Is Obama the next Carter? McCain seems to think so

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain on the campaign trail.
John Gress/REUTERS/Lee Celano
Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain on the campaign trail.

Yes, the two likely presidential candidates had tried out a few lines of attack before Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton formally left the race on Saturday. But this week the Obama-McCain presidential battle was joined in earnest, with Sen. Barack Obama launching a two-week cross-country campaign trip by issuing economic salvos against Sen. John McCain. In doing so he compared McCain to President Bush — and the Republican candidate responded late Monday by floating a comparison of his own, likening Obama to former President Jimmy Carter.

Obama also named Jason Furman, a close associate of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, as his economic policy director, Bloomberg.com reported.

“Furman, 37, most recently worked as an economist and budget expert at the Brookings Institution, where he headed the Hamilton Project, an economic policy research group,” Bloomberg said.

“Furman’s appointment allies Obama’s campaign with leading economic centrists in the Democratic Party; foremost among them is Rubin, 69, who helped found the Hamilton Project in 2006 and is on the group’s advisory council.”

But back to Monday’s economic point/counterpoint. “On the first day of what is to be a two-week economic tour around the country,” CNNMoney.com’s Jeanne Sahadi wrote, “Barack Obama said Monday that lawmakers should inject another $50 billion immediately into the sluggish U.S. economy. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee cited the largest monthly increase in the unemployment rate in over 20 years, and record highs in oil prices, food prices and foreclosures.

” ‘Such relief can’t wait until the next president takes office. … That’s why I’ve called for another round of fiscal stimulus, an immediate $50 billion to help those who’ve been hit hardest by this economic downturn,’ Obama told a crowd in Raleigh, N.C. He said that he supports the expansion and extension of unemployment benefits, as well as a second round of tax rebate checks.”

The Bush connection
He also linked McCain to President Bush. Bloomberg quoted Obama as saying, “John McCain and I have a fundamentally different vision of where to take the country. For all his talk of independence, the centerpiece of his economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George Bush’s policies.”

That can’t have pleased McCain, who took pains last Friday to put some distance between himself and the president, the Christian Science Monitor reported. “McCain’s glum take on the economy — he lost the Michigan primary after telling voters there that some jobs weren’t coming back — has given way to more upbeat talk about the prospects for a turnaround,” the Monitor said. ” ‘The American people cannot afford more inaction from Washington,’ he said in a statement Friday.”

On Monday, however, he simply changed the subject. Bret Hovell wrote on the ABC News blog Political Radar, “Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opened up a new line of attack on presidential rival Barack Obama Monday night — tying the Illinois Democrat to former President Jimmy Carter, a one term president who battled low approval ratings.

The Carter connection

” ‘Senator Obama says that I’m running for [President George W.] Bush’s third term,’ McCain told NBC News’s Brian Williams, alluding to a line of attack that Democrats have launched against the Arizona Republican. ‘It seems like Barack Obama is running for Jimmy Carter’s second.’ “

Hovell commented: “The idea that Obama is similar to Carter is one that has been percolating in conservative circles for a few weeks. And earlier Monday at a fundraiser in Richmond, Va., McCain backer Lawrence Eagleburger brought it to the Senator’s attention by directly suggesting he make that comparison.

” ‘I do have a suggestion,’ the former Secretary of State said to a room full of McCain donors. ‘It occurs to me that the Democratic candidate does remind me a great deal of Jimmy Carter. And perhaps we should make that identification stick.’ McCain, it seems, agreed. When asked in the NBC News interview why he made the comparison, McCain criticized Obama’s economic plan as being like the former President’s.”

While that might resonate with those old enough to remember high inflation and gas prices three decades ago, it would seem to be lost on quite a few Obama-leaning voters. That thought occurred to Jonathan Martin of Politico.com as well, though he saw the kind of reasoning that may have led to the Carter line.

