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The “Whatever” School of History

Wednesday, January 3, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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Year-opening interviews yesterday with Glenn Reynolds, Jonathan Chait and Michael Barone.  Two out of three were sharp, informed reflections on past and future.  The talk with Jonathan was, well, simply enchainting.  Here’s Jonathan on Jimmy Carter:

HH: Was Jimmy Carter at all responsible for the stagflation that occurred in the 70’s?

JC: At worst, he was responsible around the margins. But fundamentally, no one could have changed that from happening. No, that’s what most economists believe. They believe that we suffered oil shocks as the basic cause. You had rising levels of international competition that adversely affected the American economy, et cetera.

HH: So would have Khomenei have happened with or without Carter?

JC: Yes, I believe he would have happened…Yes, I believe there would have been a revolution in Iran, even if Gerald Ford was president, yes.

HH: And the Soviets would have gone into Afghanistan, regardless if it was Carter or Ford?

JC: Yes, I believe that, yes.

HH: And so, did Carter…

JC: I don’t believe…yes…go on.

HH: Did Carter matter at all?

JC: Well, you know, yes, he mattered, but I don’t think he would have prevented those large, fundamental events from happening, no. To say that he couldn’t have prevented those things from happening doesn’t mean he didn’t matter. But you know, yes, I think those things would have happened anyway. Some presidents are more consequential than others. I think Carter is relatively an inconsequential president, compared…you know, every president is consequential. He was probably less consequential than most.

HH: And to the proposition that the marginal income tax rate of 70% in those years, and to massive runaway spending on the part of a Democratic Congress led by a Democratic president, and to the idea of indifference to the Shah’s fall, and…

JC: Carter was relatively parsimonious with the budget, and his deficits were much smaller than the ones under Ronald Reagan….

HH: How’d he handle the hostage crisis, by the way? Carter?

JC: How did Carter handle the hostage crisis?

HH: Yeah. Was he responsible for that?

JC: You know, he wasn’t responsible for the fact that Iranians took our embassy hostage, no.

HH: What are presidents responsible for, Jonathan? Honestly, if he gets away with inflation, he’s not responsible for Khomenei, doesn’t have to get them out of the embassy, not about the Afghans coming…

JC: Wait, are you saying that, like foreign…so then, is Bush responsible for September 11th? Because you know, I agree…

HH: Of course not. Only his response to events.

JC: Right. But the fact is…

HH: He is responsible for our not having been attacked…

JC: Right, but the fact that it happened is not Carter’s fault, right? Are you saying the fact that our embassy was taken hostage is Carter’s fault?

HH: Absolutely, it was his fault. Absolutely. He…

JC: Not just his response, but the fact that it happened was his fault?

HH: You know, if you convey the sort of weakness Jimmy Carter embodied, that’s the sort of response that comes back. Jonathan, I hope you have a healthy and a happy 2007, and that you will join me early and often on the Hugh Hewitt Show, because I love your columns. I really do. I’m enChaitmented with them.[# More #] 

And here’s Jonathan on some of the observations he made about President Ford in a Los Angeles Times column:

HH: Ford emerged as a critic of the religious right, you wrote here.

JC: Yes.

HH: When did that happen?

JC: When did that happen? It happened over the last, what, ten, fifteen years. Do you want me…I mean, if you want to pause this segment, and have me go look something up and get back five minutes later…

HH: No, just send it to me. I just never saw it. I’m unfamiliar with it, and so if you’ll send it to me, I just never saw him as a critic of the religious right.

JC: You know, if you want…again, you want to pause this program and have me spend five or ten minutes on Google or Nexus, I’ll do that.

HH: No, no, no. Just send it to me anyway. We can’t pause for technical reason.

JC: Okay.

HH: How about advocate of political reforms?

JC: Yeah, he was always running around with Jimmy Carter, talking about the need for election reforms. He was…what other political reforms was he for? Campaign finance reform, he was always on those good government, left, right sort of panels.

