionally, the baby boom was moving into their 20s and 30s in 1976, their prime borrowing years, and all this debt increase was also inflationary.

    OPEC was pushing its weight into making more money on its oil, and prices moved from $20 to $50 under Nixon, and under Carter, peaking at $100 in 1980. Thanks to new supply coming on line — North Sea, Alaska, and Gulf oil, the supply shock was lifted and prices could become cheap again in the late 80s and most of the 90s.

    Carter moved the very good Fed chairman into heading the Treasury, and put Volcker in, who obliterated the economy via high interest rate policy. This was bitter medicine, and I don’t really know if it was necessary or not, though it did keep the $1 worth something, which was an accomplishment I guess.

  2. K. Engels
    August 17th, 2010 at 01:10 | #2

    Don’t forget that Carter has the audacity to think that Palestinians are human beings. That really pisses of the GOP’s Christian-Zionist element. (You know the people who want all the Jews back in Israel so that Jesus will return and kick the shit out of the Jews for being non-Christian.)

  3. Tim Kane
    August 17th, 2010 at 05:54 | #3

    The guys that run the Republican party see FDR as the worst person in history.

    Paradoxically, I see him as the greatest person in history.

    I think my view will grow with time.

    Certainly the greatest non-religious, non-scientific person in history.

  4. Geoff K
    August 17th, 2010 at 13:01 | #4

    Jimmy Carter, hmm
    18% inflation
    Giving Iran over to the Mullahs and then letting them hold the US hostage for more than a year
    Giving away Panama for no apparent reason
    General Incompetence at home and abroad with no redeeming or offsetting virtues.

    On the other hand, Obama has passed more damaging legislation and spent more money in a shorter time than Carter ever did. And he almost as incompetent at foreign policy as Carter is/was. So far, I’d say Obama is worse at home and Carter is worse in foreign relations, but it’s a close call.

    I guess a Nobel Peace prize is a sort of Presidential Dunce Cap.

    But I wouldn’t name either as worst. I agree with the guys in the post above. FDR started the whole perversion of the Federal Government from a small entity that runs the military and State department and mediates between States into a huge social octopus that eats everyone’s wages and gives back what it decides you can keep.

  5. K. Engels
    August 17th, 2010 at 13:31 | #5

    The entire population of Iran across the political spectrum rose up to overthrow their US backed dictator. Khomeini won the internal faction fight during the uprising. Carter didn’t GIVE Iran to anyone. Operation Eagle Claw: an invasion of Iran to rescue the hostages took place under Carter (the mission failed obviously; Carter was, in Geoff’s warped world, personally responsible for this failure). St. Reagan, on the other hand, decided to get all chummy with two groups of ‘terrorists’ in order to free the hostages. I guess reality really does have a liberal bias!

  6. Troy
    August 17th, 2010 at 14:18 | #6

    18% inflation

    By what administration policies do you lay that at his feet?

    Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” buttons didn’t work so well either. Volcker’s 20% interest rates in 1980-81, did though. Guess who appointed Volcker?

    Giving Iran over to the Mullahs and then letting them hold the US hostage for more than a year

    You have a very bizarre understanding of agency in foreign affairs, a rather pronounced lack of understanding of the limits of US military power and what constitutes a casus belli, and a thoroughly whack gambler’s attitude to military action or threats thereof.


    Part of the inflation complex introduced with the Nixon Shock, and general realignment of the economy between the 1960s (when the Baby Boom was aged 10-20) and 1980s (when the Baby Boom was aged 30-40).

    Giving away Panama for no apparent reason

    You really think that or are you just trolling again?

    General Incompetence at home and abroad with no redeeming or offsetting virtues.

    Vague and factually incorrect, as usual. Carter did implement deregulation of major industries, and he continued Nixon’s China diplomacy initiative. He boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviets interference in Afghanistan.

    The national debt rose from $600B to $800B under Carter, but in real terms it actually fell, given the bad inflation of 1979. Reagan (and the Democratic Congress) took this $800B deficit and doubled it in the 1980s in real terms (in nominal terms it rose to $2T by 1989).

    FDR started the whole perversion of the Federal Government from a small entity that runs the military and State department and mediates between States into a huge social octopus that eats everyone’s wages and gives back what it decides you can keep.

    Ie giving the people what they want from their government. Heaven forfend.

  7. Tim Kane
    August 17th, 2010 at 16:04 | #7

    As I understand it, the United States is a republic, not an empire. We were created as a reaction against colonial empires. Iran and Panama are independent nations. They are not and were not colonies of the United States.

    Iran was not ours to give over to mullahs. That was, at the time, a popular revolution, in part a reaction to illegitimate CIA involvement in Iran during the 1950s.

    Panama is an independent country. They have the right to exercise the control of their own resources. For the U.S. to control the canal is tantamount to a Foreign power controlling the Mississippi/Illinois River navigation system running down the middle of the United States.

