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Jimmy Carter: Myth vs. Reality

by John Spritzler

December 29, 2019



What Jimmy Carter actually did when he was president--the reality--has been almost entirely replaced in the minds of most people today with a myth, a public relations image of the man as almost a saint, a person who even in old age and immediately after leaving the hospital with a serious medical condition nonetheless resumes helping to build homes for poor people. Wow! What a guy. If we could only elect a president like Jimmy Carter again then imagine how wonderful our nation could be.

This is powerful propaganda to make people retain hope that by working "within the system"--by using the election process--we can make the changes we need without having to build an egalitarian revolutionary movement.

So let's examine the reality of Jimmy Carter's presidency.


To start with, we need to know what was happening in the United States that concerned the billionaire ruling class and its desires for presidential action just prior to Carter taking office. And then we need to see what Carter actually did in this regard when he was president. Here is what Dave Stratman wrote about that period in a book that is online (pdf) with the references for the footnotes:

[begin extract from Stratman's book]

Preparing the Way: The Story of the 1970s

As the movements of the `60s gained momentum, the explosion of militant labor struggle sent shock waves through the business establishment. Profits began to slide as workers won wage and benefits gains, and as struggles for safety on the job and protection of the environment added to costs. Profits of non-financial corporations fell from 15.5 per-cent in the period of 1963-66 to 12.7 percent in 1967-70. In spite of corporate efforts, profits continued their slide throughout the `70s: from 10.1 percent in 1971-74 to only 9.7 percent through 1978. [84]

In addition to undermining profits, mass struggle was undermining elite control. Black ghettoes were exploding in rage. The armed forces in Vietnam were collapsing as a fighting force. Labor officials were losing control of the rank-and-file, as the wave of wildcat strikes continued to build. 1969 saw 2,000 wildcat strikes—twice the number of 1960. [85] The Wall Street Journal reported in 1970:

Observers of the labor-management scene...almost unanimously assert that the present situation is the worst within memory....Morale in many operations is sagging badly, international work slow-downs are cropping up more frequently and absenteeism is soaring.[86]

Business leaders began clamoring for a recession in 1967, to restore "discipline" to the labor force. Richard Nixon's election in 1968 led almost immediately to an engineered recession, as the government cut the federal budget to slow the economy. Unemployment rose sharply in 1969 and early 1970. Business leaders began to take heart as the government put the brakes on the economy:

"Corporate executives I've checked with are cautiously optimistic," insurance executive W. Clement Stone concluded in a 1970 interview. "There is what I call a wholesome recession-....As for employees, with a fear of losing their jobs, they're really putting their heart into their work. Formerly, it was,`What's the difference.'"[87]


The recession of 1969-70, however, proved inadequate to the task of taming discontent. Teamsters and postal workers went out on nationwide wildcat strikes in 1970, and other strikes continued to erupt. Over 66 million work days were lost due to strike activity in 1970, "a record exceeded only by 1946 and 1959 in the postwar era." [88]


Campuses exploded in an unprecedented strike wave after the invasion of Cambodia and the murder of students at Kent State. The recession was also short-lived, as Nixon shifted gears and began to stimulate the economy to insure his victory in the 1972 election.

Many government and business leaders recognized the need for a strategic counteroffensive against workers and popular movements.They began the planning and organizing necessary to undertake what the authors of one book call "The Great Repression."[89] To plan the counter-offensive on the U.S. domestic front, the chief executives of the two hundred largest corporations organized the Business Roundtable. The Business Roundtable planned and coordinated massive campaigns to rollback wages and benefits, and to weaken the power of organized labor, directing its earliest efforts at the construction industry; at the same time, it began a wide-ranging public relations and lobbying campaign to gut the Clean Air Act and to promote the deregulation of business. The campaign for deregulation of industry gained steam as the `70s progressed; "deregulation" became the watchword of corporate leaders and politicians of both parties. [90]

To coordinate economic policies on the international level, David Rockefeller and others organized the Trilateral Commission, which included corporate, government, and labor leaders from the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan. A report of the Commission said that "The international system which depended for its leadership in the past on the United States alone now requires a truly common management." It recommended formation of a supranational advisory commission of three heads of state to set policy for the Trilateral nations. Annual economic summits and other forums were used to coordinate internal economic and political policies of the Trilateral countries. [91]

