Liberal icon Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, is the latest lefty to compare President Obama to Jimmy Carter—and he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. Frank writes in Salon:
I pretty much ignored the Carter-Obama comparison in those days because it was so manifestly empty—a partisan insult based on nothing but the lousy economy faced by both Carter and Obama as well as the recurring problem of beleaguered American embassies in the Muslim world. (Get it? Benghazi=Tehran!) More important for Republican purposes was the memory that Jimmy Carter lost his re-election campaign, which they creatively merged with their hopes that Obama would lose, too. Other than that, the comparison had little connection to actual facts; it was a waste of trees and precious pixels.What has changed my mind about the usefulness of the comparison is my friend Rick Perlstein’s vast and engrossing new history of the ’70s, “The Invisible Bridge.” The book’s main subject is the rise of Ronald Reagan, but Perlstein’s detailed description of Carter’s run for the presidency in 1976 evokes more recent events so startlingly that the comparison with Obama is impossible to avoid. After talking over the subject with Perlstein (watch this space for the full interview), I am more startled by the similarities than ever.
Some of the parallels Frank claims he sees will make him seem somewhat unhinged to those not on the far Left: the statement that, “Like Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter was drawn instinctively toward austerity”, for instance, or that Obama searched for “the answer to the savagery of the right—the way to trump the naked class aggression of the One Percent.”
But his overall diagnosis is one gaining increased acceptance from Left to Right: a presidency sold on a combination of sunny idealism and trust in the cult of experts foundering on the rocks of reality. We doubt, though, that most Americans will agree with Frank that the problem is that Obama hasn’t gone far enough to the Left.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency has become a byword for failure. With more than two years to go in Obama’s second term, the fact that this comparison has become a consensus does not bode well.