Mitt Romney is running a serious campaign for president, much more coherent and consistent than his last run four years ago. He is an accomplished businessman and politician and I certainly hope he ends up at the top of the Republican ticket—that would be a good sign for the country that the Republican Party is serious about governing. I have relatives in Massachusetts who have directly benefitted from his efforts there to reform health care and if he were to win in 15 months there is at least a chance that health care reform nationally will not be completely repealed.
As part of his current campaign for president he has turned to what is apparently an effective trope in the Republican heartland—comparing President Obama to President Carter. This is a smart political strategy given the almost universal hatred of Carter among Republicans and the almost universal love for the man who vanquished him, Ronald Reagan. It also makes sense given that Carter is the last Democrat to only serve one term in office, something Romney hopes to repeat for Obama. But whatever utility the comparison has for Romney on the campaign trail, and despite Obama’s admitted difficulties with the economy, the Carter metaphor is bogus in terms of substance. The deciding factor in Carter’s defeat, most historians agree, was the Iranian hostage crisis. It seemed to symbolize for many Americans the sense that America was failing. There is nothing similar on Obama’s record, and in fact his signature foreign policy success, the raid on bin Laden, is notable for its outcome being the exact opposite of Carter’s attempted raid on Iran to free the hostages. Carter also suffered terribly from Edward Kennedy’s extraordinarily foolish decision to run in the primary against Carter. The only politician who could conceivably mount as damaging a campaign against Obama is his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and that is not about to happen. Kennedy’s decision was emblematic of another major difference—Carter failed to effectively govern with Democrats in the majority of the House and Senate all four years. Obama has a strong argument to make that Republican obstruction is a key part of his struggles, an argument Carter could not make.