    We are a big enough country already. We serve little purpose being involved in other countries, other than to corrupt their democratic processes, as we did in both Iran and Panama.

  8. Troy
    August 17th, 2010 at 16:52 | #8

    spent more money in a shorter time than Carter ever did

    Dude’s got it coming both ways. If the Obama admin failed to continue the spending intervention of the Bush admin, Geoff would be criticizing him for allowing the nation to fall into the first year of a deepening global economic depression.

    If he does continue the various interventions, he’s the biggest spender since Carter.

    Oh to live in Geoff’s simple world where conservatism can never fail, only be failed.

  9. August 17th, 2010 at 21:09 | #9

    A Salon write hypothesizes that it’s because Carter was the first president to predict that we’d need to wean ourselves from oil. And that triggered Big Oil’s ire.

  10. Ken sensei
    August 18th, 2010 at 09:45 | #10

    Let’s make our own list of “Worst Americans in History”
    I’ll start:

    1. Dick Cheney
    2. Newt Gingrich
    3. Sarah Palin
    4. Timothy McVey
    5. George Dubya
    6. Jimmy Swaggart
    7. ???

  11. Luis
    August 18th, 2010 at 10:34 | #11

    Making a list is pretty difficult, because of the difficulties in deciding on what qualifies one for the list, and adjusting for temporal and political influences. We tend to include figures who stand out more because we have heard of them than because they truly did worse than others. Benedict Arnold, for example, is often included as he is the archetype of traitors, although his story is at least somewhat conflicting. Alger Hiss often makes the list even though his guilt as a Soviet spy is far from certain. We will focus on serial killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy mostly because they are recent; but who has heard of Albert Fish, serial child rapist, murderer, and cannibal from about a hundred years ago, or Dr. H. H. Holmes, who ran a hotel set up to gas victims he would later torture and kill–perhaps as many as 200 people. There is also the question of what qualifies. Ronald Reagan, for example, started no great wars, and was a relatively peaceful person–but started a legacy which has been used to greatly damage the United States economically. George W. Bush even more so, but how much was him and how much was Cheney? And how much are our views distorted by our politics, juts as the right-wing bloggers’ views are clearly distorted by theirs?

    This is one I’ll gladly leave to historians.

  12. Anonymous
    August 18th, 2010 at 10:40 | #12

    To qualify for this list you would have to negatively affect a lot of people and/or really be a dumbass arguing for public policy that endangered Americans and our freedoms.

    So people involved in the ethnic cleansing of the West would be high on this list; Sarah Palin, not so much. She just represents the mental development (or lack thereof) of millions of moralistic religious conservatives.

    Swaggart does not qualify I don’t think, but Falwell might. Nixon must take the blame for the path of events that led to the Khmer Rouge taking over but he was left a tough board position to play by LBJ so it’s tough criticizing him here.

    Charles Lindbergh’s isolationism in the 1930s — that was a Bad Example that nearly destroyed the country.

    FDR’s Sec Treasury Morgenthau and SecState Byrnes — these were very bad actors that got a lot of people killed unnecessarily by their general stupidity.

    General LeMay belongs on this list, too. General Lemnitzer, might too, for Operation Northwoods.

    Sirhan B Sirhan
    J Edgar Hoover

    So I’m up to 7. Add in Jackson, Hearst, Jay Gould. I’d add Rockefeller perhaps but I’m out of room.

  13. K. Engels
    August 18th, 2010 at 11:02 | #13

    Worst American ever: Ray Kroc.

  14. Tim Kane
    August 18th, 2010 at 12:53 | #14

    I believe it was Dean Atchinson that precipitated two wars n the Pacific theater of war.

    In 1940-41, in response to Japan’s occupation of part of French Indo-China, the Roosevelt administration required that Japan have to apply for an export permit for each discretionary shipment from the United State to Japan. At the time Japan famously bought oil and scrap steel. The move was designed to be an irritant to the Japanese, not prevention of shipments. The permit went to the desk of Dean Atchinson at the time. Atchinson was part of the State Department’s New England Ivy League Republican old guard (for important things Roosevelt by passed the State Department to avoid their involvement – a kind of Neocons of their day). In the mean time, Roosevelt and his “A-team” were focused on dealing with the war in Europe, mainly trying to keep England afloat. During the Summer of 1941, Roosevelt prepared then embarked on his journey to the coast of New Foundland to parlay with Churchill to sign the Atlantic Charter. While Roosevelt was away, Atchinson denighed the Japanese their export permit for shipments of oil. By the time Roosevelt got back it was too late to reverse the denial because of the loss of face involved… American’s might pile on Roosevelt for caving into Japanese imperialism… etc… The permit denials were then sustained and the Japanese thus decided to implement their ‘southern strategy’ which involved an attack on Pearl Harbor to secure oil resources. The rest is history. A lot of people blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor, but he really was focused on Europe at the time. He didn’t want a war in the Pacific as it would be a diversion, however he made the mistake of delegating the task to the State Department which was loaded up with dissenters.