HH: Again, I don’t recall that. I did a couple of events with Gerry Ford, and he was usually pretty robust in his defense of whichever Republican was in. He was a big Reagan fan. He was a big fan of…

JC: You think at the time he was partisan?

HH: …of W., and so political reforms…again, I’d love the record here. Now what I want to get to is, his recently released comments…

JC: I would consider voting reform to be political reform, wouldn’t you?

HH: Well, you wrote, “In his post-presidential career, Ford emerged as a critic of the religious right, and an advocate of political reforms, both of which placed him far to the left of today’s GOP.”

JC: Right.

HH: He was not far to the left of today’s GOP. He was absolutely the embodiment of today’s GOP…

JC: Hang on. Voting reform is political reform, do you agree?

HH: Yes.

JC: Okay, campaign finance reform is political reform.

HH: Of a wholly misguided and misshapen form.

JC: Correct.

HH: But yes…

JC: Right, exactly. It’s far to the left of today’s Republican Party.

HH: And I don’t recall Gerry being for McCain-Feingold. I could be wrong. I’m just saying…

JC: Okay, I can’t say I’m 100% on that. I’m about 90% sure that Ford was for that, and was, you know, you have a few people who are always like the token Republicans on those groups that came out in favor of those things.

HH: But are you 70 or 60 or 50% on the religious right critic stuff?

JC: I’m 90.

HH: You’re 90.

JC: Yeah.

HH: Boy, you know, if I’m going to write for the L.A. Times, I’d be 100 on those. But in any event, I want to get to this part…

JC: You’re probably right. You’re probably right.

Jonathan had also written that Ford’s “interview” with Bob Woodward showed “how alien he found the current president’s reckless foreign policy.”  We discussed the interview:

HH: Do you believe Bob Woodward?

JC: Yeah.

HH: Do you believe Bob Woodward when he interviewed Casey at his deathbed, too?

JC: I don’t know.

HH: Have you seen a transcript of this interview yet?

JC: The full transcript? No. I’ve only seen newspaper articles about it.

HH: And so, do you really know what he thought about the war? Because he just appeared with the President a couple of weeks ago. He never spoke out in public about this, and was generally supportive of the invasion, as far as I can recall. You’re basing…

JC: As far as you can recall?

HH: All you’ve got is Woodward.

JC: Now wait a second. Whoa. Hey, wait a second. How…as far as you can recall? Well, point to something specific. I mean, you’re asking me to point to something specific.

HH: Yeah, but I didn’t write the column. You wrote the column.

JC: Right.

HH: You wrote the column that said that the Woodward interview shows how alien he found the current President’s reckless foreign policy.

JC: You’re…on the one side, we’ve got something he was quoted as saying to one of America’s leading newspaper reporters against your vague recollection.

HH: Well, no. You wrote how alien…

JC: You said well, that doesn’t square with my vague recollection. Well, I’m sorry…

HH: Wait a minute…how alien he found the current President’s reckless foreign policy. Did he say he found President Bush’s policy alien and reckless?

JC: That’s a fair characterization of his remarks to Bob Woodward.

HH: What did he say to Bob Woodward?

JC: Do I have the remarks from him? No. He criticized the war.

HH: Yeah, but that doesn’t…

JC: Do we have to pause this and look up again? Because you know, this is a circumstance where it’s hard to debate someone who lives in an entirely parallel universe where newspaper reporters make things up and we can’t really take anything as fact.

HH: Well, Woodward does make things up. I mean, we know that. Don’t you agree with me he makes stuff up?

JC: Woodward?

HH: Yes.

JC: No.

HH: Well, many people do. Thomas Edsall thinks he made up the CIA thing with Bill Casey. You’re not buying that one, are you?

JC: You know, I don’t know.

HH: Okay, take it from Tom on that one. Let me go back here.

So, how much time do we think Jonathan spent on Sunday’s column?  And is “90%”  certainty as to facts plus a “fair characterization” of a Woodward interview enough for you? 

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