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Archive for June, 2010

In Comparison

From the earliest appearance of Barack Obama on the Presidential horizon, there were those who decided that an impending Obama administration would, in fact, be the second term of Jimmy Carter.  Honors for calling this first apparently go to Jeffrey Lord. To quote, in part: “Are there enough voting Americans who survived the disastrous odyssey through the late 1970s that was led by blessedly now ex-president Jimmy Carter?”  For better or worse, I remember.

It should be noted that such a comparison is essentially unfair since we have the benefit of historical perspective on the Carter administration while the Obama administration is still a work in progress.  Likewise, Lord’s call to remember the Carter administration left the typical Obama voter lost, since most of them seem to view Carter as being some kindly old guy who frames houses as a hobby.  Add to this the fact that many Republican voters were still arguing over why Nixon lost the debates to Jack Kennedy and you realize that it was not fair expect the average voter to have any memory.  Those that truly remembered wanted to forget, while everybody else was caught up in the specialness of the moment.

Now, well into the Obama administration, there are those who are getting the nagging feeling that things are not going as well as promised during the campaign.  And, you can see a campaign question coming up in two years: “Are you better off today than four years ago?”  This one is a toss-up.

In the ensuing months since Mr. Lord’s observation, there have been others that have also expressed this opinion, some out of wishful thinking, others out of hard experience.  Regardless, now that we’ve had sufficient time to enjoy the Obama administration, it is time to take a look at the similarities and differences between the Jimmy Carter administration and the Barack Obama administration.

Background

Astrological sign

  • Carter:  Libra
  • Obama:  Leo

Home Town

  • Carter: Plains, Georgia
  • Obama: Honolulu, Hawaii

Education

  • Carter: United States Naval Academy
  • Obama: Columbia, Harvard Law

Family

Married

  • Carter: Yes
  • Obama: Yes

Outspoken Mother

Beer Drinking Brother that Owns Gas Station

Religious Relatives

Skill Sets

Previous Experience

  • Carter: Farmer, nuclear engineer, two-term State Senator, one-term governor of Georgia
  • Obama: Community organizer, two & a half-term state Senator, partial term U. S. Senator

Military Experience

  • Carter: United States Navy, Lieutenant
  • Obama: No

On the Job

Administrative Style

  • Carter: Micro manager.  Famously controlled who played on the White House tennis courts.
  • Obama:  Calculating.  Everything for those groups that are needed during the next election cycle.

Professional Recognition

As the most powerful executive in the Free World (so-called), it is assumed that being the occupant of that office should be sufficient recognition, but there’s always more.  So:

  • Carter:  Yes, Nobel Prize – Camp David Accords with Sadat of Egypt & Begin of Israel.
  • Obama: Yes, Nobel Prize – To quote CNN:  “The decision appeared to catch most observers by surprise. Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1, only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September, two months before Obama was elected president.

Fireside Chats

Use of Teleprompter

  • Carter: No, which got him into trouble
  • Obama: Yes, which gets him into trouble

Need for Love from Other Countries

  • Carter: Yes, especially in Arab world
  • Obama: Yes, especially from Europe

Order of Succession

Vice-President

  • Carter: Walter Mondale
  • Obama: Joseph Biden

Speaker of the House

  • Carter: Tip O’Neill
  • Obama: Pelosi, to be determined

President pro tempore of the Senate

  • Carter: James O. Eastland, Warren Magnuson
  • Obama:  Robert C. Byrd, to be determined

Secretary of State

  • Carter: Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance
  • Obama: Hillary Clinton

Secretary of the Treasury

  • Carter: Michael Blumenthal, William Miller
  • Obama: Timothy Geithner, to be determined

Secretary of Defense

  • Carter: Harold Brown
  • Obama: Robert Gates, to be determined

As an aside, it is interesting to compare the politicians of that era with today’s models.  An evening with Tip O’Neill and a bottle of Irish would yield a worthwhile and enjoyable hangover.  An evening with Pelosi would likely yield depression.

The Staff

Chief of Staff

  • Carter: Hamilton Jordan
  • Obama: Rahm Emanuel

Press Secretary

  • Carter:  Jody Powell
  • Obama: Robert Gibbs

Staff Hijinks

  • Carter: Studio 54
  • Obama: No apparent staff hijinks, presumably because staying in the White House and developing new ways to torture the private sector is much more fun.

Political Contemporaries

Senate Majority Leader

  • Carter: Mike Mansfield, Robert Byrd
  • Obama: Harry Reid, to be determined

House Minority Leader

  • Carter: John Rhodes
  • Obama: Bill Frist, Mitch McConnell, to be determined

Challenges

There have been those who wishfully describe the current oil well problem in the Gulf of Mexico as being “Obama’s Hurricane Katrina”, which is not fair.  With Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Government had a limited role at the outset of a crisis that traditionally was supposed to be handled by State and local authorities. On the other hand, the BP oil well problem was in an environment regulated by the Federal government; in the intervening weeks, it has become a significant problem for the States.  A comparable crisis would be Three Mile Island, which was within Federal purview from the start because of government regulations.  So,….

  • Carter: Three Mile Island, Iran Hostage Crisis
  • Obama: BP Transoceanic Horizon

Certainly, with at least two years left in the Obama administration, there are sure to be another crisis or two.

Scandal

From vicuña coats to oil leases in Teapot Dome to ACORN, every presidential administration has its share of scandal.  In that sense, the Carter administration was some what of a dud, delivering only one demi-scandal.  Being children of Chicago politics, the Obama administration would seem to be a ripe field for scandalous events, but it is a bit early for that.

