The Moral Equivalent of Jimmy Carter
Evidently, Joe Biden has bigger plans to reshape America than we realized. Remember when he said that if he’s elected, “Nothing would fundamentally change”? Well, that was in June 2019, pre-election.
Here we are, in 2021, post-election, and things are different. For instance, let’s consider this Washington Post headline from January 27: “As Biden vows monumental action on climate change, a fight with the fossil fuel industry has only begun.”
Given that fossil fuels account for almost two-thirds of American energy consumption, we can see that “Middle Class Joe” has some bold—many would say, radical—plans for reshaping Main Street, as well as the rest of America. As the president said from the White House, “This is no time for small measures. … We can’t wait any longer.” The Post article details:
In barely a week in office, Biden has moved to rejoin the Paris climate accord, halt the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, impose new limits on oil and gas production, and mandate climate change as a priority across every federal agency.
And there’s more:
On Wednesday, he promised to use the government’s purchasing power to fund a federal clean-car fleet—and the jobs that would come with it. He pledged to help low-income and minority communities that have historically suffered the worst pollution. And he insisted the nation must set about preparing for the inevitable impacts of climate change, even as it tries to stave off the worst future outcomes. He also said the United States will lead the world in the global effort to cut greenhouse gases that are driving climate change.
Interestingly enough, Biden is doing all this by executive order, or by some other sort of administrative diktat. Breitbart News has closely followed the sharp reaction to Biden’s shutdown of the Keystone Pipeline, as well as his direct attack on the sovereignty of the Ute Indian Tribe—and yet he keeps issuing more rulings.
Indeed, CNN counts 30 such unilateral orders in total, just in Biden’s first three days in office, including, of course, topics far beyond energy. This flurry of action-grams dwarfs those of any previous administration, such that even the New York Times—which strongly supported Biden last year, of course—thinks he’s going too far: Its January 27 editorial was headlined, “Ease Up on the Executive Actions, Joe.” On February 1, Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) tweeted, “President Biden has signed more EOs in his first two weeks than Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump combined,” adding, “Governing by a pen and a phone does nothing to unify our country.”
So why is Biden doing all this? What’s gotten into him? It appears that over the last year, he has been rethinking his positions; he says he now aims to be the most progressive president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. That’s ambition, for sure, and it’s worth noting that FDR was a popular four-term president.
Yet FDR pushed an explicit economic agenda; he was all about farms and factors, not environmentalism. And it’s that lunch-bucket tradition that the 46th president comes from—at least that was once the case. More recently, as Politico explained, things have changed: “Big Green groups have pushed Biden, whom most would never confuse with a crunchy activist, into crafting the most aggressive environmental platform in the nation’s history that calls for spending $2 trillion.” That $2 trillion, we can observe, is just a spending total—it does not include the economic cost of environmental regulation.
So before we spend too much time thinking back to the successes of the 32nd president in the 1930s and 40s, we might look back at a more recent Democratic president, the 39th—he was very much focused on energy and changing the economy. And oh yes, back in the 1970s, Jimmy Carter wasn’t successful at all.
If Biden thinks about this more recent history—which he, of course, lived through—he might be more cautious about grandiose measures concerning energy.
The Great Reset of the 1970s
Carter was elected to the White House in 1976, at a time when the word “energy crisis” was on everyone’s lips. Bestselling books such as 1972’s The Limits to Growth set a tone of eco-pessimism that affected the Carter administration’s thinking; these were the days when the Malthusian feeling that everything was running was widespread, at least among the liberal elite.
So it was in this context that Carter delivered a televised speech to the nation on April 18, 1977; as a way of signaling his commitment to austerity, he wore a cardigan sweater, since part of the message was that, in this “era of limits,” we would all have to turn our winter thermostats down to 68 degrees.
In his first sentence, Carter got right to the tough stuff:
Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem that is unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime.
We can see that the president was prepping the nation to think big, bold, and drastic. After all, if the situation was “unprecedented”—to say nothing of “unpleasant”—then we needed to make massive changes to deal with “the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime.”
In fact, we might pause to note that environmentalists often engage in this sort of hyper-talk. If they’re asking ordinary people to make sacrifices now, for the sake of some green goal in the future, well, they’d better put some strong sauce in the gumbo.
Then, further underscoring the enormity of what he had in mind, Carter declared, “This difficult effort will be the ‘moral equivalent of war.’”
Yowsa! Like a war, only peaceful—the “moral equivalent”!?
Yet for all his own personal fervor about his new kind of “peaceful war,” Carter was worried that not every American would wish to join him in this new crusade, and so sought to persuade his audience that, yes, the situation was worse than it looked:
Now, I know that some of you may doubt that we face real energy shortages. The 1973 gas lines are gone, and with this springtime weather, our homes are warm again. But our energy problem is worse tonight than it was in 1973 or a few weeks ago in the dead of winter. It’s worse because more waste has occurred and more time has passed by without our planning for the future. And it will get worse every day until we act.
This was the essential Jimmy Carter: He was not an uplifter, not a uniter, but rather a doomer and gloomer. He was, in a word, a scold. That is, he was wagging his finger at the American people, preaching “strict conservation,” trying to get them to scrimp and sacrifice for the sake of his “moral energy war.”