Corporate and government leaders undertook a massive public relations effort, to convince the public that the gains working people had made in the `60s were having a negative effect on the competitive position of the U.S. in the world economy. An often-cited Business Week editorial declared in 1974:

"It will be a bitter pill for people to swallow—the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more. Nothing that this nation or any other nation has done in modern history compares with the selling job that must be done to make people accept the new reality." [92]

Corporate and government leaders pressed their counteroffensive on many fronts. Corporations went on the attack against their employees, with sharply intensified supervision and disciplinary practices, speed-up, and other measures. They began to spend millions on union-busting consulting firms. Business, Doug Fraser, then president of the UAW , said in 1978, had declared "a new class war."

From 1973 to 1979, the Federal Reserve Board restricted the money supply in an effort to slow the economy.[93] In 1974, the Ford Administration severely cut the federal budget, to produce the deepest recession since the Great Depression. "We need a sharp recession," one business leader had declared. Another said, "This recession will bring about the healthy respect for economic values that the Depression did." [94]

The results of the 1974-75 recession, however, were not as anticipated. The Administration had purposely created a recession because the high unemployment rates associated with recessions are supposed to make workers hungry enough that they will accept lower wages to get or keep a job. But a study conducted by the President's Council of Economic Advisors reported with dismay that, while the pace of wage growth slackened during the recession, the rate of price increases slowed even further, with the disturbing result that real wages actually rose during this period.[95]

The recession had backfired. Corporate and government leaders learned a hard lesson:


"As it was with the Vietnamese, however, so it was with U.S. workers: a short quick war could not be won....With no swift and decisive victory for business in sight, the macroeconomic decision-makers prepared for a prolonged period of programmed economic stagnation, hoping at least that high levels of unemployment in the long run would bring labor to heel." [96]

Throughout the rest of the `70s, neither business nor labor was strong enough to win a decisive victory against the other. The nation entered a period of "stagflation." Stagflation was the name devised to describe the historically unprecedented combination of high unemployment and rising inflation. Economists and politicians declared the phenomenon a mystery. In fact, stagflation was a result of the combination of two factors: economic stagnation and political stalemate. Economic stagnation was a conscious policy of the government, intended to increase unemployment and to weaken labor; inflation was a function of corporations' efforts to recoup through higher prices the profits that high wages made so elusive.

When the Carter Administration took over the reins of power from the Ford Administration, it took the effort to break the back of popular resistance to new levels of international coordination. The Carter Administration had the distinction of including twenty-five members of the Trilateral Commission among its highest officials. They included, in addition to Jimmy Carter himself, Vice-President Walter Mondale and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Paul Volcker, and eighteen other officials.[97]

Democrat Jimmy Carter was presented by the media as a well-intentioned if ineffectual leader, with "populist" policies which did not quite succeed. In fact, Carter's policies were as much the conscious weapons of capital as those of Republican Presidents Ford before him and Reagan after him. Carter was a loyal Trilateralist who took the war on working people further than any previous president.

The Carter Administration's contribution to the corporate counteroffensive included:

  • "voluntary" wage and price controls, during which prices were allowed to creep up while wage gains were suppressed;

  • dramatic cuts in the corporate tax rate, which shifted even more of the federal tax burden from corporations and the rich onto the shoulders of working families;

  • 21% interest rates, designed to "zap" labor by slowing expansion and rapidly increasing unemployment;

  • cuts in federal aid to the cities, which threw great numbers of public service employees out of work, while cutting public services to working class families;

  • cuts in job training funds for unemployed youth, which magnified the increasing desperation, particularly among black youth, who were experiencing unemployment rates in excess of 40% at the time;

  • a vast leap in arms expenditures, which took funds out of the productive economy while pouring public funds into the coffers of defense contractors; and

  • the decontrol of oil prices, which enriched oil companies at the expense of ordinary people, at the same time as they slowed the economy by soaking up available resources. Despite its zealous efforts, however, the Carter Administration was not able to break people's resistance to the forces of capital. It remained for the Reagan Administration to bring to fruition efforts well-begun byPresident Carter and others.


