Malaise II

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On July 15, 1979, after an abysmal time leading the nation, Jimmy Carter, worst President of the United States except for James Buchanan and the present incumbent, gave a speech in which he blamed the ills of the land on the American people.  The problems certainly could not be due to him and his wretched policies, they had to be the fault of everyone else.  The speech became known as the spiritual malaise speech, although Carter did not use the term malaise.

Reagan, the most successful post-war President, who decisively defeated Carter in 1980, just before the end of his two terms in office had a somewhat different outlook on the American people:

Incompetent presidents blame the American people for the mistakes of the president, great presidents lead us in overcoming our problems.  Obama has demonstrated since his first day in office in which category of president he should be placed.  Expect more blaming of the American people from our Excuse Maker in Chief as his administration draws ever closer to simply being a very bad memory.

More to explorer

Keeping a Promise

As faithful readers of this blog know, I was a very reluctant, and late, supporter of Donald Trump in 2016.  I grudgingly


  1. The following was posted on Instapundit a short while ago.

    “ . . . Well, I am quite deliberately rubbing it in, as the ridiculously inflated expectations for Obama are regularly and repeatedly exposed as . . . ridiculously inflated. But what’s really juvenile is expecting that an inexperienced former community organizer could successfully execute the office of President of the United States. And if I’m peeing all over the wave of hope-and-change hype that got him into office despite his obvious unsuitability, it’s to help ensure that nothing this disastrous happens again in my lifetime. I realize that it’s painful for those who fell victim to the mass hysteria to constantly be reminded of their foolishness, but I hope it’ll be the kind of pain that results in learning. . . . “

    “UPDATE: Prof. XXX emails:
    ‘Nicely said.
    ‘Many all too willingly wanted to follow the piper and now that it’s proven to have been a disastrous choice, would prefer that all that was forgotten. Well, no it shouldn’t be. Votes matter, and their gullibility, or pursuit of easy absolution, or confirmation of some imagined moral superiority in support of the President’s election has led to the disaster we now face. Many among these people, in particular those with a public voice, bear a large measure of responsibility for having brought us to this point. What is truly juvenile is that among many of these same people there exists a continued denial of the reality we face and of their role in helping to bringing it about.’

    “Indeed. Which is why I continue to rub it in.” Instapundit

  2. The Carter Administration made a number of mistakes in policy. Notably, the President reacted to the Federal Reserve’s dysfunctional monetary policy with a series of Potemkin measures, not addressing escalating currency erosion until the appointment of Paul Volcker as chairman thereof in the fall of 1979. Even so, they insisted that Volcker not implement his plan for controlling the growth of monetary aggregates during an election campaign. (Please recall, though, that the Board responsible for the decay in price stability in 1977-79 was largely appointed by his predecessors). There were some decisions made in late 1978 and early 1979 regarding the turmoil in Iran which should be regretted later, but much of his trouble with Iran was largely imposed and would have bedeviled anyone in similar circumstances.

    I think you need to recall that Mr. Carter was operating within constraints imposed by the internal culture of the Democratic Party, that he tried to educate his party on certain matters, and that the Democratic congressional caucus had little use for him because his priorities were so different from theirs. (Hence Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign).

    It was Mr. Carter who promoted the removal of residual wage and price controls in 1977 (in the teeth of a filibuster run by George McGovern); it was Mr. Carter who promoted the removal of aging and dysfunctional regulatory systems in the transportation sector; it was Mr. Carter who attempted to persuade Congress (with no success) to stop using the tax code to sluice benefits to the oil industry and other favored economic sectors; it was Mr. Carter who attempted (without full success) to persuade Congress to pass a balanced budget for the fiscal year ending in 1980; it was Mr. Carter who began arming the insurrection against the Communist government in Afghanistan.

  3. Well, I do think we need to hear something like what Carter said. Donald, if you didn’t think society needed to hear a ‘Carter speech’ about society’s building blocks, waste, sloppiness, loss of nerve, immorality, laziness, etc., you wouldn’t post many of your posts. I do agree that Carter may have been kind of ineffective overall. But when he got up and told us we needed to look at ourselves, he spoke truly. By the 70’s, we needed to hear that.

  4. Couldn’t disagree more Pat, unless I tried very hard. The main problem this country faced in the late Seventies was Carter’s idiot policies. His speech was not a serious look at the failings of the American people, and I think such generalized Jeremiads are usually useless execept to make the person on the soapbox feel superior, but was rather an exercise at blame shifting from him to the people who had the misfortune to live under him. The American people gave the appropriate response to this tripe in November of 1980.

