You Can't Compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter

Comparing Obama and Carter is like comparing apples and oranges.

By + More

President Obama's poll number dropped below that of Jimmy Carter's! Lowest poll numbers of a president in U.S. history!

Those were the kind of the headlines I awoke to this Wednesday morning. The problem is, they're misleading. And the constant comparison between President Obama and President Jimmy Carter—the hope of those on the right expecting to see a déjà vu moment in the president's bid for re-election—they are most likely going to be disappointed; because the comparisons are not only unfair, they're not factual.

[Read Washington Whispers: Obama's Job Approval Drops Below Carter's]

1) President Obama's approval rating dropped lower than that of Jimmy Carter

Yes, one day, the president's approval rating dropped below that of Jimmy Carter; but it has happened before. And although his approval ratings are below what other president's had at this particular time in their presidencies, it's not the lowest approval rating of all time, and he is certainly not the "worst president in U.S. history" as many in the media would have you believe. At this point in his presidency, yes, he has the  lowest rating on record currently; but we're a year from the election and that is a lifetime in politics. So let's sort fact from fiction shall we? Throughout their entire presidencies, that is four years, not three (our president has one more year to the term he was elected to by the American people, let's not forget), the lowest approval ratings experienced by some were 24 percent for President Nixon as a result of Watergate, 35 percent for President Johnson as a result of Vietnam, 29 percent for President George W. Bush, 23 percent for Presidents Truman, and Carter—who this week, the president has a lower approval rating than?—28 percent.  So let's remember, that although Jimmy Carter had an approval rating higher than President Obama on day 1041, higher than 43 percent, it sunk to 28 percent a year later.  So unless the president's approval rating drops 16 percent in the next year, the comparisons can stop there. And as for the accusations that he is the worst president?  On April 22, 2008, it was reported that President George W. Bush had the highest job disapproval rating in American presidential history: 69 percent.

[Read a U.S. News interview with Jimmy Carter.]

2) There was a hostage crisis in Iran during Carter's administration and we had another hostage crisis during Obama's presidency as of late

These are two very different situations. The storming of the British Embassy by students, although it might remind us of the Iran hostage crisis during the Carter administration, is vastly different. First, it is unclear if those at the embassy were actually taken hostage or could not escape due to the throngs of protesters who stormed the British embassy. Second, all of those in the embassy remain unscathed and have been flown to Dubai for their safety and now the British have closed their embassy in Tehran; all within 48 hours of the occurrence. Compare that with the hostage crisis that had 52 Americans held for 444 days which ended when the Algiers Accords were signed on January 19, 1981. What took place in '81 was due to a diplomatic crisis and there was a revolution taking place in Iran at the time; that is not the case now in Iran. Also, the protesters then were burning American flags and hated the United States. The images we see of flags being burned this week were flags of Britain, and some responsible stated they were driven by their hatred of Britain, not the United States.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Iran.]

3) Recession and bad economy during the Carter administration; Recession and bad economy during the Obama administration

Although both presidents presided over high unemployment rates, President Carter's America saw double digit inflation, a fuel shortage and although President Carter reduced unemployment and the deficit, we remained in a recession. Under President Obama, unemployment has reduced a tad, but our inflation rate is practically at zero and we are no longer in a recession. Although we have high fuel prices, we do not have a fuel shortage; rather a global financial crisis. The two are vastly different.

[See a slide show of 5 bright spots in the U.S. economy.]

So when we look at the comparisons and contrasts of the two presidents, and of course the fact that when a president had an approval rating below 48 percent they were unable to win re-election (Carter for the Dems, George H.W. Bush for the GOP as examples), yes this re-election bid for President Obama is an uphill battle; but the fat lady hasn't sung yet. Remember, no Democrat is challenging Mr. Obama for his place on the platform as late Sen. Ted Kennedy did during the Carter bid for re-election. And although there are numerous Republican candidates, former Gov. Mitt Romney doesn't appeal to the right wing Christian conservatives and the rest of those campaigning (former Speaker Gingrich, Gov. Perry, Herman Cain, Rep. Bachmann, i.e.) are too right leaning and extreme to garner the independent vote—the voters that will decide the outcome of the next election. And we can't deny the massive movement of the Occupy Wall Street protestors; will they vote and who for? At the end of the day, none of the Republican candidates are a Ronald Reagan. And finally, our voters are different now than during the Carter administration. They have access to more information, and are less trusting of politics and politicians, whether it be a president or Congress. 

And let's not forget, President Obama is a man of firsts—first African American President and a man named Barack Hussein Obama, who ran and won after 9/11 amid such anti-Muslim sentiment, with a Muslim name. So I won't be surprised if he's the first president who wins re-election with unemployment over 8 percent or an approval rating below 48 percent. So to compare Obama to Carter? Just apples and oranges my friend.

  • See a slide show of 10 reasons Obama should be re-elected.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.
  • See a slide show of 10 issues driving Obama's re-election campaign.