Carter speech haunts Obama appearance at university.
Notre Dame. May, 1977.
It was here that Jimmy Carter put his presidency on the path of losing one to the Gipper.
In the midst of the controversy over the decision by Notre Dame to invite President Obama to deliver the school’s commencement address, it’s worth a look back at a similar Notre Dame appearance by an earlier and politically like-minded predecessor. Today the controversy about the school’s invitation to Obama revolves around Obama’s pro-abortion politics and the appropriateness of being honored by the famously Catholic, which is to say pro-life, university. In Carter’s case, the controversy arose not ahead of time but as a result of his remarks, and the subject of controversy had nothing to do with abortion, which Carter never mentioned.
In May of 1977, Carter was just over four months into his presidency. He was very much the popular new president. His initial popularity still holds the record for newly installed presidents, with Gallup scoring him at an impressive 71%. In comparison, President Obama at a similar point scored a 68%. Thus the controversy Carter stirred by his Notre Dame commencement address was notable, since in retrospect it put Carter on a glide path to one of the most unsuccessful presidencies in modern times, ending in his landslide defeat by Ronald Reagan four years later. (Ironically, Reagan won his nickname “The Gipper” with his film portrayal of dying Notre Dame football star George Gipp.)
Perhaps more importantly than Carter’s personal political fate the speech signaled his decision to abandon his party’s identification with the policies of military strength and American exceptionalism championed by Democrats from FDR to JFK and LBJ. Instead, Carter chose to move the country towards the more left-leaning foreign and defense policies advocated by 1972 nominee Senator George McGovern. The results were decidedly not approved of by the American public. On the day of Carter’s departure from the White House Gallup recorded his popularity had nose-dived to 34%, putting him just ahead of predecessor Harry Truman at the low-point of the Korean War (32%) and a mere ten points higher than the resigned Richard Nixon, at 24%. By contrast, even the unpopular LBJ had left with a 49% rating, and Gerald Ford, the incumbent Carter had defeated, departed with a 53% approval number.
So what did Carter say at Notre Dame, where he was invited by the university’s president, the Reverend Theodore Hesburgh? What signal did he send that wound up getting him, the country and the entire world in such trouble over the next four years and well beyond that? More to the point, how does it compare with the direction already being signaled by President Obama as he approaches his own already controversial appearance at Notre Dame?
The most notable single sentence in Carter’s Notre Dame speech was this one:
We are now free of that inordinate fear of Communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in our fear.
Carter went on to insist that it was time to govern with a “wider framework of international cooperation” because “the world today is in the midst of the most profound and rapid transformation in its entire history.”
He also added this about the American approach to the Soviet Union in the Carter era: “Our goal is to be fair to both sides, to produce reciprocal stability, parity, and security.” In other words, in Carter’s view, a view widely held among leftward-leaning elites, both the United States and the Soviet Union had genuinely competing claims. They were morally equal to each other.
The speech was the lead story in the news the next day. By the time Carter left the White House after four years of promoting moral equivalence, the world was in murderous chaos. The unintended consequences of Carter’s policies as enunciated at Notre Dame were both considerable and long lasting. Some would argue they are reverberating right up until today. The Soviets, seeing Carter as weak, invaded Afghanistan, with Carter famously “shocked” that he had been lied to over the issue by then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The Soviet invasion in turn drew into Muslim-dominated Afghanistan a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden determined to fight a jihad against non-Muslims. There Bin Laden met a number of similarly enraged young Islamicists from throughout the Middle East, all determined to conduct a jihad against the invaders. As noted in Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning book The Looming Tower, this is where the stirrings began that eventually produced the Taliban and a group called al Qaeda, with bin Laden himself headquartering in Afghanistan. In Nicaragua the Communist Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship on Carter’s watch and promptly imposed their own, giving both Cuban and Soviet “advisors” a free hand to use the country as a staging ground for violence in Central America that would last a decade. In Iran, the Shah was overturned by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, turning a one-time American ally into the implacable foe now calling itself the Islamic Republic of Iran. Carter, abandoning the Shah, stretched his hand out to Khomeini at first, viewing him as a fellow man of faith rather than the world’s first prominent Islamic terrorist. Said Carter’s U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young: “Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint.”
If this approach of Carter’s sounds vaguely familiar these days, it should. Carter’s words at Notre Dame bear a striking resemblance to the substance if not the actual words of President Obama.
Here’s Carter, at Notre Dame, insisting America had abandoned its values in our foreign policy under his predecessors (Ford, Nixon and LBJ) and that he would restore them
For too many years, we’ve been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our own values for theirs. We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is better quenched with water.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online