  5. The main problem this country faced in the late Seventies was Carter’s idiot policies.

    Donald, in 1978, the country had had two decades of escalating rates of social pathology. Carter’s policies did not cause that and, from his post in the federal government, the only components he was in a position to do much about were illegal immigration and the international drug trade. You could likely point to various and sundry disagreeable things emerging from the regulatory state during those years. The thing is, positions in any administration are staffed by camp followers drawn from abiding Democratic constituencies. Carter commonly thought and acted in counterpoint to those constituencies, but he still had to operate in that matrix.

    You really do not say what policies to which you were referring. Monetary policy was poorly conducted. Perhaps critics of Carter have found the memoranda which show that Arthur Burns, et al were taking instruction from the President in these matters. We know from the whole history of the period after 1965 that Burns was quite capable of bollixing things without Mr. Carter’s intervention. Carter should have foregone gimmicks and told Burns, Miller, et al to get the growth rate of monetary aggregates under control. Keep in mind, though, that the Democratic Party’s cognoscenti was populated with characters like James Tobin who insisted that this could not be practically implemented and that the congressional caucus was occupied by characters like Hubert Humphrey and Gus Hawkins who thought you could garner full employment via legislative fiat.

    Iran was a godawful mess, but it is de trop to attribute to Mr. Carter the structural weaknesses of the Shah’s regime or the ruler’s personal failings. It is conceivable that a military coup executed in January of 1979 might have allowed some sort of sensible regime to take control. Then again, it might have failed utterly. You only see the downside of the policies you elect to implement. (The same observations apply to troubles in Central America).

    The military’s skill set had been deteriorating for years. He could have and should have been more vigorous about promoting improvements. That was a sin of omission, and one he sought to rectify as he was leaving office.

  6. Art, let me count some of the ways:

    1. A completely ineffective energy policy which involved wearing sweaters and lowering thermostats.
    2. Raging inflation and interest rates. In 1980 inflation hit 13.5% and the prime interest rate charged by banks was 15.26.
    3. Afghanistan-Carter’s intial response was the plaintive cry that Brezhnev had lied to him, a symbol that with him at the helm our foreign policy was truly “Innocents abroad”.
    4. A hollow military-The military despised Carter for producing a weak military. My brother was commanding an armored platoon in Germany on night manueveres when news that Reagan had been elected reached them. Cheers rang out through the column.
    5. Iran-The failure of the rescue mission was a sign of what the military had been reduced to under Carter. His Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, when the cabinet was being briefed on the mission, asked if the weapons could be shot out of the hands of the Iranian guards rather than harming them. The disbelieving briefing officer told Christopher that shooting guns out of hands was only something that happened on television.

  7. 1. Effective energy policy would have required the following: comprehensive removal of controls on the price of petroleum and its derivatives; abjuring the use of general tax revenues and financing of road construction and maintenance with tolls, excises on gasoline, and vehicle registration fees; the imposition of green excises on petroleum and its derivatives; and extension work with builders and architects promoting insulation technology. A federal laboratory investigating alternative energy technology and also improved technologies for disposing of nuclear waste might have been helpful also. Such a policy would also have required time for its salutary features to take effect. Carter fought tooth and nail with Congress (with partial success) to remove controls on the price of petroleum (and Reagan was able to accelerate implementation of decontrol by executive order). To sell the rest, the President would have to tell a truth most people did not want to hear: that they were not paying the full freight for their consumer choices and they needed to do so for reasons of economic efficiency and reasons of state. Aspects of that the President attempted. I cannot think of any of his successors who would have even made the attempt.

    2. I agree with you regarding inflation. I do point out, however, that the President was making decisions in a particular intellectual and political context. You need to ask yourself which of his opponents in 1976 would have made better decisions. This is speculative, to be sure, but that is inherent in evaluating a President because what you are evaluating is a contingent response to circumstances. (I suspect Mr. Ford, Mr. Reagan, and Mr. Brown would have done a better job with this. Messrs. Udall, Church, Wallace et al? Nope.)

    3. This is trivia. (And after what you call his plaintive cry, Mr. Brezhnev got hit with a policy innovation that had never been attempted in a sustained way: equipment of an insurgency intending to overthrow a Communist government).

    4. Carter did not manufacture such a military, he inherited it. Carter should have been far more vigorous about improvements in the military’s equipment and skill set. You have to recall, though, that he was facing a Congress for which this was not, in 1977, a priority. Mr. Reagan would have done things differently, but I think you are forgetting how atypical Mr. Reagan’s views were at the time. (And please note, the Reagan Administrations methods – an arbitrary annual increase in the real military budget – could be somewhat crude.

