Jimmy & Bert & Tip & Bob

Rick Perlstein of Nixonland fame is back with an article that contends that Obama, should he be elected, will have to strike fast if wants to record any significant legislative achievements. The striking thing about is its use of the early Carter administration as an example, and his claim that the now more-or-less-forgotten Bert Lance scandal sapped Carter’s momentum:

Even though Lance was eventually completely exonerated, the damage was done. Carter, like Obama, had run as a “different kind of Democrat” — pure, unsullied. So saboteurs like Safire had a clear challenge: “prove” that Carter was just another impure politician, if even on the shakiest of pretexts.

Having a good memory of that time, I’m not convinced. Carter’s problems in dealing with Congress started early and came because he didn’t get along with the Democratic leadership. Then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill was famously contemptuous of both Carter and the president’s staff. And O’Neill’s counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Robert Byrd, was scarcely more favorably disposed to them. Carter came into Washington like Christ come to cleanse the temple; the moneychangers, however, were having none of it. 

Obama’s approach to this campaign is rather different from Carter’s in 1976. He’s not running against Washington, per se, and certainly enjoys better relations with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than Carter had with O’Neill and Byrd at any point in his political career.


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