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NYT to Obama v. Romney, "let's you and him fight"

By       Message James Wall     Permalink
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Shane cites unnamed "historians" who claim that "broad parallels between Mr. Carter's term and Mr. Obama's make for legitimate comparisons."

Perhaps a copy editor intervened, causing Shane to quickly acknowledge the weakness of his "fight" narrative with this substantial disclaimer: "But many of the details differ, and some tilt decisively in Mr. Obama's favor, both factually and politically."

Shane then turns to Frank J. Donatelli as he ignores that Obama decisive tilt. Shane calls Donatelli, "a veteran Republican operative who helped run Mr. Reagan's 1980 campaign against Mr. Carter and later served as political director in the Reagan White House."

A Reagan operative from the 1980 campaign is a reliable Times source? A Reagan operative turned amateur psychologist will bolster Shane's case? Donatelli makes his case:

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"Carter was dour, inward-looking, suspicious by nature. Obama's not. Despite presiding over a terrible economy, Obama has remained pretty popular personally."

Hey, I was an "operative" in that 1980 Jimmy Carter campaign, a small operative, to be sure. Shane's unnamed "historians" would insist I admit that major decisions in the campaign were not made at the Illinois state level, where I was Carter's campaign manager.

But I did know Jimmy Carter well. I knew then he was not, and is not now, "dour, inward-looking, suspicious by nature." For the record, having known my fellow Georgian since 1974, I will testify that Carter was then, and is now, warm, out-going, and properly suspicious, by nature, of journalists and politicians who try to impose their own narratives on him.

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(Memo to Scott Shane, if you ever need a quote from a low-level Carter operative from the 1980s, give me a call. I'm in the phone book.)

Manwhile, Donatelli, the amateur psychologist turned political analyst, tells Shane:

"What defeated Carter, was the public's sense that he couldn't handle the job. That's the point Romney and Ryan are trying to make about Obama -- that however nice a guy he may be, he's in over his head."

Shane defends the Romney-Ryan case by using flimsy evidence which any Carter "operative" from the 1980 campaign, could have quickly refuted. Shane is repeating political tropes that have calcified into gospel truths, such as "in over his head." What president is not "in over his head"? They all are. The job is too large and the chaos too overwhelming in any era, for any single individual to claim otherwise.

All each president can do it cope with the task at hand, a task that always includes having to deal with politicians ready to deal with anyone who will help them win a political fight.

To his credit, Shane brings in an historian who is willing to be quoted, to make the case that Jimmy Carter was capable of dealing firmly with an enemy who was holding American citizens as hostages in Teheran, Iran.

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"David Patrick Houghton, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida and author of a book on the Iran hostage crisis, said the Carter comparisons were 'mostly unfair' -- both to Mr. Carter and Mr. Obama. He singled out as 'utterly false' Mr. Romney's claim that Mr. Reagan's tough reputation caused Iran to release the American hostages just as he became president; in fact, the Carter administration had negotiated their release.

"'This campaign has become a kind of opportunity to fling around bogus history,' he said."

Romney's claim is, indeed, "utterly false", when he claims, "Reagan's tough reputation caused Iran to release the American hostage just as he became president". The release of the hostages on Reagan's inauguration morning is also believed to have been part of a deal arranged by Reagan operatives to reach an agreement with the Iranian government that it would hold the hostages until after the election. For more on this deal, see Gary Sick's detailed account of the events surrounding the delay of the release of the hostages in 1981, in his book, October Surprise.

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James Wall served as a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois, from 1999 through 2017. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Many sources have influenced (more...)

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