    5. The President makes 3,000 discretionary appointments. Some of them are bound to be crummy. Warren Christopher and Robert Pastor had no business being any position in the foreign policy apparat and Cyrus Vance was certainly in the wrong position (as the President came to realize). The real problem with the Iranian mess (at that point) is that the Administration allowed ABC News to turn it into a saga and the President appeared to have ruled out pro-active measures (e.g. asking for a declaration of war and then jailing Iranians in the country as enemy aliens – suggested by George Kennan) to resolve the crisis.

    You set yourself a high bar referring to Carter as the worst president since the antebellum. The man’s bad decisions in their consequences do not compare unfavorably to those of Herbert Hoover or Lyndon Johnson and you completely neglect the man’s virtues (such as his allergy to public sector borrowing and his willingness to tackle issues which did not arise from constituency pressure). He had an unpleasant public personality, he could be opportunistic in a disagreeable manner, he was caught up short by events. However, Carter did not stink. The Democratic Party stank. Mr. Carter was more antagonistic to the culture of that political nexus (as manifested in our wretched federal legislature) than any of his Democratic predecessors or successors).

  8. 1. As to energy Art, Carter’s policy was rigidly focused on conservation and sponsoring what is now called “green technologies”. They are an economic boondoggle now, even more so in Carter’s time, as the technology to make solar, wind, etc simply isn’t there, even more so in the Peanut Farmer’s day.

    2. Oh Carter was probably no worse on the economy than the Democrats he ran against in 1976, which speaks volumes about the rot besetting that party. To be fair, I also regarded Ford as a poor president and voted two-handedly in November of that year. I think only Reagan had the political guts and the imagination to undertake the stern measures need to wring inflation from our economy.

    3. It’s not trivia Art, it is revelatory. The arming of the Afghan resistance was almost entirely the work of Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, and was hotly opposed by the rest of Carter’s foreign policy team. It was a rare foreign policy success, other than the Camp David Accords, in an administration otherwise noted for American retreat around the globe.

    4. No Art, Carter was content to gut the military. I remember it vividly since I was in the Army at the time. The contempt that most people in the military had for the man is hard to exaggerate. His neglect of the military was part and parcel of his foreign policy which could be summed up in his statement that we were outgrowing our “indordinate fear” of communism.

    5. Warren Christopher and Vance were typical of the appointees of Carter running our foreign policy. National security advisor Brzezinski was very much the exception. (As I recall Brzezinski was booed at the Democrat convention in 1980 by delegates there.)

    I call him the worst president except for James Buchanan Art because the man was a walking disaster in both domestic policy and in foreign policy, all the while being the most sanctimonius president we have ever had. I have never relished a politician’s defeat more than I did his on election night 1980.

  9. 1. There is nothing bad about conservation. There are arguments to be made for and against government engaging in scientific and technical research outside its usual book. It gets to be a boondoggle not in the doing but when you create a state-dependent businesses and laboratories – i.e. corporate welfare and higher education pork. Carter faced a problem when he took office generated by public policy at all levels: petroleum products (and hence activities like motor vehicle use) were underpriced. Attacking that problem (and he put a great many chips on the table in so doing) puts you on a collision course with Congress and the general public. He was willing to take these hits. Attacking him for his energy policy is ill-informed and graceless.

    2. Both men who chaired the Federal Reserve Board during the period running from Carter’s inauguration to the summer of 1979 performed wretchedly. Please recall that the first of these men was a Republican appointee who had performed wretchedly for the previous seven years. The academic economist who correctly diagnosed the source of the problems manifest after 1968 was Milton Friedman, whose insight was that the empirically discernable trade-off between inflation and unemployment was crucially-dependent on public expectations of future price trajectories. This insight did not penetrate the Fed during those years nor the business press.

    3. It is trivia and your elaboration on the policy decision – that he over-ruled most of his advisors – undermines your argument.

    4. I am not going to second guess you on the subject of morale in the Army. The man ‘committed to gutting the military’ expended 5.67% of gross domestic product on it during his first years in office as opposed to Mr. Ford’s 6.13%. Please note, the ratio of military expenditure to domestic product saw an almost monotonic decline after the end of the Korean War. There were three reversals in this pattern: one during 1956-58, one during 1965-67, and one extending over the period running from 1979-86. Mr. Reagan’s military buildup antedated Mr. Reagan’s administration.

    5. The salient officials for high politics in any Administration are the Secretary of Defence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the staff director of the National Security Council. For the trade, development, and monetary component, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the director of the Agency for International Development are salient. The director of what was called the U.S. Information Agency &c. bring up the rear. The chief of mission at the United Nations is quite prominent but not very important (Mr. Carter used that job for political patronage and eventually fired its occupant after repeated reprimands). Dr. Brzezinksi’s conflicts with Cyrus Vance were well known. It was Vance, not Brzezinski, who ended up leaving. I do not recall that Harold Brown, a physicist from CalTech with a previous history in the Defense Department’s research apparat or Gen. David Jones, a military professional, had much of an ideological profile. The Central Intelligence Agency was directed by another military professional, Stansfield Turner. Adm. Turner has been criticized for a number of things – e.g. firing a great many people he should not have and placing too much emphasis on technical collection over espionage. The agency is such a black box and has such a history of dysfunction it is hard to evaluate these claims. Vance and his subordinates aside, I am just not seeing an incorrigible dovecote here. (You recall Carter himself had been a Naval officer).


