Who on Aug. 18, 2010 - almost one year ago - said, “I now think it is clear even to official Washington that President Obama is the worst president of modern times. President Jimmy Carter is redeemed”? Yes, it was I, and I threw the entire weight of the American Spectator behind that asseveration, putting both Jimmy and Barry on the cover.
Now, of course, others are stepping forward and drawing the awkward comparison. On the left, there is Maureen Dowd in the New York Times quoting an anonymous Democratic senator who laments that “we are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes.” Apparently the same comparison has been made by the left-wing fussbudget Eric Alterman in U.S. News & World Report. Yet I went further, making the point that between Barry and Jimmy, Barry is worse. Consider the prophet’s performance on the tube during this financial crisis. He is actually calling for more spending, and the markets continue to tumble. His fabled cool is exposed. It is obliviousness.
Columnists William McGurn and Bret Stephens made similar comparisons on the same day, Monday, and in the same newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Stephens is bold: “I just think the president is not very bright.” He quotes Socrates, Aristotle and Plutarch, respectively, on wisdom, prudence and the costs of flattery. Mr. McGurn has an eye to history. He reminds us of the extravagant statements made about Mr. Carter’s genius more than 30 years ago by New York Times columnists Tom Wicker, Anthony Lewis and R.W. Apple and the author Norman Mailer in the New York Times Magazine. It really is astonishing how these oafs fell for a liberal Democrat’s claim to high intelligence even as they dismissed a conservative Republican as simple-minded while he ended the Cold War and set the American economy on course for the longest period of growth in modern history. I have in mind Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Stephens quotes President Obama as saying to an aide in 2008, “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m … a better political director than my political director.” Mr. Stephens excuses Mr. Obama’s vanity as but an echo of the balderdash said about him by his admirers. I know what he means. There is the “presidential historian” Michael Beschloss telling radio host Don Imus that Mr. Obama “is a guy whose IQ is off the charts. …” Asked for evidence, Mr. Beschloss confides that “he’s probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” And, of course, a media “presidential historian” would know.
My favorite panegyric to Mr. Obama comes from New York Times columnist David Brooks, recalling his first interview with then-Sen. Obama. “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging,” Mr. Brooks says, “but usually when I talk to senators, while they may know a policy area better than me, they generally don’t know political philosophy better than me. I got the sense that he knew both better than me.” Mr. Brooks went on to make this invaluable observation: “I remember distinctly an image - we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, (a) he’s going to be president and (b) he’ll be a very good president.” What would this precious Washington insider have reported if Sen. Obama had been wearing pantyhose?
For more than 30 years, a wounded Jimmy Carter has roamed the world speaking ill of whomever the sitting president might be and occasionally making it difficult for that president to make policy. Mr. Obama already has surpassed him, speaking ill of America as a whole while being president. In Strasbourg, France, on April 3, 2009, he said, “Instead of celebrating our dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” What he will do in retirement one can only imagine. But until his retirement, enjoy the show.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).