Carter and Obama: The Same Damn Thing Repeats Itself

The circumstances of Obama's and Carter's economic difficulties are at once similar and yet utterly different.

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History isn’t “one damn thing after another.” It’s the same damn thing after another.

Sunday afternoon, on orders from my 6-year-old to fetch something from the attic, I noticed, peaking out from under one of the haphazardly scattered studs that function as gangways, the yellowed corner of a newspaper. It had evaded my notice for five years.

It turned out to be the Oct. 10, 1979, edition of the Washington Post--31 years to the day. An eerie, journalism-junkie coincidence if ever there was one.

Coincidences, of another sort, abounded.

Take this letter to the editor, submitted by David G. O’Brien of Syosset, N.Y.: “Maintenance of our national security, as well as our present standard of living, require nothing less than a bold and decisive response to the energy challenge.”

We’re still working on that, Dave.

Or this letter, by William H. Simons, then-president of the Washington Teachers’ Union. At issue: “Should teachers be evaluated?” A Post editorial had asserted that, yes, they should. Simons stuck by the system’s “highly individualized method of evaluation.” That there are “academically deficient teachers in the nation”? Sure there are--but what of it? Simons: “This statement is about as well known as the fact that doctors don’t have a cure for the common cold and about as useful as a declaration from the weatherman that it rained yesterday.”

Same damn thing after another.

Oh, yeah. This, from a United Press International wire story about “operation sombrero," an attempt to “hoist a 300-ton steel cone over the runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico that has produced the worst oil spill in history.”

On the front page was President Jimmy Carter beneath a banner headline: “Interest Rates Soar, Stocks Fall on Fed Moves.” The Fed, under one Paul Volcker, was about the business of tightening credit to finally wring inflation out of the monetary system. The policy induced fears of “a squeeze on consumer and small-business borrowing, sharply restricted home mortgage lending, and a slowdown in commercial construction.”

“Carter, at a press conference, said he believed his economic policy was sound and said he would maintain it even if that hurts him politically,” the Post’s John M. Berry reported.

For as often as today’s beleaguered Democratic president is compared to Carter, one is reminded that the circumstances of our economic difficulties are at once similar and yet utterly different.

As for the failed-liberal stigma that attaches to Carter today, then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the moderate Democrat of Texas, had apparently been wavering in his support of the president. But he declared to the Associated Press that, when compared to the “possible candidacies of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy or California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.,” Carter was preferable. “Philosophically, I’m more in tune with the president ... He’s come around on some issues where I didn’t agree with him in the past.”

“Bentsen,” the AP story continued, “cited the president’s support for an increased defense budget and his plan to lift price controls from domestic oil production.” Go figure!

Of course, not everything is the same. A Metro headline (“Will the Gas Lines Return This Month?--Maybe”) seems particularly distant.

And, in the Style section, there’s this review by Brad Chase of a new “record” by Moon Martin: “The New Wave’s Angst-Rock stars are latter-day incarnations of Sisyphus, rolling thematic stones of love up a hill. Invariably they go bouncing back down in disenchantment upon reaching the summit, which is usually the sexual experience.”

“Thematic stones of love”: That does sound like quite a lot of hard work indeed. Did Ronald Reagan bring about “morning” even for these tortured souls?

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