    C’mon. Herbert Hoover presided over a catastrophic economic implosion largely attributable to wretched monetary policy (and inadequate banking supervision). Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, and William Westmoreland prosecuted a war so ineptly we ended up with 58,000 dead soldiers and we lost anyway. (Did I mention the Office of Economic Opportunity?). Woodrow Wilson promoted the disestablishment of central Europe’s monarchies and assisted in perpetrating the Treaty of Versailles – all in pursuit of his ideological fixations and dippy collective security schemes. The competition is just too stiff for Mr. Carter to win, place, or show in the Worst-President-Evah sweepstakes.

  10. “1. There is nothing bad about conservation.”

    There most certainly is when it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. All of the sweater wearing and theromstat diving in the world didn’t make a dent in America’s energy problem. Carter relied on pie in the sky initiatives rather than implementing policies which would spur domestic American energy production. His legacy has become one of the central core beliefs of his energy-luddite party.

    “2. Both men who chaired the Federal Reserve Board during the period running from Carter’s inauguration to the summer of 1979 performed wretchedly.”

    Wretchedly sums up the performance of the entire Carter administration in regard to the economy Art.

    “3. It is trivia”

    No, it is a simple indication of his world view, a world view he has doubled down on during his career as our most ex-of ex-Presidents. He took the advice from his national security advisor on Afghanistan, a very atypical response from Carter, I think largely due to the fact that 1980, election year, was the next year. Carter was a “useful idiot” otherwise in office for our enemies, just as he has been a “useful idiot” out of office for our enemies.

    4. Hollow military:

    “Joint Chiefs of Staff Break With Carter On Budget Planning for Defense Needs” p. A1: “Right now, we have a hollow Army,” responded Gen. E. C. Meyer, Army chief of staff, in what turned out to be the bluntest response. “I don’t believe the current budget responds to the Army’s needs for the 1980s,” said Meyer of Carter’s fiscal 1981 defense budget. “There’s a tremendous shortfall in the ability to modernize quickly” in response to the Soviet threat.”

    Washington Post, May 30, 1980

    5. “Dr. Brzezinksi’s conflicts with Cyrus Vance were well known. It was Vance, not Brzezinski, who ended up leaving.”

    And outside of Afghanistan it was Vance’s policy of retreat and accomodation in regard to our adversaries which continued to be followed.

    Art, I remember those years vividly. I think Jimmy Carter came very close to derailing the American economy and placed us on a very dangerous path where his weakness and dithering encouraged Soviet adventurism. I can only imagine the shambles that this country would have experienced if he had had a second term. No, for all around bad performance as president Carter will get my vote right after James Buchanan, the man whose tilt to the South helped bring on the secession crisis, and who helped convince the South that the North would not fight.

  11. I have Jimmy Carter to thank for making me a Republican. When Carter was elected, I was 13 and I bought into my parents’ view that the GOP was the cause of the nation’s problems and now that the Democrats ran everything in Washington, things would improve.

    Carter cured me of ever believing anything that came out of the mouth of a Democrat.

    Carter was an incompetent, limp-wristed, ineffectual and diastorous president. His overall incompetence did lead us to Ronald Reagan, the greatest president of the 20th century.

    Obama was the second pop culture president. The slimy Bill Clinton was first. As modern pop culture is infested with leftist politics and lack of morality, it has become the religion of far too many young people. I remember Forbes Avenue in Oakland (Pittsburgh) was closed down because it was filled with college students from Pitt celebrating Obumbler’s election. Those fools back in 2008 are now the unemployed and under employed – and that bunch, across the nation, helped put Obumbler in the White House, because it was the “cool thing to do”.

    Sometimes, people have to learn the hard way, more often than not. Perhaps some of the nation’s young people will look elsewhere than Jon Stewart and other late night talk show hosts for their political information next time around.

  12. Carter will never get another “shot” at ruining us. Obama may be given four more years to finish us off.

    There were a lot of bad presidents. Obama sets the standard.

    Make no mistake. It’s not only his destructive ideology and incompetence, add dishonesty and ill-disguised calls for violence.

    New Harris poll: 51 – 49: Ron Paul over Obama.

    You can fool some of the people . . .