[end extract from Stratmn's book]


President Carter, the supposedly kind and saintly Jimmy Carter, implemented a foreign policy that, when closely examined, is nothing short of heinously cruel to innocent people abroad.

Carter increased military aid to Indonesia’s President Suharto who used it to occupy East Timor and to kill 200,000 East Timorese. Read the gory details here and here.

Carter also backed Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, a notoriously anti-democratic repressive dictator. Read about this here and here ("Even Jimmy Carter, for all his talk about human rights, found it expedient to avoid irritating Marcos") and in one Washington Post opinion article April 20, 1980 that said,


"Yet Jimmy Carter is stubbornly clinging to the same discredited policy by propping up the repressive dictatorship of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos."

Carter also supported the Shah of Iran, a notoriously anti-democratic and brutal ruler. You can watch Carter, in a video included in an article here, praise the Shah. This article includes the following and provides a time point in the video to focus on:

"On New Year’s Eve 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter raised his glass of champagne to toast his host, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. Carter spoke warmly of the Shah: “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.”" [2:35].

The Shah's secret police organization, SAVAK, was as brutal, and as hated by the people, as possible. Wikipedia reports:

"SAVAK (Persian: ساواک‎, short for سازمان اطلاعات و امنیت کشور Sāzemān-e Ettelā'āt va Amniyat-e Keshvar, literally "National Organization for Security and Intelligence") was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service in Iran during the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was established by Mohammad Reza Shah with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)[2] and the Israeli Mossad.[3] SAVAK operated from 1957 until the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when the prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar ordered its dissolution during the outbreak of Iranian Revolution. SAVAK has been described as Iran's "most hated and feared institution" prior to the revolution of 1979 because of its practice of torturing and executing opponents of the Pahlavi regime."[4][5]

Read about how the Shah, so praised by Jimmy Carter, used SAVAK to torture and kill his political enemies here and watch this video about it.

Carter similarly backed the murderous Somoza regime in Nicaragua (while uttering mere words of concern about its human rights violations, of course.) Read about this here, where the Harvard Crimson reports:

"In a letter to President Carter, Nicaraguan church leaders charged that the U.S. has helped maintain Somoza's power through "brute force," and called for an end to U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan government. The annual American contribution of twelve million dollars in economic aid continues to flow into Somoza's coffers even as his troops attempt to institute their reign of terror in the cities of Nicaragua."

Noam Chomsky wrote about Carter's support for the brutal Somoza regime as follows:

"When his rule was challenged, by the Sandinistas in the late 1970s, the US first tried to institute what was called "Somocismo [Somoza-ism] without Somoza"-that is, the whole corrupt system intact, but with somebody else at the top. That didn’t work, so President Carter tried to maintain Somoza’s National Guard as a base for US power.

"The National Guard had always been remarkably brutal and sadistic. By June 1979, it was carrying out massive atrocities in the war against the Sandinistas, bombing residential neighborhoods in Managua, killing tens of thousands of people. At that point, the US ambassador sent a cable to the White House saying it would be "ill advised" to tell the Guard to call off the bombing, because that might interfere with the policy of keeping them in power and the Sandinistas out.

Our ambassador to the Organization of American States also spoke in favor of "Somocismo without Somoza," but the OAS rejected the suggestion flat out. A few days later, Somoza flew off to Miami with what was left of the Nicaraguan national treasury, and the Guard collapsed.

"The Carter administration flew Guard commanders out of the country in planes with Red Cross markings (a war crime), and began to reconstitute the Guard on Nicaragua’s borders. They also used Argentina as a proxy. (At that time, Argentina was under the rule of neo-Nazi generals, but they took a little time off from torturing and murdering their own population to help reestablish the Guard-soon to be re named the contras, or "freedom fighters.")

"Carter also had the U.S. Army School of the Americas train 250 Salvadoran officers and non-coms for El Salvador's brutal and violently repressive military that blew up every union meeting place and opposition newspaper as it killed opposition leaders."

Read here how the "Godly" Carter was denounced for being on the wrong side of God with his support for the Salvadoran armed forces' brutal repression of the Salvadoran people:

“Instead of favoring greater justice and peace in El Salvador, your government’s contribution will undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for respect for their most basic human rights.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote these words in a letter to President Jimmy Carter just over a month before the Salvadoran pastor was assassinated on the altar while celebrating mass in the early months of 1980. Over the next decade, the rightist Salvadoran government would receive $6 billion in military aid from their strongest anti-communist ally—the United States. President Carter, of course, did not heed the archbishop’s warning, and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush would increase military aid to its highest levels.

Wikipedia reports on Carter's despicable role in El Salvador as follows:

"The Salvadoran Civil War was a civil war in El Salvador fought between the military-led junta government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) (a coalition or "umbrella organization" of left-wing groups) from 15 October 1979 to 16 January 1992. A coup on October 15, 1979, was followed by killings of anti-coup protesters by the government and of anti-disorder protesters by the guerrillas, and is widely seen as the start of civil war.[23]

"The fully-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by US-trained government death squads including prominent clergy from the Catholic Church, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.[24] An unknown number of people disappeared while the UN reports that the war killed more than 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992.[25][26][27] The war ended with the Chapultec Peace Accords, but in 2016 the El Salvador Supreme Court ruled that the 1993 amnesty law was unconstitutional and that the El Salvador government could prosecute war criminals.[28]

"The United States contributed to the conflict by providing military aid of $1–2 million per day to the government of El Salvador during the Carter[29] and Reagan administrations and provided significant training."

A New York Times article January 18, 1981 reports:

"After months of controversy and hesitation within the Administration over supplying ''lethal'' military aid to El Salvador, President Carter has authorized the emergency delivery of $5 million in combat equipment to help the Salvadoran armed forces combat a major uprising by Marxist guerrillas."

Here's an online article that gives a summary of Jimmy Carter's horrible, anti-democratic and anti-working class foreign policy.

Here are some words (time point start 1:09:22 in this video) of Noam Chomsky about Jimmy Carter's humanitarianism, describing his (and G.W.Bush's) argument for not paying reparations to Vietnam after the U.S. wreaked untold death and misery on its people in a totally unjust war and invasion:

Take our use of chemical warfare in Vietnam. I mean right at this moment the babies are dying um fetuses are disordered, fetuses are dying in Saigon hospitals from our chemical war. Do we do anything about it. Well finally after a long struggle American soldier veterans were able to get some compensation because they suffered from it too. You know, you soak the whole area of South Vietnam with chemical weapons, yeah, American soldiers are going to suffer. So they have some compensation. What about Vietnamese. I mean it's not even imaginable. You may recall that when George the first George Bush arranged for call it some degree of accommodation with North Vietnam, with Vietnam he calls it North Vietnam, it's worth reading his speech. He said: We're a generous people; we don't hold grudges. So we'll be willing to eliminate our harsh sanctions and deal with you if you meet one condition: make sure you locate all the remains of American pilots who you viciously shot down while they were on a tour to Florida.

Or take Jimmy Carter at the left, so-called liberal end. He was asked, "Do we have to, should we offer Vietnam some compensation." He said no. He said we have no debt because the destruction was mutual. That's Jimmy Carter at the liberal end. [Read Carter's full words here, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times (25 March 1977)]


Some people point to Jimmy Carter's actions after being president and say, "Oh, how wonderful he is." I think these people are naive. I discuss this in my article, "Jimmy Carter: Friend or Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?" in which I deal with a) Carter's book describing Israel as apartheid, and b) Carter's monitoring of elections around the world. In doing these things, Carter has actually just been continuing to do what he did as president, strengthening the power of the billionaire plutocracy's domination of ordinary people, in a way designed to appear to be doing the opposite.

Contrary to the conclusion that the ruling class wants us to draw from the saintly public relations image of a mythical Jimmy Carter, the real Jimmy Carter provides yet more evidence that we cannot prevent the billionaire plutocracy from continuing to treat us like dirt if we rely on voting for "nice" politicians. We need to remove the billionaire plutocracy from power: here's how.

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