    In the era around 1948-49 Dean Atchinson gave a serious speech in Japan stating that America’s strategic interest in Asia followed a line that passed through Tsushima and Formosa straights (ineptly leaving out Korea). The intent was to signal to the newly Communist China that the U.S. was not intent on attempting to reverse their conquest of the Mainland, but to leave Taiwan alone. Kim Il Sung, in Korea took this as a signal that the U.S. was not strategically interested in South Korea. With his own army, recently returned from contributing to the Communist cause in the Chinese civil war – wrested, but experienced and battle hardened and equipped with Russia T-34 tanks, Kim was able to get aquiessence from both Mao and Stalin for an attack on South Korea.

    I don’t want to impune Atchinson motives or intentions, and he may have done some very good things… but he made two staggering mistakes that cost millions of people’s lives.

  15. Troy
    August 18th, 2010 at 13:42 | #15

    Acheson didn’t cause the Japan/US split.

    His actions after being delegated authority to freeze Japan’s trade with the US certainly heightened the tension, and put the Japanese strategic options on a timer, but the Japanese running things in the early 1940s really wanted their war, and they ended up getting it.

    The US press had whipped up popular indignation of Japan’s actions in China, and I think this was a proper indignation given the millions of people Japan was slaughtering at the time.

    While we as a nation greatly underestimated the Japanese military capability vis-a-vis our own, causing us to be greatly overconfident in our ability to smash Japan in a war without much difficulty.

    The summer of 1941 was not a peaceful time. Japan had already formally allied itself with Germany the previous year. The US had to labor diligently to keep the Nationalist Chinese from throwing in the towel in their resistance.

    Hull and FDR were the ones to harden our diplomatic position in November, essentially forcing Japan to either GTFO of China or fight their war without any allied-controlled resources.

    Japan didn’t have to attack Pearl Harbor to launch their war of continued conquest, they could have allowed Roosevelt to start firing the first shots from the Philippines (our B-17s were being sent there for that purpose).

    Both sides failed to see what 1942-45 would devolve into, but that is understandable as we must see the world from our own perspective, which is imperfect to say the least.

  16. Tim Kane
    August 18th, 2010 at 22:11 | #16

    I could use some more back ground on the moments leading up to the war in the Pacific. My source on the above was a recent biography I read on FDR. Atchison was delegated the duty, but he was supposed to okay the export permits. Maybe someone didn’t tell him. I suspect that he did not respect Japan’s capacity at the time.

    This get back to something I’ve talked about concerning the role of stimulus during a demand depression. In 1932, long before Keynes wrote his paper on General Theory… Japan’s MoF implemented massive deficit spending and reduction in the value of Japan’s currency (the former helps beget the latter). The result was Japan was out of the Depression a year later. By 1934, he moved to wind down the deficit spending program to stem the possibility of inflation as full employment was approached. The Militant Nationalist stepped in and assassinated the MoF because that spending had been going towards armaments. This was last in a series of assassination of civilian bureaucrats in the government. After that point civilian the military assumed more and more roles in government. The also maintained the deficit spending and suffered from inflation as a result despite the implementation of price controls. By 1939 Japan’s industrial production had increased 100%. Additionally, the character of industry had changed too: in 1929 most of the largest firms were textile and light industry. By 1939 most of the largest firms were in heavy industry. In early 1939, the U.S. economy was STILL in depression. The per capita of industrial production between Japan and the U.S. was nearly equal. This, I think, helped Japanese military planners believe that they could hold the U.S. to a stand still in the Pacific. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. finally implemented it’s own massive spending on armaments, and in only four years managed to increase productivity 100%.

    In the 19th century, Europe ‘enjoyed’ a series of short wars, German-Danish War, Austro-Prussian war, Franco-Prussian war, plus two short Balkan wars around 1912. This I think caused them to think that the War of 1914 would be short lived as well. No one envisioned four years of war with battles routinely having half a million casualties with no decisive results.

    Maybe the planners on both side in world war II were anticipating light activity and short outcomes. The thing about war is, the outcomes are never certain. Once you open that container, anything can result. Anything. Japan’s planners likely thought the Pacific was too vast for Japan to be threatened by the United States – therefore they couldn’t imagine the devistating fire bombings of 1945. This is what troubles me about our Neocon Aristocracy – they think nothing of starting wars. Right now the consequences have been limited in lives, though have caused massive debt… but I think, overall, they’ve been lucky that things haven’t spun out of control into a big mess. As it is, the debt my sink us yet. In fact, it probably will.