  13. I remember those years as well. So do most of the regulars here. If Darwin or Paul Zummo do not mind an unsolicited suggestion and want a sense of the feel of contemplating public life at that time, the movie Americathon or Ann Beattie’s novel Falling in Place might be helpful toward that end.

    I think one problem people have in recalling the Carter years has to do with a pervasive anxiety that dissipated after 1982. There was tremendous and unanticipated social entropy after 1958 manifest in all spheres. Things fall apart and everything looks absurd. Few people, even very perceptive and intelligent men like my father, had an idea where the bottom was. Around about 1982, the bottom showed up, for the most part. There has continued to be decay in one important sphere (attitudes toward sex and family life), but other than that, we could feel the bottom.

    I think Jimmy Carter came very close to derailing the American economy

    Just what does that phrase mean in terms of measurable results? We had a brief and mild recession in 1980 (in an economy that was otherwise growing); the labor market was not in the best of shape, but unemployment rates never exceeded 7.5%; the troubles in the banking system (savings banks losing money on their loan portfolios and money center banks with uncollectable sovereign loans) were as yet not manifest; there was an eruption in commodity prices in 1979-80, but such eruptions happen without much regard to public policy and households can (and did) adjust; and we had chronic problems with currency erosion, as we had had since 1966. Much of the inflation experienced in 1979 and 1980 was a temporary phenomenon, but there was a baseline of about 8 or 9% in annual consumer price increases. It was a problem that could have been and should have been addressed, but re-stabilizing prices need not cause an economic depression and it was accomplished here without one.

    The man who accomplished that was Paul Volcker, and if you wish to undertake counter-factual speculation as to what would have happened had Mr. Carter been returned to office in 1980, you do need to take account of the fact that Mr. Carter appointed Mr. Volcker.

    and placed us on a very dangerous path where his weakness and dithering encouraged Soviet adventurism.

    I imagine that was part of it. Prestige – your reputation for power – is an asset. Mr. Carter dissipated a certain amount of it. Since leaving office, Mr. Carter has manifested a bourbonish learnt-nothing-and-forgot-nothing aspect to him. However, at the time, he was willing to make adjustments in the face of circumstances and in the face of failures (something Obama does not do). That included putting the military budget on an upward trajectory, planning a commando raid in Iran, unloading first Andrew Young and then Cyrus Vance, and beginning a military aid program to counter the red insurgency in El Salvador. Appointing Paul Volcker, an experienced central banker with a radically different view of monetary policy than his predecessor, was another act of reassessment.

  14. “Expect more blaming of the American people from our Excuse Maker in Chief as his administration …”
    It took him some search time for the word ‘country’ after he said ‘great – uh’ in the video. Symptomatic of malaise, too, considering his title.
    Abominable is his ever so dead-eyed, ‘righteous’ castigation of only certain sectors of the American people, not even the American people as a whole, thus developing good guy-bad guy mentality into a voting block where good and bad become meaningless. The psychic wounds inflicted, one way or the other, on all the American people of whom he is President, will probably be festering by mid-2012. The bandages offered will probably be in shades of gray.

  15. President Carter was man enough to sacrifice his presidency for the good of the American economy. No presidency could have survived the bloodletting remedy that Mr Volcker applied. It was the retrenchment of the economy achieved at the tail end of the Carter presidency that gave the US the leaness to spring forward. For Afghanistan, Carter had offered a mere $400 million to Zia-ulHaq, which he derisively dismissed as ‘peanuts’. Ronald Reagan blundered in with his billions and CIA training, thus ensuring that the rise of militant Islam followed the the end of Communism. The Reaganites were played like a violin by the Saudis and the Pakistanis. It cannot be denied that the Communists in Afghanistan tried to make a go of it through education and improved healthcare. The Islamists would have none of it. President Carter was basically a decent man who became embittered in his later years. Now Obama on the other hand is without doubt the least qualified, most vacuous man ever to be President. This is perhaps all for the good, as he has the moral and historic sense of an Alinsky agitator. The saving grace here is that unlike the legendary agitators he lacks the ability to carry through his all plans. As the saying goes, God takes of little children and the USA.

  16. Carter sacrificed nothing Ivan. He had absolutely no clue about the economy or what Volcker’s policies would lead to. His appointment of Volcker was done reluctantly and under pressure from Wall Street. His first pick for the Fed, G. William Miller, believed that inflation was a necessary product of “priming the pump” of the economy, and fought against raising the interest rates of the Fed. That Carter had little understanding of the issues involved is demonstrated by the fact that he made Miller his Treasury Secretary as an inducement for him to leave the Fed so that he could appoint Volcker, thereby ensuring that Treasury policy and Fed policy would be at war with each other during the remainder of his administration.

