Whatever else may be said of the Carter administration, one thing is incontrovertible: Carter took office at an inopportune time. The economy was floundering, and the political atmosphere was contentious. The nation was in the grip of stagflation, and the mood of the public was gloomy. Having just emerged from a sharp recession, the economy did not appear to be growing strongly enough, and unemployment was still hovering around 7.5%. At the time, no one seemed to be able to manage the economy, and forces beyond our control seemed to be in command.
Carter also faced a shifting political scene. Unwilling to emulate the presidential style of his predecessors, particularly Richard Nixon, he opted instead to go out of his way to differentiate himself from prior presidential models. His cabinet-style government, his organization of the White House staff, and his relationship with the bureaucracy testify to the desire to do things differently. He ran as an outsider, willing and able to clean up the mess in Washington, and this called for, so he thought, a reorganization of government starting at the top. Still, he surrounded himself with the Georgia mafia, who had little or no experience in Washington politics or in foreign affairs. On the job training might be admirable in some circumstances but is disastrous in the arcane world of Washington politics.
At the same time, Congress was asserting its independence and was less coherent and consistent, while party unity was further withering. Buoyed by its success against Nixon and Ford, Congress was not about to relinquish its new-found power and was searching for its new voice in national affairs. Thus, the Congress that Carter faced was a much different institution from the one faced by his predecessors.
To make any progress, therefore, Carter would have to mold his concept of the presidency at the same time as adapting to the changing