The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Jimmy Carter’


The year was 1976,  two hundred years after the founding of the country.  And as we did every four years, we had an election in which we chose the new head of the executive branch, the President of the United States.

In the past we had selected quite a few from Ohio, but Massachusetts and New York had seen some representation as had, of course, Virginia and other states as well.  They had been lawyers, and educators and businessmen, those whom the country tapped on the shoulder and said, “Please serve and lead the way.”

But this year it was different.  We hired a former peanut farmer from the state of Georgia for the job – a man by the name of James Earl Carter, Jr. to serve as our 39th president.

Well, the new president’s background brought a lot of laughs in our big cities.  And his brother Billy, a notorious alcoholic and family “black sheep” brought a lot of laughs in the taverns throughout the country with his antics and attempt to introduce his very own brew, “Billy Beer” into the beverage aisles of our supermarkets.  And laughing was okay.  We needed a few chuckles to keep our minds off all the problems we had to face.

In our heart of hearts we knew that Gerald Ford should have been elected president but for the fact that the country was in an unforgiving mood.  A lot of us were still mad at him for pardoning former President Nixon.  Heck, that pardon downright smacked of politics and a lot of us were offended at that.

Well, those of us who believed that Jimmy Carter’s election would prove to be a national disaster were at least proven to be moderately correct.  Of course, he had a lot of issues to deal with which, in fairness, he had inherited from previous administrations.  But the Annapolis grad tried to take ownership of those and work us through them.

Some will say he didn’t do a great job of it.  In fact, there was no absence of criticism from the press in those days, critiquing and systematically reporting on his failures.  It must be tough waking up in the morning, knowing that a few hundred papers across the country are politely calling you a jerk.

President Carter was, in my mind, doomed to failure with his policies.  Of course, I bring a bit of prejudice to the table and will freely admit it when I tell you that I hadn’t voted for him.  Just so you know.

But, as much as I was sure he was heading us down the wrong path, I never questioned the integrity that he showed while in office – or for that matter in the many years in which he has been absent from it.  You see, even though we disagree with someone else’s vision, it’s at least comforting to know that they sincerely believe in it.  And that gives us hope that maybe our analysis will be disproven and in the end it turns out that they were actually more far-sighted than we were.

I know that a lot of people mocked President Carter when he was asked whether his Christian values had ever been compromised by a sexual liaison with a woman other than Rosalynn his wife.  His answer that he had, “Lust in his heart many times,” brought on a bunch of sniggering at the singles bars and in the corporate lunch rooms.  But the way I looked at it, I thought it was refreshing that he had the honesty to admit it.  Not all men at that time or later would prove to be so candid.

Pretty much as many of us had expected, President Carter’s policies, however well-intentioned, didn’t extricate us from our problems of a bad economy and high inflation.  His efforts to find a true and lasting peace in the Middle East which he tried to hammer together in the Camp David accords didn’t quell the violence and bloodshed and hatred.

But probably the thing that sealed his fate as a one term president was his taking ownership of the Iran hostage crisis.  After negotiations with the Islamic terrorists who had captured our embassy and personnel in Tehran had failed, he ordered that a rescue attempt be made to free them.  This resulted in the deaths of eight American servicemen.  It would take well over a year before the hostage members of our diplomatic corps in Iran were returned to American soil.  Well, at least they all came home alive.

It’s probably fair to say that President Carter would be better remembered and perhaps thought of if his successor, Ronald Reagan hadn’t been so darned successful in repairing the damage to the economy and American spirit that he had inherited from his predecessor.  The eight years of the Reagan presidency helped get America back on its feet and we all breathed a sigh of relief that we were finally, once again, headed forward.

But in deference to our 39th president, I still hold the opinion that he was an honest man.  During his term in office I never doubted that he acted out of sincere belief and not merely to gain some political advantage.  I guess that’s what people used to call “good character”.  I still believe that about him.

Perhaps there is too much news, too much violence, too much posturing, too much Kim Kardashian and those of her ilk that occupy our thoughts these days for us to pay much attention to a former president – or at least this former president.

So it may be understandable why, when former President Carter made a statement the other day that has profound implications, not one single American newspaper reported it.  Not one.

Or maybe there’s another reason that the only newspaper which dared to think it relevant was of foreign origin:

“The United States no longer has a functioning democracy.”

