I’m not sure why I felt I needed to write this, but I do. Call it a limited sense of fair play maybe, or the desire not to kick a pathetic old man when he’s finally realizing what a waste he made of his opportunities. Faint praise, isn’t it? And sorry Jay, I know I’m stealing your idea again but I didn’t think this should be just a comment in the other Carter post.
When Jimmy Carter was president, he started off with a lot of public support and, I think, some very good intentions. What he lacked, well, was common sense and the right priorities. I never saw him as a bad man, just out of his depth. I didn’t vote for him, I turned 18 in 1978 but would not have voted for Carter anyway, I always thought Ford was the better choice of the two nominees, not that the Jerry was world class. But I disagree with folks who rank Carter at or near the worst of our presidents. No, he screwed up the job and he’s not near the middle of the pack, but anyone familiar with Buchanan, Tyler, Andrew Johnson or Wilson would know better than to class Carter among the worst. He was naïve and stupid, careless and short-sighted, but for all of that he did want to do the right thing, mostly.
Take the federal budget, for example. One thing I will give Carter is that he was the last president to try to justify every line of the budget. That’s right, Carter wanted every single expense explained and justified. No, he approved of some things that I think were wrong priorities, and for an ex-Navy man President Carter was amazingly dense about the needs of the military. But there is, at least, something to be said for a chief executive stopping life-long bureaucrats at the door and saying ‘no, I won’t take your word for it. Show your support and explain yourself’.
The other thing I will give Carter is the Delta Force raid. Yes, he screwed up that operation in a lot of ways, but then again, he trusted his military leaders to execute the plan, and they should have told him from the start whether the plan would or would not work as promised – Carter approved a specific plan on the promise that it would work. While there is a certain gamble in any special forces operation, the disaster at Desert One was not Carter’s fault, and while I do believe there was a lot of political motivation, I will give Carter credit for the try.
As for his behavior since leaving office, well, Carter’s an old man and not everyone can be graceful when they can’t point to a lot of success in their life. I won’t pretend he did a good job as president, but I will respect the man for his service in the Navy and give him some respect as a former president, even if he cannot manage the same for his part.