Barack Obama (6) v. Jimmy Carter (11)
Another matchup of deeply flawed presidents presents itself here between two Democrats, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Carter is widely regarded as one of the very worst presidents of all time, but Barack Obama despite and perhaps because of the refraction caused by a lack of historical perspective, is regarded by at least 51% of the population as a pretty good president. The rest of America, not so much.
Jimmy Carter, a lowly 11 seed in our tournament, is most known for writing thousands of useless cookbooks and self-help guides once he left office in shame after one term in 1981. During his presidency, he is most known for his platform for human rights. Largely, this was an accident of circumstance stemming from his campaign which polled well when he was seeking the Democratic nomination and needed to woo disparate parts of the Democratic Party to unify behind him.
Though human rights have become his central focus since his presidency and helped to get him elected over a Republican that was hampered by the lasting bitterness of Nixon’s presidency, this was the central cause of many of the diplomatic troubles that Carter embroiled himself in. He, like many leftists in the latter part of the 20th century seemed to selectively denounce offenders and embraced human rights violators that he identified with politically (Yugoslavia, U.S.S.R., Soviet-controlled Poland and Iran).
Another cause of Carter’s deeply troubled presidency was Carter’s naivety and spineless capitulations to the Soviets and the Iranians. Just before the Iranian Revolution, Carter famously quipped that Iran was an “island of stability.” He fully embodied the leftist foreign policy views of the late 1900’s. Carter fundamentally misunderstood the threat that Communism posed. While his successor confronted and destroyed the Soviet Union, Carter said once that “We are now free of…inordinate fear of communism” and as president he sought reconciliation with our mortal enemies (human rights violators of the highest order) around the world, with predictable results. Anti-Americanism reached its zenith at this time, and the emboldened Soviets invaded Afghanistan, which led Carter to buffoonishly boycott the Moscow games. He then ceremoniously gave the Panama Canal in theory back to Panama (but it’s now run by the Chinese).
His was a bumbling and ineffectual presidency in regard to foreign policy, but worse in public relations and economic policy. He exacerbated the recession and stagflation (that to some extent he inherited) through price controls, deficit spending and poor leadership. He also created two ineffectual and wasteful cabinet level positions in the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. The deleterious economic reverberations of Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act are still being felt even today. Carter’s “economic malaise” speech, ill-advised attempts to get Americans to wear sweaters instead of using heat, gas rationing and his carefully scripted but misappropriated actions designed to shape his reputation reflected a narcissism and tone-deafness that has been unmatched until they have been surpassed by his opponent today, Barack Obama.
Carter’s term saw the unprecedented decline in American and presidential prestige and influence, some of which has persisted to present. His approval rating went from 66% to 34% by the time he left office. The one great success of Carter’s term were the Camp David Accords, brokering a peace between Egypt and Israel that has lasted to present.
The continual and successive barrage of self-inflicted or inherited-but-exacerbated crises that marked Carter’s one term presidency have been extended to two terms by Barack Obama. A blank slate akin to Zachary Taylor when he was elected, Barack Obama represented a great new hope to many Americans, especially as America’s first half-Black president. A master campaigner, Obama took advantage of the propensity of voters to read into him the best qualities that they could dream up, and coupled that with carefully scripted campaigning against a virulently unpopular former President in George W. Bush. Still, candidate Obama (the closest thing to a European-style socialist that America has ever elected) needed to be buoyed by a perfect storm of economic crises in order to win his first term, and required a weak Republican Party for his second.
Obama’s presidency has been marked by divisiveness and vitriol, but the president commands a devout following of roughly half of the country. The president has worked to enflame racial tensions and ran a campaign for re-election based on populist memes of class warfare which have deepened not only the hatred between his party-faithful and Republicans, but of almost everyone in America. His relentless campaigning has not effectively used the bully pulpit of the presidency but he has divided the country in his pursuit to reshape an entire system of government.