Not many Democratic bogeymen

“There are good reasons to tie Obama to Carter,” Martin wrote, noting that there aren’t all that many “convenient and resonant Democratic bogeymen” these days and that Carter’s administration “is recalled by conservatives (and others) as one marked by high gas prices, weak national security and a perception of favoring Arabs over Israelis. Not a bad combination given McCain’s message against Obama.”

Finally, Martin wrote, “it gives McCain something snappy to say in response to the equally snappy Bush-third-term attack. That said, there are millions of voters who either weren’t born or who are too young to remember a thing about the Carter presidency besides something about a killer rabbit and Billy beer.” 

If you want to get beyond the snapping and snapping back, Obama’s and McCain’s websites lay out bullet points of their economic plans, which do differ significantly. The Christian Science Monitor offers a shortcut comparison:

“The candidates offer sharply different plans for the economy. Senator McCain wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, lower corporate tax rates, and double the personal exemption for dependents to $7,000 — a particular boon for larger families. He is a proponent of free trade, backs a hiatus in the federal gasoline tax, and opposes farm subsidies. To fix Social Security, he has said he’d rather cut benefits than raise taxes. His healthcare plan uses market incentives to cut costs and tax credits to help families afford coverage.

“Obama would keep the Bush tax cuts for everyone except those with incomes above $200,000. He would cut taxes for lower-income workers and the elderly and impose higher payroll taxes on wealthier Americans to shore up Social Security. He wants to tie trade to overseas labor and environmental standards, opposes a gas tax holiday, and backed the recent farm bill. His healthcare plan mandates coverage for children, offers subsidies to lower-income Americans, and requires employers who don’t offer coverage to contribute to a public health plan.”

The Monitor added that at this point, “Economists say that neither candidate has explained in enough detail how they would fund their proposals.”

Susan Albright, a MinnPost managing editor, writes about national and foreign developments. She can be reached at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 06/11/2008 - 04:24 pm.

    Karl is right. Furthermore, the disastrous economy was inherited from previous administrations – years of inflation caused by the Vietnam War. Remember Pres. Ford’s “Win Against Inflation” buttons and wage and price freeze? But poor Carter takes all the flak.

    I am proud of his unwillingness to sacrifice the 52 hostages’ lives. Sure, he could have attacked Iran. Our hostages and many others would have been incinerated, but we would have looked tough. He arranged their release and Reagan took the credit.

    When Obama is compared to Carter, he should smile serenely and say, “A fine, moral man who crafted the Camp David Accords.” No defense is necessary.

  2. Submitted by Chris Friedlieb on 06/11/2008 - 04:34 pm.

    I agree with the first comment. Jimmy Carter was/is the only president we’ve had that didn’t make me nauseous to one degree or another. Basically, he inherited a country that was at its most liberal swing, he didn’t make the oil crisis happen, and that was our opportunity to take positive steps to change our lifestyle to encompass a cleaner environment. American car makers WERE starting to make energy efficient cars because of Carter’s actions. Yes, they were crap, but by now, we would have had it figured out! Reagan came along and played on America’s desire to ‘have it all right now’, and that, my friends, was the end of our chance for change. It’s funny how people line up to spend money on war, even a discredited one, but for Real Change, no way. Which reminds me, I keep hearing people complain about ‘tax and spend’ Democrats… wouldn’t that be smarter than ‘charge it to the grandchildren’ Republicans?

  3. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 06/11/2008 - 03:41 pm.

    You could do a lot worse than use Jimmy Carter as a model with regard to energy policy. If the energy policy Carter put forth in 1977 had been adopted by this country then, we wouldn’t be in the energy mess we’re in today. Indeed, with some modifications, Obama could dust it off and use it as a starting point for his own. Now, like then, it will require some sacrifice on the part of most Americans to achieve energy independence. But isn’t that better than the sacrifice of tens–or hundreds–of thousands of lives for foreign oil as we’ve done under Bush-Cheney-Coleman?

  4. Submitted by Matty Lang on 06/12/2008 - 08:59 am.

    Jimmy Carter is my favorite and one of the best Presidents this country ever had.

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