Friday, May 30, 2008

Obama Reprises Jimmy Carter

The parallels between Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter continue to multiply. Obama recently said "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK."

It was as if Jimmy Carter was once again lecturing America to turn down the thermostat, don a cardigan and turn off the Christmas lights.

There are many other similarities, some of which appear in a recent Time article, "In Carter's Shadow."

Of the two likely nominees this year, Obama is closest to Carter in background and policy leanings. The parallels between his campaign so far and the one Carter ran in 1976 are striking. Like Carter, Obama had little national experience when he started to run. Neither was given much chance of winning the nomination. Instead of running on a detailed platform, Carter told crowds that what Washington needed was "a government as good as its people"—just as Obama promises "change we can believe in." Carter's message sold well after Richard Nixon's disgrace, and press accounts from the time suggest that people found the born-again Carter to be charismatic. That parallel is a promising one for Obama.

But his Carterish echoes come with two potential dangers. The first is that running as the embodiment of hope can lend itself to a certain self-righteousness—what critics have already started to call �litism. The second danger is that the public will come to see Obama as naive about America's enemies abroad, as it eventually concluded Carter was. Ever since Obama said he was willing to negotiate with those enemies directly and "without precondition," Republicans have been trying to tag him as the son of the Georgia governor.

That addresses the scariest aspect of an Obama presidency: the specter of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez toying with Obama like he is their personal plaything. We saw this when the Ayatollah played Carter, and it was one of the most humiliating and dangerous chapters in American history.

It was, however, a ratings field day for the media. If there had been no President Carter, there would have been no hostage crises; there would have been no need for ABC to launch "America Held Hostage: Day (take your pick). Carter's inability to respond to the hostage crisis dragged on so long that ABC even managed to make its "special report" a regularly scheduled program: Nightline. So it's no wonder that the media gravitate to Obama and promote his candidacy.

Update: Bob Tyrrell notes that Obama shares Jimmy Carter's susceptibility to bizarre gaffes, including Obama's non-existent uncle not liberating Auschwitz, fairy tales about his conception and his seeing dead people on Memorial Day:

There was a fundamental weirdness in these episodes that reminded me of a condition President Jimmy Carter found himself in not long into his presidency. He was suffering some sort of diabolical infestation. Supernatural pranksters had made their way from heaven or hell to trip him up. What was happening to Jimmy when he claimed to be attacked by a huge amphibious bunny rabbit or during numerous jogging mishaps was not normal. Now the paranormal has settled upon the Obama campaign.

Along with the bad luck of eating a waffle while waffling and of having his elitist prejudices exposed to public scrutiny, there is an accumulating junk pile of gaffes that seem to be beyond Mr. Obama's control.

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