    There is a revisionist view that it was the tax cuts of Reagan, and not Volcker’s policies, that actually produced the reduction in inflation:

    I do not know that I accept that, but it is true that what Volcker was doing had proven counter-productive until combined with the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Certainly since Reagan tax cuts have not proven to be inflationary in the US, contrary to the dogma of many economists prior to Reagan. Additionally, Volcker did not fully clamp down on the money supply until Reagan had defeated Carter/

    As for Afghanistan, your misreading of history is complete. The Soviet imposed puppet regime was despised by almost the entire Afghani population. The Afghanis were going to be fighting in any case and the US simply assured that they would be doing so with something better than the leftovers from the Anglo-Afghani wars of the nineteenth century. The rise of the Islamic militants has nothing to do with US aid. Bin Laden and his cronies were products of Saudi Arabia and Bin Laden’s involvement in Afghanistan had nothing to do with the US effort. The Taliban came into being just before Soviet withdrawal in 1992, and were a completely indigenous Afghan creation. To blame US aid for them is fanciful.

  17. Donald, that the communists were hated is true. The Reaganites clearly saw it as a godsend to create the USSR’s Vietnam. It is perhaps understandable that the Americans were itching for payback. But it does not excuse the Americans of their folly in proping up an evil Islamist military regime in neighbouring Pakistan, which has now metastasised into perhaps the greatest menace to peace. The foundation for all this was laid right under Reagan’s nose by Zia-ulHaq. Any Indian (such as myself) could have told Weinberger and co. even then that the road to peace in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan.

  18. No presidency could have survived the bloodletting remedy that Mr Volcker applied.

    Ivan, you seem to have forgotten that Mr. Reagan was returned to office with 58% of the vote. I think that qualifies as ‘surviving’.

    There is a revisionist view that it was the tax cuts of Reagan, and not Volcker’s policies, that actually produced the reduction in inflation:

    The “revisionist view” is nonsense. Inflation is a monetary phenomenon, though the effects of monetary policy are intermediated through the real economy. Unless it is someone’s contention that tax cuts increase households’ propensity to hold cash balances or increase banks’ propensity to hold reserves, I cannot see how tax cuts would promote price stability. That aside, the timeline alone is incongruent with such a thesis. The tax cuts were implemented over a three year span of time with just 20% of the proportionate reduction implemented in the first year. Re-stabilization of prices had been completed by the fall of 1982 and the Federal Reserve was already relaxing monetary policy.

    For Afghanistan, Carter had offered a mere $400 million to Zia-ulHaq, which he derisively dismissed as ‘peanuts’. Ronald Reagan blundered in with his billions and CIA training,

    You are conflating two separate programs. The Carter Administration did offer Zia an aid program, quite publicly and explicitly. It also began a covert program of equipping the extant insurgency in Afghanistan.

    As for Mr. Volcker’s medicine, they began in the fall of 1979 with targets for the growth of monetary aggregates (the monetary base, M1, M2, M3). Mr. Carter insisted in March of 1980 that he replace this with a policy of credit controls because the country was heading into a recession during an election year. He re-imposed the original policy, with Mr. Reagan’s blessing, when Mr. Carter left office.

  19. I was in school and learned my (little, paltry amount of) economics before they screwed up everything and decided economics was studying about everyone getting something for nothing, i.e., free lunch/income redistribution.

    Yer second worst POTUS somehow managed the impossible. His fiscal actions (spending and taxation) and whatever influence (full employment with stable prices with social spending) he exerted on the Fed, resulted in rampant inflation and rampant unemployment.

    Obama says we are soft.

    Obama Day-One Today
    Poverty 13% 14%

    Unemploy Really 14% 16%

    Median Income $52,000 $49,400

    Jobs 142,200,000 139,600,000

    Inflation 0% 3.77%

    Gasolinbe $1.82
    It wasn’t Carter’s fault. He couldn’t have done it all by his little self. He had 30 or 40 years of Dem Congresses and the Great Society unproductive additions to money supplies and cost push inflation from the Cold and Vietnam Wars, and it was Nixon’s, no Ford’s, no Eisenhower’s faults . . .

    He signed Humphrey-Hawkins in 1978, that improved the 1946 Full Employment Act. It politicized the Fed and set hard economic goals that run against each other. It confused full employment with price stability with trade balances with halitosis, all of which often move in opposite, uncorrelated or divergent directions and magnitudes.

    And, the global terror war against us would have never happened if he hadn’t “sold down the river” the Shah to be replaced by fanatical terrorists: in the name of fairness?

  20. Ivan is off base regarding the rise of militant Islam. Militant Islam as we face it today was originally fueled by Hitler, who had his mufti, as Rabbi Davis so clearly explained in his book about Pope Pius XII. That mufti was Yasser Arafat’s uncle.

    The USSR was one of the chief sources of funding and support for the PLO. The USSR helped instigate the 1973 Six Day War by providing fake intelligence to Arab states in the hope that they would destroy Israel.

    Past policies from several administrations led to the Shah taking power in Iran and to his brutal holding of that power. What replaced the Shah is far worse. Iran has been a terrorist client state for more than 30 years. Their support of Hezbollah is proof.

    Jimmy Carter was not a nice guy. He is, even today, a mean spirited and spiteful man. Yes, Carter appointed Volcker. Yes, Carter signed legislation to begin deregulation of so many parts of the economy. Yet, Carter and the arrogant beyond belief Democrat Congress wrecked the economy and emaciated the military.

    Reagan was not played by Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. They helped the Reagan Administration get rid of the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In retrospect, the Western world did nothing to help Afghanistan after the USSR left. The USSR should have been compelled to pay war reparations to Afghanistan, but the West was too wimpy to back the old Soviet codgers into a corner. The power vacuum that filled Afghanistan should be blamed primarily on the Soviet invasion that caused so much death and destruction.

    Obumbler is truly Malaise, Part II. The four years of the Nancy Pelosi controlled House are four of the worst years economically the USA has ever faced.

  21. More revisionism regarding Volcker’s role in defeating inflation:

    It is twaddle from beginning to end.

    Carter was and is pat a mean-spirited sanctimonious little twerp.

    C’mon, Donald. He has managed to stay married for sixty-odd years; his children are among the least embarrassing of presidential offspring; and, other than Gerald Ford, no occupant of that office in the last 40-odd years has been so free from being sliced up by his employees after the fact. He cannot be that bad.

    He has some character and personality defects. He has some virtues as well. Musn’t overdo it.

  22. “He has managed to stay married for sixty-odd years”

    I rejoice that he and the “Steel Magnolia” kept each other out of the marital market. I recall her comment that Reagan made people “comfortable in their prejudices”. Considering the history of the Carter family and blacks, I found that rich.

    Carter of course has always been quite willing to accuse political opponents of being racists:

    These comments by former secret service agents are on a par with numerous others who had the misfortune to work under Carter:

    “But the president subject to the greatest scorn is Jimmy Carter.

    Carter is portrayed as a phony according to the agents interviewed by Kessler. Carter would put on a show for the public to convey himself as a common man, but it was never anymore than an act. For instance, we are told that when Carter would make a point of carrying his own luggage in front of the press, he was really carrying empty bags. He expected others to carry his real luggage. Unfriendly, Carter “didn’t want the police officers and agents looking at him or speaking to him when he went to the [Oval] office,” explained an assistant White House usher. “The only time I saw a smile on Carter’s face was when the cameras were going,” one former agent told Kessler.

    After his presidency, Kessler reports that when Carter would stay at a townhouse maintained for former presidents in D.C., he would take down pictures of other presidents and put up more pictures of himself! “The Carters were the biggest liars in the world,” one agent told Kessler of the Carter era.

    Carter, not surprisingly, denied to Kessler through a lawyer many of the allegations in the book.

    The man who sent Carter packing from the White House could not have been more different according to accounts from agents. Ronald Reagan would constantly interact with his secret service agents and other staffers who worked for him. He was apologetic when he would take secret service agents away from their families on holidays. While Carter would make secret service agents pay for any leftover food they consumed after White House parties, we are told Reagan would insist the secret service eat leftover food (without charge, of course).”

  23. This fellow Kessler is an ‘investigative reporter’ currently employed by Newsmax. Scandal is what his stock and trade is. He is in scant danger of a defamation suit if he makes stuff up out of whole cloth. (Here he is passing along the anonymous gossip of supposed Secret Service agents). This is the sort of thing properly taken with a large hunk of rock salt.

  24. Art Deco, isn’t targeting the M1, M2 and M3 growth simply a fancy and as it turned out a blunderbuss way of achieving credit control? President Carter was a successful businessman and a nuclear engineer. He probably felt that the claims of the monetarists to be able to fine tune a complex plant like the economy were bogus. He re-imposed the original policy, with Mr. Reagan’s blessing, when Mr. Carter left office. Mr Reagan would not have been too unhappy with this seeing that that the next electoral test – the midterm – was a full two years away. I come from a country where elections turn on the price of onions; timing the recovery is everything. The Reagan Democrats were looking for a robust response to the likes of Iran; they were prepared to accept some incidental pain to see it through. Overall President Reagan was a better leader through his sunny optimism and an ability to quickly learn from his mistakes. But he failed bigtime in Afghanistan, though the poor man was probably not even aware of it.

