Boston Globe Ideas



November 14, 2010

By James Verini

Months before Election Day, the name of Jimmy Carter had assumed an incantatory power among observers of politics. President Obama’s supporters began to fret that his presidency was declining as Carter’s did, while his opponents salivated at the prospect, as though the more the 39th president was mentioned, the worse the chances of the 44th. In addition to columnists and bloggers, historians Walter Russell Mead and Sean Wilentz have written on the comparison, while Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, has worried over it. Carter himself recently discussed it with Larry King.

Is Obama the next Carter? Leaving aside for the moment the facility and myopia of this analogy — we’ve had 17 one-term presidents — its details are off. Obama and Carter are both Democrats, true, both are intellectuals who came into office on a wave of discontent, and both promised new approaches to government and the world. What candidates don’t? Obama seems to like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even less than Carter liked Menachim Begin, and Carter faced a crisis in Iran, a new eruption of terrorist threats, and economic woes, though all of very different sorts than those facing Obama. See Full Story