  17. Troy
    August 19th, 2010 at 01:37 | #17

    Your thinking wrt Acheson is largely correct :)

    My main source is:


    which describes how FDR and Hull were opposed by Morgenthau and Acheson.

    When it came time to create a Treasury-State coordinating committee to implement the total trade freeze, Hull delegated to Acheson, and the Treasury delegated to people one rank below Acheson, which resulted in Acheson running the show that summer, as Hull had enough on his plate with high-level diplomacy and running the State department.

    FDR signed off on a plan to reduce trade to a trickle, but Acheson as you say just froze it completely, and after the conference with Churchill public opinion was in favor of putting the Japanese in their place (had the public foreseen the coming war perhaps they would have been less hot-blooded).

    Nobody really respected Japan’s Navy at the time. They were two years ahead of the USN in 1941, both in doctrine and equipment.

    As for increased US production, after the fall of France in mid-1940, Roosevelt got his “Two Ocean Navy” bill funded. This resulted in the building program that made the 1943-45 fleet so strong.

    And you are perfectly correct about war being a Pandora’s box. The right wing still accuses LBJ of micromanaging the war and refusing to go for the jugular, and do to Hanoi what we did to Tokyo, if not Hiroshima. What these people fail to understand is that escalation is a two-way street, and China in the 1960s would have been more than happy to help out in NVN just like they helped in NK.

    As for the Japanese viewpoint on their relative safety, I found a great propaganda piece from them that was printed in 1942. It shows Japan kicking the European powers off the Asian sphere, with Roosevelt and Churchill far, far remote, viewing the situation in caricature, helpless with arms crossed, over their respective horizons.

  18. Troy
    August 19th, 2010 at 09:46 | #18
  19. Tim Kane
    August 19th, 2010 at 20:00 | #19

    It seems to me the Japanese military planners just assumed that the geography versus technology didn’t made attacking Japan impossible.

    In looking at the conduct of the war they were nearly right.

    Other than the Dolittle raid, which was only a pin prick at best, Japan wasn’t bombed until 1945 (I think, perhaps late 1944). So the Japanese planners weren’t totally off. It took some doing for the Americans to get the bases it needed, and a semi-technological marvel, that didn’t always work well, in the B-29 to be able to conduct that bombing. In 1941, that wasn’t all that foreseeable to the planners.

    They established a nice defense perimeter with only a gaping hole on the east by north eastern beam… basically the same giant empty ocean they crossed to bomb Pearl Harbor. Funny how they didn’t anticipate that the Americans might follaw the same corridor to spring one on them too. But the raid caused them to notice the hole in their defensive perimeter, which of course lead them to attack Midway and the Aleutian islands to plug the whole. Basically with Midway and Dutch harbor, the Japanese could have run long range scouts between the two to determine if their perimeter was being penetrated by the American Navy. Unfortunately for them the Midway operation didn’t go so well.

    Their plans were audacious, and well executed. With so many moving parts involved, it’s amazing how well things went for them.

  20. Troy
    August 20th, 2010 at 10:46 | #20

    Part of the problem was that the Japanese Army was very parochial and didn’t get “out” much, and didn’t have much of an opinion of the US and UK soldier’s fighting powers compared to their 1000 year old military traditions.

    They knew they were the big kid on the block, and securing the seas was the Navy’s problem not theirs.

    The senior IJN leadership was largely against going to war, as they knew it would be a gamble at best. However, they were not institutionally in position to refuse the Army’s request for compliance, to refuse to go to war in 1941 would have brought immense shame to the Navy, which had taken an immense amount of national investment over the past 20 years.

    The middle grade of IJN officers might have been more irredeemably truculent towards the UK and US, they were against the unequal Navy treaty of 1930 and desired Japan to fight for its place in the sun.

    Naval airplanes were toys in the 1930s, no match for Army fighters. And of course the B-29 was a fantastical invention totally unforeseeable in 1940-41.

    There are two iron laws of war — 1) the further you advance toward the enemy, the stronger he becomes and the weaker you become and 2) to try to be strong everywhere is to be weak everywhere.

    These two dynamics led to the success at Guadalcanal in late 1942, in which the Allies successfully compounded the losses the Japanese had suffered at Midway. 1943 was taken as a rebuilding year for the Allies, which was wise because by 1944 they had all the stuff they needed to overwhelm the Japanese positions in the Pacific, and by late 1944 as you said they had the war-winning B-29 to seal the deal.

  21. Alex
    August 21st, 2010 at 02:45 | #21

    … and he was energy conscious, installing a water heater on the White House, which was pompously removed by Reagan within days from inauguration.
    Hating Carter is the epitome of the christian right wing not doing what they preach: christians like biblical fairy-tales (David vs. Goliath, turn the other chick, he that is without sin cast the first stone, etc) but only when they are weak.

    Partially related with this issue, check this out:

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