Saturday, March 11, 2006

Obscuring Incompetence

Just saw a brief feature on television regarding a new book from ex-President Jimmy Carter. Every time I see this failed leader on television, I'm reminded of how implicit the medium was in moving him into a position of incompetence to begin with.

Jimmy Carter was the governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975. He was an exceptionally bad governor, a leader incapable of fiscal management who squandered money and accomplished very little. The state largely floundered under his leadership, sinking into such a fiscal miasma that it took rather draconian cuts by the next governor, George Busbee, to return the state to financial well-being.

I was a college student from 1971 to 1975, so I knew remarkably little--and cared even less--about state finances. I became aware of the extent of Carter's mismanagement for the first time when it actually touched me financially: after taking office, Busbee had to rescind raises for state employees--including teachers, whose ranks I would join in August of 1975--because there was no money. That inspired me to do more research and discover just how bad a governor Carter had been. He has a down-home charisma, but few leadership skills and little management sense.

So I was quite surprised when, in 1975, the mass media began touting Carter as a viable candidate for President. Certainly, I thought, someone is going to point out the abominable job he did as governor. They never did. There were no in-depth reports regarding the harm he did Georgia, no analyses of his governmental fiscal miscues. Instead, he was treated as a rural savant who could turn the country around.

Somehow, the illusion continued into 1976, when Carter actually managed to get elected (he was helped by the Republicans, who nominated the rather lackluster Gerald Ford--who had become President after Nixon's resignation--to run again). And for four years, we were subjected to one of the worst Presidencies in American history. The economy plummeted, interest rates soared, the "misery index" climbed to record levels, unemployment peaked, our intelligence organizations were gutted. Iranian terrorists were allowed to take American hostages with impunity; America dealt with them from continued positions of weakness. And through this all, Carter did nothing other than to deliver homilies and poor leadership.

And now, twenty-five years after a Presidency as inept as his governorship, Carter is revered as an elder statesman. The same man who actively works against American interests overseas is allowed to continue with no one pointing out his ineptitude, his lack of judgment, and his total failure to lead.

Of course, I remember one thing I learned very early about the media:

Were you ever involved in some group or event or activity that got media coverage? Perhaps you were part of a club or a team that earned a newspaper article; perhaps you were involved in a news event in some way. Remember how, when the story came out, you saw all sorts of details that were just wrong? Quotes that were inaccurate, facts that were garbled, complexities that were oversimplified to inanity? Well, just remember: every story you see, local or national or international, is just as fouled up as that story was... and in all likelihood, even moreso since it's a more complex story.

No comments: