Conclusions and Legacy
The Carter administration has been characterized (or dismissed) as ineffectual and judged as a failure. Such a conclusion is easy to reach given its legislative record and administrative ineptitude. Were the times so challenging that the nation was ungovernable, as some have alleged? Was Carter a trustee of the public welfare, making unpopular decisions? Was Carter pursuing what was right, spurning special interests requiring that he be above politics as usual? His defenders answer yes to these questions and ask that the Carter administration be viewed in this revised light.
After assessing these questions, however, Burton Kaufman, a Carter biographer, reluctantly concludes that attempts to reassess the Carter administration are flawed and sums up his analysis as follows: "The events of his four years in office projected an image to the American people of a hapless administration in disarray and of a presidency that was increasingly divided, lacking in leadership, ineffective in dealing with Congress, incapable of defending America's honor abroad, and uncertain about its purpose, priorities, and sense of direction." 1 The original and immediate assessments of this administration were, in the end, closer to the truth than the revisionists' portrayal.
It is difficult to quarrel with this concise appraisal of the Carter administration, and in this book, there are numerous examples and references that support such a conclusion. In general, then, I would agree with this assessment of the administration in its totality. We must now inquire if the same indictment can be applied to the economic policy-making of the administration.
As applied solely to Carter's domestic economic policy-making, the Kaufman quote is generally accurate, but a bit harsh and in need of qualification. It is too sweeping a statement when applied to an area as volatile as economics. Simple, straightforward, and uncontroversial.