It is well, this Thanksgiving weekend, to turn attention back to President Carter. For by a strange alchemy, the parts of his record were greater than the whole. Especially for those of us who have been negative, there are uncounted blessings to count.
Style, for openers. The blue jeans and cardigan came as a welcome relief to the buttoned-up stodginess of the blue suit and white shirt worn as a uniform in the Nixon years. The cultural fare at the Carter White House ranged widely and contrasted favorably with kitsch that went before.
Honest government found favor in the Carter years. The president may have been blind to his own deceptions and the weaknesses of his family. But corruption did not pass the bounds of self-bamboozlement. The Justice Department smeared egg all over the faces of those who sought to exculpate Nixon by finding new Watergates. The fix was out.
A vice president, for once, was in. Fritz Mondale became an all-purpose adviser, free of operational responsibilities but able to apply (usually good) judgement across the board. No other administration in modern times can make that claim.
In foreign policy, though Carter did not seek it, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty constitutes a major plus. The president did facilitate its achievement at Camp David. Now the entente between the two old enemies is the stopper in the Middle East -- the big reason the Persian Gulf war has been contained and the starting point for any healthy new developments in the area.
Bad management marred the establishment of formal relations with China. The event was staged more by Peking than by Washington and, in a way, it cast a shadow over this country's relations with Russia. Still, the Chinese connection is now a fixed element in American foreign policy.
Events in Afghanistan and Iran worked to loosen the bonds of alliance with Western Europe. Achieving new understandings with Paris and Bonn at the political level constitutes the most urgent, if not the biggest, foreign policy task ahead. But the Carter administration has provided a point of departure -- a program for military modernization of the NATO alliance.
In domestic affairs, energy leads the way. Carter broke with the illusions and evasions that marked the approach of two previous presidents. He presented a comprehensive program. He followed it through the labyrinth of Congress and emerged with probably the most significant achievement of his administration -- something no Republican president could have done. He set in motion the deregulation of oil prices.
Deregulation in other fields was, no doubt, initiated by the Ford administration. But there is reason to doubt Republicans could have proceeded very far, very fast. The Carter administration did. It freed up airline travel and truck transportation, the banking business and communication of many kinds. We are all the beneficiaries, and there is -- for some time to come -- no turning back.
Inflation proved to be the Waterloo of the Carter administration. In 1977, and again in 1978, the administration saw recession ahead. It pushed for stimulating measures, and thus reduced unemployment and excess manufacturing capacity that might have slowed the spread of higher prices. When the inflationary danger surged front and center in 1978, Carter was condemned to run before events.
But at least he didn't walk. He accepted tight budgeting. He accepted tight money. In the end, despite knowing winks, he stuck by this commitment and fought off attacks that would have left the country in poorer position than it is today for dealing with its principle domestic problems.
Those achievements are not, in my mind anyhow, enough to yield a positive balance. But they represent undoubted accomplishments. And that is something to thankful for.