– Former President Jimmy Carter (quoted in “Der Spiegel”)


First we had nature – she gave us cowslips;

Then we had President Obama’s election – he gave us pink slips;

And now the President has created his very own special brand of gaffes which I have named in his honor, Obamaslips.

“You didn’t build that,” has now become a household phrase in the vocabulary of everyone who believes the President’s greatest achievement after nearly four years in office has been to make former President Jimmy Carter look good.

But let’s take the man at his word (great leap of faith required here) and say that this comment was taken completely out of context.  I can almost buy into that since I’ve been listening to the President’s attack ads and I believe his staff has mastered this technique and knows what “out of context” is all about.

Okay, what the President was really saying was, “Small business people didn’t build the infrastructure which enables them to engage in their livelihoods.”  By the way, it also enables all the rest of us who expect to see water when we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet; expect that when we drive we are going to be able to cross bridges that are safe and roads that don’t have pot holes; and when we flip on the magic light switch, we expect to find our rooms and our lives lighting up.  We didn’t build those either.

Well, by building the infrastructure I mean we didn’t (or most of us didn’t) go out and pick up an axe or a shovel and start the process that once represented the greatest achievement seen on earth since the Romans.  No, we didn’t physically build it – but we paid for it to be built.  That is true of the person who works for someone as well as for the owner of a small business.

When I bought the house in Las Vegas in 2001 it came with a separate special present.  That was a bill for the infrastructure that had to be built as the city spread out further and further from the Strip.  The City advanced the money in order for this to be completed.  But the ultimate cost of funding it was borne by the individual homeowner or rental apartment building or the person who took the chance to construct a small shopping mall so that your favorite fast food restaurant was only a short drive away.

As I recall, this originally amounted to about $8,000 for my house, but I don’t know the exact number as I wasn’t the original owner.  By the time I inherited this bill it was down to a little over $6,000 – and while the City had floated a revenue bond and was paying interest of 4.5%, the homeowner was being charged 8% on the outstanding balance.  (It’s kind of like big bank borrowing/lending – but not as profitable).

Well I paid off the balance since it was hard to get a guaranteed return of 8%, but I always wondered, how much competitive bidding went into this infrastructure build out?  After all, if you’re going to pass the costs along to a third party who has no say in the matter, does it really concern you whether you’re getting the best workmanship at the best price since someone else is paying for it?  But that’s a conversation for another time.

Let’s get back to the fantastic highway system that President Eisenhower constructed, connecting us from east to west and north to south.  This was a project that was admittedly undertaken by the Federal government and not by small businessmen (or any of the rest of us).  It was one of the great American achievements of the 20th century.  But where did the money for this project come from – and how was it paid for?

Well, the part of the equation that President Obama doesn’t understand and I suspect never will is that the American taxpayer may not have been out digging ditches or operating heavy equipment to move boulders and mountains, but we, each of us paid for it with our tax dollars.  And more than anyone, small businesses contributed the most to this enterprise.

The decades of the 1950’s through the 1980’s saw an explosion in the number of small mom and pop, entrepreneurial business come into being.  They couldn’t have existed before the interstate highway system was developed.  But they could exist and thrive once that system was in place.

As they grew, they paid more and more taxes because they earned more and more income.  And their numbers grew and they hired more people to work in their roadside fruit and vegetable stand or at the little gas station that they had opened.  And the economy exploded into one of the greatest periods of prosperity in the history of our country.

That highway system paid great dividends – and people realized the benefit that they had received and were happy to pay taxes for something which had given them an opportunity for a new and better way of life.  Respect for those in Washington was probably at the highest level since George Washington was in office.

Today we find ourselves with a group of political Aristocrats who exhibit, with few exceptions, none of the greatness and little of the pride that was widespread and commonplace among our legislators and presidents of fifty years ago.  We find small-minded people, bickering over who is most deserving of the best and biggest piece of meat to be carved from the still barely breathing wounded animal.  So absorbed in their petty fighting, they do not see that the buzzards are circling overhead what soon will be merely a carcass.  And the buzzards will strip it to the bone.

I guess what President Obama said is in fact true – “We didn’t build that.”  But if we continue to elect men and women to public office with miniscule mindsets and self-serving petty agendas, “We will all pay for it.”  And the price will be dear.

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