Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Obama and Carter, too many paralells

Now that we are 1/1/2 years into Barack Obama’s term, a fuller appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses has emerged, and with world events going south on him, a picture of his long term legacy is emerging also.

We all knew how charming he was in 2008, and how he used that to overcome the race barrier and to tap into sense of fairness within even the most cynical voters to parlay that into an ‘opportunity’ to transcend doubts about his race and get elected.

It is important also to note that Obama played on a sense of hope that America’s populace had the potential to save the country in the wake of the Bush administration driving the US into the ground. In short, Obama was elected in part because the Bush era was a new low in American political life and Bush was roundly dismissed as the ‘worst president ever.’

Former President Jimmy Carter used that term on Bush, which is interesting because Carter had some of his own troubles as president. Not that he was anything close to the ‘worst president’ in fact, he may be one of the most morally sound people to have served the nation in that office. But his situation bears eerie parallels to Obama’s:

Carter gained the presidency after the American political system was in ruins, after Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon, a time when nobody thought America’s government could sink any lower (sound familiar?). The Democrat Carter emerged as a decent man in my opinion, that was overwhelmed by the sheer forces of raw power and evil that surrounded his term as President.

Operating on a platform of ‘human rights’ Carter had to manage the US out of the shame of losing in Vietnam in 1975, out of the Energy crisis and the new humiliation of the US being beholden to Middle Eastern Oil interests, and then the domestic “malaise” that was both cultural (think disco) and economic (industrial base in the Northeast collapsing), as well as the crises caused by the so-called “Marxist” revolution in Nicaragua and the fundamentalist revolution in Iran. Carter appeared to be timid and confused when these crises emerged, and as most of us old enough still remember, things would get a whole lot worse.

The Iran Hostage crisis began in 1979 when Iranian students stormed the sovereign territory of the US and held US staff members & citizens hostage in their own Embassy. The situation was an international embarrassment that never seemed to end. It fact, it only ended when Ronald Reagan was elected, and the hostages were released the day Reagan took office in 1981.

While rumors swirl that a back-channel deal was engineered to keep the hostages in Iran until after the 1980 Presidential elections, (look up the book “October Surprise” by Gary Sick) the fact is that there were far too many sharks in the waters for Carter in his little shrimp boat of a foreign policy to try to manage. The Hostage Crisis ruined Carter’s presidency, and opened the door for Ronald Reagan’s radical right wing restart of America’s national image.

To me, Obama needs to study this period closely, because the gulf oil spill is starting to look like Obama’s ‘hostage crisis,’ a disaster that never ends and derails his presidency. The media is using the “count up” that was used during the hostage crisis. As of June, the gulf oil disaster is around “Day 55”, and the hostage crisis went past “Day 440” so it is not the end of the world…yet.

Obama is trying everything he can, calling out the oil fat cats and using slang (“So I know who’s ass to kick”) to show he’s tough, but it may not be enough. The sharks in the water may be able to frame Obama as weak against the very interests they support (big oil) and convince the populace that a ‘traditional’ a**hole is a better way to go.

I want to be optimistic about Obama’s chances, considering he worked the administration on the financial bailout, the stimulus plan and healthcare reform, he is definitely a doer. But Jimmy Carter engineered the Egypt Israel truce that stands to this day, and yet he is regularly ridiculed by the media as a limp noodle that just presided over US defeats.

The Democrats did ok in midterm 2010 primary elections, but this fall will show us whether or not the haters now have the crisis that can sink the first black president from re-election: an ocean of black oil.