A few days ago I posted an angry response to the idea that "even Jimmy carter...." set some kind of minimum standard for conduct as President. While it is enough to show that Governor R-Money was wrong, I think it is even more important to show the context of the times. Fact is, compared to what was going on in 1979, President Obama has it easy. That is not to say that he has not had a ton of challenges, but few Presidents other than Lincoln or Roosevelt have faced a year like President Carter did in 1979.
Before going into the craziness that happened in 1979 I think its important to remember what we did not have back then.
There was no internet as we know it but the idea was spawned in 1979 with the creation of the Internet Configuration Control Board. Ethernet was still a year away and TCP/IP didnt join us until 1982.
1979 saw the first cell network in Tokyo Japan but like TCP/IP, it would take until 1982 for the first US "1G" service. It wasnt until 1993 that someone sent a text to someone else.
There were only three TV networks plus PBS. Maybe that is a plus since President Carter never had to deal with Fox.
The real difference this created was a long "flash to bang" time for all the events that unfolded over the year. News "happened" at 6PM when Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley told it to you, the next day if you lived in a city with a big enough newspaper or a week plus later when Time magazine arrived. If you wanted to know more, too bad....unless you were the President of the United States and had the entire Intelligence Community to answer questions for you. On to 1979.
January 1st officially marked the start of full diplomatic relations between the US and Communist China - one of President Carters many achievements.
By the 7th the Vietnameese Army had taken Phnom Penh and Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge went into hiding along the Thai border.
On the 16th Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran flees Iran for Egypt.
In February things start to move in Iran -
1 Feb - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Tehran.
3 Feb – Khomeini creates the Council of the Islamic Revolution.
7 Feb - Supporters of Khomeini take over law enforcement, courts and government administration
10 Feb – The Iranian army mutinies.
11 Feb – Khomeini seizes power in Iran.
February 14 - Muslim extremists kidnap the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph Dubs, who is later killed during a gunfight between his kidnappers and police.
February 17 – The People's Republic of China invades northern Vietnam, launching the Sino-Vietnamese War.
February 27 – The annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, Louisiana is canceled due to a strike called by the New Orleans Police Department.
- Two months into the year and things are already crazy. In less than a month decades of US foreign policy in one of the most critical region of the world is tossed aside. Entire careers were built on relationships in Iran and now there was nothing but uncertainty. A US Ambassador has been killed and a major cultural celebration cancelled. And our newest friend (China) has invaded our most recent enemy (Vietnam) in response to said enemy (Vietnam) invading another enemy (Cambodia) and ejection the enemy leader (Pol Pot) who we would then kind of friend.
Things are quiet most of March with "just" one coup on March 13 in Grenada. Maurice Bishop would later become a trophy in the Reagan Library.
On the 26th Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin got together and signed a Peace Treaty that still holds today. All it did was end the near constant state of war that had existed since 1948.
A good month and time to relax.....until on 28 March Three Mile Island happens.
April starts with one of those things that the President knew but we didn't - the Sverdlovsk Anthrax leak. In the pre-internet days Presidents had tons to worry about that the public never knew.
The rest of April was pretty slow until the President was attacked....by a bunny.
- Another two months down. The huge achievement of the Camp David is tempered by the nation being scared to death of nuclear power, a possible challenge to our oldest foreign policy doctrine (Monroe Doctrine) in Grenada and the knowledge that the Soviets had made a big booboo with deadly bio weapons.
The President got through most of May without incident until the 25th when the nation, already scared of its major source for electric power, became scared to fly when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed killing 272 people and prompting the entire DC-10 fleet to be grounded for over a month. My mom has refused to fly in a DC-10 ever since.
On the 2nd of June, Pope John Paul the II arrived in Poland setting off a chain of events that would contribute to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Of note John Paul the II had only been elevated to the Holy See in October of 1978 after the death of John Paul I. The end of John Paul I's 33 day Papacy is still in dispute.
On day later we had the prequel to the Gull Oil Spill - Ixtoc I.
On June 18th President Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks). if you need details, ask Vice President Biden. Although never ratified, it was "enforced" by both side until President Reagan tossed it aside.
On June 25th The Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhof Gang nearly killed US General Alexander Haig, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
- So just half way through the year and the world is a mess, diplomats are being killed/generals almost killed and the nation had experienced it's worst nuclear, air travel and, until 2010, oil spill accidents. This would test even the best of men. Toss in an attack bunny, a UN sponsored Disco, and the death of John Wayne and its amazing President Carter got any sleep.
Tomorrow, the last 6 months of 1979.