Barack Obama’s Carter Years

Barack Obama is back.

The 44th president seemed at ease with his country, at least with him, and with his country, as the country raced toward (for them anyway), nothing less than a fight between good and bad. Obama played “Yeah” like a bar-room, and he also sang the classics from the 2000s: “Don’t boo: Vote”; “don’t give in to “cynicism” . Did you hear about the time with the Republicans?


My most vivid memory of Chicago is the return trip to O’Hare. Passengers could see a new billboard advertising the Obama library, featuring the faces of Barack and Michelle. It was almost impossible for the duo to leave the Second City. They were basically guilted into choosing New York. The message that was implied on the billboard– echoing Fortune 500 companies –was, as summarized in spirit in 2005’s amoral masterpiece, Lord of War in My Neighborhood, the good get out.

Obama is a polarizing figure in American politics these days. Many outsiders don’t believe Obama’s long presidency was a failure. It was a leap from the lofty goals of ’08, and it wasn’t a disappointment. Many more people silently see what his administration was: an historic, life-altering failure. This time was from that time.

Yet, “44” remains the most controversial living president. He is 98 year old. Not the worst president in American History; not a visitor to Jeff’s Island; and not likely to run again in 2024. “O” has a strange power. It’s as if his charisma could wash away the reality of his tenure in office. Obama’s disfavored lieutenant Joe Biden became president, not Hillary Clinton. This is enough evidence of his limitations. Barack Obama’s time at the helm was a success for him and few others.

We are currently living through the third worst term in our history: The Obama years were boring.

Ash Carter, the former secretary of Defense for Obama was a good example. He was 68. Obama made a statement, but not on the trail. You can say what you like about Donald Trump, but his former employees can always rely on him for an excellent public-facing report card. Years ago–nine-and-a-half–another former Defense secretary told me there was a figure at the Pentagon who knew the place in and out, but he would never get the top job: he wasn’t a politician; he wasn’t a soldier; he wasn’t a celebrity. Ash Carter was his name.


After Chuck Hagel’s bizarre, unsuccessful tenure, Carter assumed control of the “five-sided” box.

Carter, who was a professor, was married to Clayton Spencer, a lefty president of Bates College. He is survived by Stephanie Spencer, his second wife and the two children from his first marriage. Carter was a competent and uncontroversial leader in eradicating some of the biggest losers around the world, including what Obama famously called the “J.V. team from the Middle East, The Islamic State”. It will be interesting to see if the other major Carter move to open the armed forces to transgender individuals is a worthy one.

Like defense-wonk-turned-national-security-advisor H.R. Later, Carter developed a fascination for North Korea. McMaster was interested in a “bloody nose attack” on Pyongyang. Carter published a well-known op-ed for the Washington Post in 2006.

Is it right for the United States to allow a country that is openly hostile to them and is armed with nuclear weapons, to develop an intercontinental missile capable of delivering nukes to American soil? We don’t believe so. We don’t believe so. The Bush administration has foolishly gloated about the doctrine of “preemption,” which every president before it considered an option, not a dogma. The doctrine was applied to Iraq where intelligence indicated a much lower threat from weapons-of-mass destruction than North Korea.

Carter said: “But diplomacy is failing, and we cannot wait and let this deadly menace mature.” Twelve years later his successor would meet with North Korea’s leader. This would have been possible if Carter was still in charge and had allowed Carter to give the Kim family “the whole Gaddafi,” at all costs.

Carter earned a Yale degree in the outrecombo physics and medieval History. This, along with a regal baritone gave Carter an alchemist’s aura in Washington. Comparisons with Robert D. McNamara (the architect of the Vietnam War) are fair in terms of his pedigree.

Like an Obama speech, the listener is lost in the splendor of the presentation and then it is quickly belied by technocratic malaise. Carter’s career raises the question: Wait, what are we doing here again?

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