Needless to say, he based his hard message on . . . the science. And the science, he assured us, was remorseless: “The oil and natural gas that we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are simply running out.” Got that? Running out!
Interestingly enough, Carter used the word “coal” eight times, as in, for instance, seeking to “increase our coal production by about two-thirds to more than one billion tons a year”—so as we can see, sometimes, the science changes.
At the time, Carter’s critics said that we weren’t running out of energy at all; the problem, they said, was price controls that had squashed American energy production. An oft-seen bumperstrip back then blared, “Carter Kiss My Gas.” (These were also the days, we might add, when the science told us that the big fear was global cooling, as seen in this 1974 magazine article, and in this 1979 Hollywood movie.)
Yet Carter and most Democrats thought they knew better, and so later that year, the White House and the Democratic majorities in Congress—including freshman Senator Biden—worked together to create the U.S. Department of Energy. Its biggest project, we might recall, was the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, aimed at turning the aforementioned coal into gasoline; it was abolished in 1986, and nobody has missed it—although the billion dollars it spent might have been used for some better purpose.
Alas, Carter’s energy war did not end in victory for the United States. During his four years in office, oil prices tripled, even as American oil production fell, thanks to those price controls. In other words, the windfall profits from those oil-price spikes during his presidency all went overseas. Meanwhile, at home, both inflation and unemployment rose.
To many observers back then, it seemed that the American Dream was slipping away. And yet there was one man who disagreed.
The Gipper to the Rescue
Ronald Reagan, then the ex-governor of California, spoke to Hillsdale College on November 10, 1977, going right at Carter’s “moral equivalent of war”—critics called it “meow”—energy policy:
I mentioned oil. Is there anyone that isn’t concerned with the energy problem? Government caused that problem while we all stood by unaware that we were involved. Unnecessary regulations and prices imposed—price limits—back in the ’50’s are the direct cause of today’s crisis. Our crisis isn’t because of a shortage of fuel; it’s a surplus of government. Now we have a new agency — we have a new agency of enormous power—20,000 employees and a 10 and 1/2 billion dollar budget. That’s more than the gross earnings of the top seven oil companies in the United States. And that’s just to start with. It is nothing more than a first step toward nationalization of the oil industry.
And Reagan wasn’t done yet:
You know, when they tell us about the conservation — of course we should save. No one should waste a natural resource. But they act as if we’ve found all the oil and gas there is to be found in this continent, if not the world. Do you know that 57 years ago our government told us we only had enough for 15 years? And nineteen years went by and they told us we only had enough left for 13 more years. Now, we’ve done a lot of driving since then and we’ll do a lot more if government would do one simple thing: Get out of the way and let the incentives of the marketplace urge the industry out to find the sources of energy this country needs.
That was Reagan’s message: While Carter was talking about sacrifice and suffering, Reagan was talking about abundance and liberating.
Three years later, as we all know, Reagan defeated Carter in a landslide. (Oh, for the days when a Republican could win a majority of the popular vote, as well as 489 electoral votes.)
Once in office, the 40th president did exactly what he said he would so: He decontrolled oil prices. And the freed-up market did exactly what the free marketeers said it would do: It increased oil production, while oil prices actually fell.
Indeed, five decades later, all of Carter’s Malthusian pessimism has been disproven: we aren’t running out of anything. U.S. oil production had risen by about 50 percent prior to the Covid crash, and natural gas production has nearly doubled. In other words, Carter’s faith in the science, as it appeared in 1977, was deeply misplaced. (Could we call that faith unscientific?)
Okay, so now, back to our time, to the 46th president: As we have seen, he, too, is thinking big—too big, in the eyes of ordinary Americans, who just wish to be left alone, and not be swept up in some ginormous plan to remake the country.
To be sure, Biden hasn’t mentioned the “moral equivalent of war,” and the specific issues have changed over the past half-century, from “energy crisis” to “climate change.” Yet the common thread between Carter and Biden is the zealous desire to do big things, even when big things may not be necessary or advisable.
So today, Biden and his administration are in favor of “The Great Reset, which Virgil has criticized heartily, as have many other writers here at Breitbart News. And that Reset thinking is leading Biden, just a few weeks into his presidency, to trample a lot of Americans—and their jobs and futures.
Yes, without a doubt, Biden is enjoying the Main Stream Media/Establishment praise for his “monumental” leadership on the environment and its new handmaiden, “environmental justice.” As a Washington Post headline put it the day after his pronouncements, “Thanks to Biden, the U.S. has gotten back into the fight against climate change.”
However, even as he’s basking in all that MSM praise, Biden might also do some remembering: remembering, that is, what happened to the last Democrat who had too-big energy plans.
Jimmy Carter wanted to get the U.S. into a vainglorious “moral equivalent of war”—and yet after just four years, he and his hubris were badly defeated. And Carter’s defeat was America’s victory. Thank you, Ronald Reagan.
So now, Biden. As Axios big-dog pundit Mike Allen wrote on January 31, “Biden ran as a unifying centrist . . . Turns out, Biden is governing as an activist liberal.” Thus the question for conservatives: Where’s our Reagan?