The Economy

  • Carter: Recession combined with 18% inflation
  • Obama: Recession, with inflation always a possibility in the future.

Relations With The Press

Respect

  • Carter: “Mush From The Wimp” (Boston Globe headline accidentally printed after a bored headline writer decided to go free-lance).
  • Obama: A willing and compliant press that is unwilling to acknowledge their responsibility for creating the environment for someone so inexperienced to become a viable presidential candidate.

Front Row, Center

  • Carter:  Helen Thomas
  • Obama: Helen Thomas, to be determined

Approachability

It has been noted that Americans want to be able to relate to their Presidents.  That is, for a President to succeed, the American people have to like them.  And, to like them, they have to feel that they have something in common.  From at least one perspective, Barack Obama has very little in common with the garden-variety voter.  Consider this recent Wall Street Journal article: “Obama and the Shoes of the Presidential Fishermen.

  • …..what could be better than to take up a sport in which Ivy League graduates are regularly outsmarted by creatures with brains the size of peas?

There is something humbling about the act of fishing since the fish are quite able to identify the difference between a Mepps #0 Aglia and a Lazy Ike “Fly Ike”.  And to tell whether you paid retail for those lures.  And to reject both of them.  There are no shortcuts to fishing, yet, at the same time, you are in contact with nature, which remediates the frustrations.  And, the WSJ article points out an inconvenient truth:

And then there’s George W. Bush, a long-time angler who keeps a lake on his Texas ranch stocked with largemouth bass. As president, Mr. Bush established the world’s largest fully protected marine area in the Pacific and placed two-thirds of federal waters off-limits to harmful dredging and bottom-trawling. Among other steps, he also protected and restored millions of acres of wetlands, and joined with Pacific nations to safeguard coral reefs. In 2007, Mr. Bush signed an executive order to protect two popular game fish, striped bass and red drum, in U.S. waters.

See?  Like him or hate him, you have to respect George W. for something.  In any case:

Fishing

Beer Drinking

  • Carter: Not publicly, not even Billy Beer.
  • Obama: Yes, with the entire press corps gathered at a respectful distance.

Uhhhhmmmm, Errrr, Uhhh

In general, Presidents are entitled to some privacy.  There are some inescapable events, such as when Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom (To quote: “This marriage was unusual because Cleveland was the executor of Oscar Folsom’s estate and had supervised Frances’ upbringing, but the public did not, in general, take exception to the match”). Imagine that happening these days; TMZ would go into overdrive.

Of course, in recent memory, it has been impossible to ignore the Presidential bedroom antics when there were periodic Bimbo Eruptions. And that particular President was responsible for bringing the term Lewinski to new depths.  Regardless:

Visual

  • Carter: Gas lines
  • Obama: Unemployment lines

Leaving a Legacy

  • Carter: Department of Energy, Department of Education
  • Obama: Debt

And, finally, there is one thing which both the Carter presidential campaign and the Obama presidential campaign share.  Both campaigns firmly executed plays to the emotions of the voters, pulling every heart string and plucking every sensitivity.  It was so much so that popular expectations in the electorate were heated up to a boil.  When it came time to deliver on all those emotional promises, both administrations were destined to disappoint those that truly believed what they had been told.

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Bill Shipp

I don’t know him very well, but I can actually claim to know Bill Shipp. Well enough to sit down and have a conversation with him at Manuel’s, but that’s about it.  If you’ve lived in The South for more than a couple decades, you probably know his editorial work, too.  So, there was an interesting item in today’s AJC that caught my eye.  Mr. Shipp has retired and donated his papers to the University of Georgia.  In the AJC item was a sentence which was particularly illuminating to me:

Shipp attended UGA and served as managing editor of The Red & Black student newspaper, but administrators asked him to leave after he wrote pro-integration editorials in the 1950s. He transferred to Emory University.

Up until that moment, I never understood why Shipp had transferred to Emory, but with the fullness of time all things become clear.  And it brought back a lot of memories from that time.  As of this writing, I’m 61, and old enough to remember both the civil rights movement and the reasons for that movement.  I remember the discrimination; you saw it everywhere, in so many little ways.

  • The plan of a railroad station in Reform, Alabama shows restrooms for White Gentlemen, White Ladies and Colored Women.  Nothing for colored men.
  • Certain railroad cars were designed in odd ways, and not just in the Deep South, to separate the races.
  • Water fountains marked White and Colored.
  • The conversational racism of people in the town.  Conversational because they said things without regard to the actual implications of their words, like reading their grocery list to a friend.  It was so ingrained that they did not know better.
  • Nor was racism strictly a southern thing.  I’ve been to south Boston.  It’s there, too.

I have lived in the south for almost all of my life, and seeing that a university newspaper editor was forced out of school because of his support for integration is one of those embarrassing little curios from the past.  Like the dotty old aunt that everybody knows about, but quietly protects because of what she is.  It is just as well that she stays home.

I count myself fortunate that I grew up in a household that did not think the way that a lot of our neighbors thought.  I remember riding with my family when we passed a bus that was stalled alongside the highway.  It was probably a church outing, and colored people stood around outside the broken-down bus.  I asked about the situation, and my father replied that “Sometimes colored people get inferior treatment”.  My feeling then is the same as it is today, that there was something wrong with that.

Yet, my family was also quiet about our opinions in the interest of avoiding problems; the O’Connors saved their outspokenness for other issues.  But if people like Bill Shipp had not stood their ground and stated their mind, we would still have a government that systematically denies the rights of a portion of its citizenry.

So, although I don’t know Bill Shipp very well, I am glad to know him at all.  We are all fortunate for that.

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