Jimmy Carter — Living Requiem

Jimmy Carter — Living Requiem

Recently, while playing poker at the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana, I overheard a young man remark to a fellow player that he had voted for Obama to bring change to a badly corrupted political system.  Before I could think better of it, I heard my lips saying, “Son, I hope you live long enough to understand what a youthful mistake you’ve made.

When his jaw dropped I quickly continued, “You see, when I was a young liberal; just like you, wanting to save the world, I voted in my very first Presidential Election for Jimmy Carter.  I’ve lived every day since regretting it!”

The young player (probably an internet wiz kid) shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to bet on the “turn” with an inside straight draw.  As I called, my mind began to race with thoughts of Jimmy Carter and where the world has come since a wave of political distrust propelled him into the Presidency after Watergate.

One of the first images of regret that came to mind was waiting in line in 1979 for gasoline at a Shell Service Station in Norco, Louisiana on Goodhope Street in the shadow of the Shell Manufacturing Complex.  That’s right, I was less than a thousand feet from the refinery, but on most days I couldn’t even get a gallon of gas.  Paying $3 a gallon is a lot, but it beats walking . . . Jimmy.

The 17+ percent interest rate that my best friend negotiated on his purchase of your average three bedroom home with a cedar shingle roof in a North Dallas suburb, jogs my memory as I continued to recall the Carter term.  I couldn’t afford the interest rate or a house for that matter.  President Carter had frozen wages.  I lived in an apartment.  I shared no underlying belief that the Constitution guaranteed every citizen home ownership.  I simply kept working hard, voting better and eventually Ronald Reagan brought down interest rates and someone figured out that wood shingles were not the most fire resistant material available to put on the top of a house.

My next thought of regret came in the form of the Community Reinvestment Act signed into law by Jimmy Carter in 1977.  This Act forced banks to lend to borrowers with poor or no credit, mostly in minority areas.  Age-old standards of banking prudence got thrown out the window, and in their place came harsh new regulations requiring banks to lend to people that could not possibly afford the dreams they were purchasing.  These questionable banking practices were reinforced in the early 1990s by President Clinton, despite warnings from GOP members of Congress.  In the end, Congress gave Fannie and Freddie the go-ahead to control it all by buying loans from banks, then repackaging and securitizing them for resale on the open market.  This caused the sub prime market to take off.  Having been a mere $35 billion in loans in 1994, it reached $1 trillion by 2008 and the markets crashed.

I was hoping that 1981 and a new President would put my regrets behind me, but Carter protégés began their lengthy reign in the House and Senate.  Jimmy did not go quietly into that good night and if two helicopters hadn’t broken down in the desert of Iran; he would probably have served another term.

Christopher John “Chris” Dodd took Carter’s liberalism from the House to the Senate.  He served as general chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1995 to 1997 and is now Connecticut’s longest-serving Senator.  The 10th most senior of current Senators, he is one of only three from the 1980 freshman class still serving (the others are Arlen Specter and Chuck Grassley).  It’s Dodd’s Chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee that keeps my regrets of Jimmy Carter alive and well.

Between counting his campaign contributions from AIG and negotiating his special home loan from Countrywide, Chris had little time for his Banking Committee duties and failed to set off any alarms while the financial crisis cooked.  Senator Dodd wasn’t to busy however, to sponsor a resolution to commend former President Jimmy Carter for being awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize and for his “lifetime of dedication to peace.”  Dodd went on to say, “Jimmy Carter is one of the pre-eminent figures of the last 50 years and a wonderful embodiment of the best of American ideals.”  I don’t regret voting for Jimmy because I’m against world peace, but rather his efforts and those of his protégés to take this country toward European Socialism.

The House of Representatives couldn’t escape the Carter curse in 1981 either.  Barnett “Barney” Frank won his first of fourteen terms representing Massachusetts’s 4th congressional district.  Unlike the Kennedy’s, Barney is not Irish, but has led a very interesting political life and is a “darling” of the media, much like the Senators from Massachusetts.

In 2003, while the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, Barney opposed a Bush administration proposal for transferring oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from Congress (Department of Housing and Urban Development) to a new agency that would be created within the Treasury Department. The proposal reflected the administration’s belief that Congress “neither has the tools, nor the stature” for adequate oversight. 

“These two entities are not facing any kind of financial crisis.  The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing,”  countered Congressman Frank.  Now Barney should know a little bit about the inner workings of Fannie since his former domestic partner, Herb Moses was an executive at Fannie from 1991 to 1998.  Moses helped develop many of Fannie’s housing and home improvement lending programs.  During the time that Barney was playing house with Moses, he blocked tougher regulations on the banking companies while voting for the Government Sponsored Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1991 and the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992.  Senator Frank should have known enough to set off the alarm that could have prevented the collapse, but his interest, public and private, didn’t include the protection of the American way of life.  He was, and is, for change.

“The private sector got us into this mess.  The government has to get us out of it,” is the mantra of Senator Frank these days.  It is interesting to note that Barney leans toward the teachings of Karl Marx (generally considered to be the father of modern Socialism) to solve our problems instead of the best example of economic turn around in recent history accomplished by Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s.  President Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  Marx believed that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital, creates an unequal society, and does not provide equal opportunities for everyone in society. Socialists, like Barney, advocate the creation of a society in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly (does the phrase “redistribution of wealth” sound familiar) based on the amount of work expended in production, although there is considerable disagreement over how this can be sold to the American people.  Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave!

Regrets play on many stages and my last one for Jimmy Carter is remembering him as he stepped before the television cameras in the East Room of the White House on March 21, 1980, at the end of his first and only term.   His task was to calm a national alarm that had begun to border on panic.  Inflation and interest rates, both topping 18%, were so far beyond anything that Americans had experienced in peacetime that fear was rampant.  Economists and businessmen had begun talking of Latin American-style hyperinflation, financial collapse, major bankruptcies, and a drastic drop in the American standard of living. 

President Carter began by stating, “Persistent high inflation threatens the economic security of our country,” and that “this dangerous situation calls for urgent measures.”  Jimmy admitted in effect that the budget he submitted in January, which called for a deficit of $15.8 billion (pocket change these days) and which he termed at the time “prudent and responsible,” had become obsolete in only seven weeks.   He went on to say that this could be traced largely to “our failure in Government, as individuals and as a society to live within our means.”  Glossing over his own record of rapidly rising spending and huge deficits, both of which contradicted his firm campaign pledges of 1976 (sound familiar), he finally came to the common sense realization: “The Federal Government must stop spending money we do not have and borrowing to make up the difference.”   If only his protégés had listened.

The kid made the inside straight on the “river” and won a substantial pot, but such is poker and such is life.  I hope he lives a long life.