Joe Biden is no Jimmy Carter
“The worst president since Jimmy Carter.”
You see a lot of that sort of thing if you regularly read conservative commentary, as I do. But as a conservative writer, I think it’s unfair to the 39th president. I think it’s time to say some good words for Carter. And if some of his accomplishments provide stark contrasts with his only-18-years-younger successor President Joe Biden, well, draw your own conclusions.
I start off by noting that Carter came to the presidency with almost no relevant experience. For the voters of the mid-1970s, that was a feature, not a bug.
Two of the most experienced men to become president — Lyndon Johnson, with a quarter-century in Congress, and Richard Nixon, a nationally prominent politician for 21 years — had, in voters’ opinions, forfeited their trust in Vietnam and Watergate.
Their successor, Gerald Ford, with his own 25 years in Congress, nearly lost the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan — an eight-year governor of California who glided over his years of reading and writing about national policy. He then lost the presidency to a former one-term governor of Georgia who stumped for Democratic candidates in what turned out to be the very Democratic off year of 1974.
What Carter brought to the White House was a willingness to adjust to events and change his views. A product of segregationist southern Georgia, he installed a portrait of Martin Luther King in the Georgia Capitol, leaving segregation behind and endorsing the civil rights revolution.
As a presidential candidate, he took on George Wallace, who was previously unbeatable in the South, and beat him 34 percent to 31 percent in Florida. There’s a lesson there perhaps for Republicans who would like to be president but are hesitating to take on Donald Trump.
On domestic policy, unlike Biden, who already had four years’ Senate seniority when he took the oath of office, Carter refused to endorse his party’s leftmost positions. He signed the tax bill that included former Wisconsin Republican Rep. William Steiger’s cut in the capital gains tax from 49 percent to 25 percent — a growth stimulator in the decades ahead.
Just as important, he supported deregulation, with some considerable support from Ralph Nader and Ted Kennedy. Carter appointee Alfred Kahn pushed through airline deregulation, which transformed flying from luxury transportation to a way for the masses to vacation and stay in touch with far-flung family and friends.
Carter supported the Staggers Act, passed by a solidly Democratic Congress in 1980, which deregulated railroad rates. He backed trucking deregulation as well. Most Americans today don’t realize it, but Carter-era deregulations squeezed enormous costs from the prices of goods of just about every kind. It’s the main reason prices for private sector products such as food and clothing have fallen in real terms over the last 40 years, while prices for public sector-affected things such as health care and higher education have soared.
The contrast is stark between Carter, who became president with minimal relevant experience, and Biden, who had 44 years in the Senate and as vice president. Carter pushed innovative policies with bipartisan support. Biden hasn’t. Carter learned on the job and changed policies in response to events. From Biden, we’ve seen nothing so far but stubborn persistence.
Carter has been a former president for 40 years — the longest in history — constructive in charitable work though not, in my view, in foreign policy interventions. He is the only president to have reached the age of 96, and on Oct. 1, he turns 97. Happy birthday, Mr. President.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst
for the Washington Examiner.