    Penguin Fan, the final cause of militant Islam is the Islamic religion itself. Nonetheless it could have done without proximate American help. Pakistan had giddy dreams over Central Asia which the American sponsored through their naivete. We Indians made matters worse with our sanctimonious lectures and congenital hypocrisy.
    The USSR should have been compelled to pay war reparations to Afghanistan…

    Go easy on this: haven’t they suffered enough already through fatuous and at times cynical American “advice”.

  25. The last link does not work. Try this if required:

    Go easy on this: haven’t they suffered enough already through fatuous and at times cynical American “advice”.

  26. The reference to Newsmax was for identification only (though the site has a poor reputation). It is ‘investigative reporters’ of which I am skeptical. What someone pointed out about Richard Clarke applies to anyone who writes this sort of thing – if you have no scandal, you have no book and you do not earn your advance. ‘Investigative reporter’ is a trade for people of dubious ethics for reasons inherent in how these chaps earn their living. The American Spectator and Gary Aldrich were taken to task for trading in gossip about the Clinton’s and their entourage. The thing was, the state troopers who fingered Mrs. Clinton as a terror to work for put their names on it and Aldrich was a witness to much of what he described. This fellow Kessler is trading in what career civil servants supposedly told him. Journalists reviewing the book grant other journalists professional courtesies (which Aldrich did not receive), such as not raising the possibility that much of it could be fabricated by the author or his sources. Trust car salesmen before you trust these guys.

  27. Art Deco, isn’t targeting the M1, M2 and M3 growth simply a fancy and as it turned out a blunderbuss way of achieving credit control?


    Targeting interest rates had been the policy of Mr. Volcker’s two predecessors. You can see where that got us. Targeting monetary aggregates succeeded in re-stabilizing prices with 19 months of continuous application. You can say it was not worth the candle (I know a leftoid economist who does). You cannot say it was an unsuccessful policy or that there was a ready alternative to the ends it sought to achieve. James Tobin was of the opinion, ca. 1980, that restabilizing prices would require a process of adjustment of 15 years in duration. The economic recovery from the end of 1982 to the spring of 1985 was so rapid the process was completed in five years.

  28. Carter was and is pat a mean-spirited sanctimonious little twerp.

    One of the standard characterizations of Carter is that he was a poor president but a nice guy. As you’ve outlined, he isn’t a nice guy either. His outsized ego was in fact one of the reasons he was such a poor president, as he could never learn to appreciate that he in fact did not know everything, and this contributed to his disastrous management style. He is, simply, a jerk.

    Worst president ever? The pre- and post-Lincoln bunglers still take the cake. Pierce was invisible, Buchanan fiddled while the country tore itself apart, and Johnson’s pigheadedness destroyed any possibility of a real reconstruction effort. Johnson’s sins were in particular egregious as he lacked Lincoln’s ability to mollify the radical Republicans in Congress. So we had two extreme factions – one in the White House and one in Congress – and no clear leadership.

  29. One of the standard characterizations of Carter is that he was a poor president but a nice guy. As you’ve outlined, he isn’t a nice guy either.

    I have to say that in 30-odd years of reading newspapers, I have never seen Jimmy Carter characterized as a ‘nice guy’. Mr. Ford and Mr. Reagan and the elder Mr. Bush, certainly; Mr. Nixon and Mr. Carter, no. The toothy grin aside, his public persona was fairly sober and even melancholy. The complaint that he was mean of spirit was heard from time to time as well, though it was a minority view. I do not think his ethics were much questioned, though there was the complaint (from Michael Kinsley, among others) that he had a habit of cynical reversals of policy undertaken without even acknowledging the reversal.

    Lot’s of folk are not affable. That really is not a character defect or worthy of much critical comment except among sales managers. There is no reason to savage Mr. Carter for his common-and-garden human flaws. Messrs. Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and even Nixon provide ample fodder for that sort of commentary.

  30. Worst president ever?

    The functions of the federal government have varied so over time that I am not sure why you would attempt to evaluate them in a common pool.

  31. In regard to pre Civil War presidents Paul, Buchanan will always have my top slot for worst President.

    In regard to Carter, he believes that we are currently more polarized than we were during the Civil War, indicating that he must have slept through the American history classes at Annapolis. He also states that he enjoyed a bipartisan relationship with Congress during his term of office which is simply delusional.

  32. IIRC, Mr. Carter had rather cold relations with all components of Congress.

    At the time, however, roughly 20% of those in Congress had a set of policy preferences closer to the median of the opposition caucus than to the median of their own caucus. I think the use of Cadillac filibusters and holds was more sparing then, so there were more opportunites for bipartisanship of a sort than the younger Mr. Bush would have had.

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