Obama inherited a deep recession, but probably not much worse of a downturn than Reagan inherited in 1981. Obama and his party held a filibuster-proof majority in both houses of Congress for the first two years of his term and implemented the two major hallmarks of his Administration, by which his whole presidency should be judged. The first was Obama’s strategy for dealing with the recession. This included a multi-trillion dollar series of stimuli that were passed in early 2009 and which have been unmitigated disasters, essentially frittering away more money in inflation-adjusted dollars than presidents did on WWI, WWII, the Marshall Plan and NASA’s Moon Landing Project (combined), according to Mark Levin. Obama and his party have increased the deficit more in 4 years than the previous president did in 8, and have unflinchingly increased the annual deficit from a couple hundred billion dollars to 1.4 trillion dollars.
The president’s un-remorseful refusal to cut spending, his repeated tax increases and lack of leadership have in no small part contributed to an economy after four years that remains stagnant at best, and created a debt crisis that has paralyzed America and weakened our standing in the world. All the while, Obama has refused to take responsibility for a single thing his administration has done, while it is he who has the ignoble distinction of being the first president not to present and pass a budget through the Congress. His actions throughout his terms have disregarded wholly his obligation to uphold the Constitution he swore an oath to uphold. While the president would call his Affordable Care Act the second great success of his administration (that is if even he has the gall to call the stimulus a success), the law, narrowly upheld by a divided Supreme Court, is an assault on the system of Federalism and according to the Government Accountability Office adds $6.2 trillion to the long term deficit. The bill is not just deeply flawed, but represents a threat to America’s economy, its way of life and its freedoms, so the long term effects of what has now come to be known as Obamacare are very grave.
The President has overseen the continued and planned draw down of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the killing of Osama Bin Laden by Seal Team 6, which are foreign policy victories, but the same bumbling that marked the Carter Administration is a hallmark of the Obama Administration. He has busied himself by granting rights to terrorists internationally that they do not have and taking away the rights of Americans domestically. Administration has made grave mistakes in Egypt, Libya and Iran and for an Administration that promised to fix everything that was apparently wrong with his predecessor’s foreign policy, Obama’s presidency has been marked by hypocrisy, missteps and broken promises, and anti-Americanism is as prevalent as ever. A Gallup poll of 130 countries at the start of Obama’s second term found that approval of American leadership tumbled from 49% to 41% in just four years.
Obama is a talented campaigner, but this has resulted in a presidency wrought with problems at a governance level. Obama’s lack of experience in governing is perhaps the problem, but the mean-spirited and petty political repartee that he personally has engaged in throughout his presidency has effected his leadership and the prestige of the office. Continual crises that Obama has used to fuel his political agendas, are both manufactured and fanned into flame to the detriment of the country. After taking office with overwhelming support in the 75% range, his approval numbers have dropped precipitously, though he can usually maintain a 45-50% approval rating as a result of his loyal supporters. While Carter made the optical error of wearing sweaters on T.V., Obama has gone on hundreds of tax-funded golf outings during what has now become the deepest downturn in the economy since 1929. The
The difference in a matchup of two very similar presidents like Obama and Carter is the fact that Carter only had one term, so his impact is not as lasting. Obama’s presidency and its impact, if he is successful in implementing his agenda, is a long term threat to the Republic. Carter wins but narrowly in a matchup of missteps, blown plays and a truly ugly political play.
Calvin Coolidge (7) v. William Harrison (10)
William Harrison’s presidency was one month long, so his nearly two hour inaugural address is the highlight of his presidency. In it, he said: “We have learned, too, from our own as well as the experience of other countries, that golden shackles, by whomsoever or by whatever pretense imposed, are as fatal to [liberty] as the iron bonds of despotism.” Boy, that sounds great. Too bad we’ll never know if he would have governed that way, and as we know, if we judged presidents based on what they said, Obama would have been an Elite Eight president.
Coolidge’s 8 year term from 1923 to 1929 where he presided over unprecedented economic prosperity and reforms would be a formidable foe anyway, but Harrison forfeits on account of failure to finish. Cool Cal advances, and presents a challenge to his next round foe.