As an old guy with a particularly long interest in the career of Georgia’s Democratic President Jimmy Carter, I noted with interest some new revelations about the end-game of the 1980 elections, and wrote about it at New York:
Jimmy Carter’s slow drift toward life’s end after the longest and most impressive post-presidency in U.S. history has spawned a lot of retrospective assessments of the 39th president and his legacy. But the New York Times has brought us a look back that’s also news: Longtime Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes, now 85, decided to let it be known that he was part of a scheme in 1980 to make sure Carter’s reelection campaign wouldn’t benefit from an early release of the U.S. hostages in Tehran whose captivity had tormented the White House since November 1979.
Barnes’s story is indeed stunning. For decades, it was generally assumed that Iran’s revolutionary regime countenanced the hostage taking by allied students and activists and refused to negotiate a release with the Carter administration because of entrenched hostility toward Carter over his friendship with the deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and/or because they had reason to expect a better deal from Carter’s general-election opponent, Ronald Reagan. (Iran released the hostages, after 444 days, on Reagan’s Inauguration Day.) But no one has really offered concrete evidence of a dirty Republican deal with Tehran until now. And the prime mover in the reported drama happens to be one of the shadier figures of the modern era, former Texas governor John Connally, a powerful career-long political fixer who was suspected of personal corruption.
Best known for being wounded in the same car that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in, Connally, a protégé of Lyndon B. Johnson, played a large role in the defection of southern Democrats to the Republican Party during Richard Nixon’s administration, during which he served as Treasury secretary. His influence was best reflected by his success in convincing Nixon to impose the heretical step of wage and price controls to (temporarily) rein in inflation. Connally was reportedly Nixon’s preferred pick to replace disgraced vice-president Spiro T. Agnew, but the hostility of Democrats toward the turncoat and his less-than-ideal reputation led the Republican president to instead choose Gerald Ford, whom Carter defeated in 1976.
Four years later, Connally launched his own presidential campaign, but despite lavish funding and enthusiastic backing from corporate leaders, he floundered in Iowa and New Hampshire, losing to Reagan. According to Barnes, a longtime political associate and business partner of his fellow Texan, Connally was determined to land a high-level Cabinet appointment in a Reagan administration, so, with Barnes in tow, he put on his globe-trotting shoes to prove his worth. Per the Times account:
“What happened next Mr. Barnes has largely kept secret for nearly 43 years. Mr. Connally, he said, took him to one Middle Eastern capital after another that summer, meeting with a host of regional leaders to deliver a blunt message to be passed to Iran: Don’t release the hostages before the election. Mr. Reagan will win and give you a better deal.”
The Iranians appear to have gotten the message, as a happy Connally later reported to Reagan’s campaign chairman and future CIA director William Casey.
So should we conclude that if Connally’s mission hadn’t take place, Carter might well have won a second presidential term, relegating Reagan (and quite possibly his running mate, George H.W. Bush. and his running mate’s son George W. Bush) to the political dustbin? Tempting as the hypothesis is, it is not terribly plausible.
First of all, the Islamic regime in Tehran didn’t trust any American politician enough to depend on indirect promises of a “better deal,” and its hatred of and desire to humiliate Carter ran deep, independent of any comparison with Reagan.
Second of all, if Connally played such a dramatic role in postponing a potential hostage release, Team Reagan was notably under-appreciative. Hoping to become Secretary of State or Defense once Reagan took office, he was instead offered the Department of Energy (which the new administration intended to abolish); Connally contemptuously rejected the gig.
More important, the Iran-hostage crisis was just one of the problems weighing down Carter’s reelection campaign heading into 1980. Far more damaging than the hostage situation or any international issue was the economy, which had produced the election-year disaster of “stagflation.” In 1980, the average unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, the average inflation rate was 12.67 percent, and average home-mortgage rates were 13.74 percent. This was a political-economic catastrophe for Carter.
And that wasn’t all. Carter had to deal with a deeply divided Democratic Party and one of the strongest primary challenges any modern incumbent president has faced from liberal legend Ted Kennedy. (Ironically, a rally-round-the-flag effect stemming from the hostage crisis undoubtedly helped Carter hold off Kennedy’s challenge.) And Carter’s reelection campaign had a big strategic problem to overcome. He had narrowly won the 1976 general election thanks to the excitement of southern and southern-inflected voters (many of them former Nixon and future Reagan voters) who were thrilled to have credible presidential candidate emerge from their region of the country. But it was extremely difficult for Carter to maintain that unique coalition, particularly against an ideological candidate like Reagan. He also lost a lot of liberal voters to third-party candidate John Anderson, who ran to Carter’s left. Under these circumstances, it was actually impressive that Carter lost to Reagan by only 9.8 percent of the popular vote (though he lost the Electoral College by a 489-to-49 margin). Well before Connally and Barnes’s Middle East tour, Carter’s job-approval rating (per Gallup) had already slipped well below 40 percent, never to recover.
As much as it might give Carter and his friends some grim sense of vindication to know that skullduggery was deployed to keep the hostages locked up as his presidency slipped away, it ultimately mattered only at the margins. But the tale does provide a bit more posthumous damage to the already spotty image of Connally.
This article was frustrating, in part because it ignores an important solution in one regard and perpetuates a myth in another.
It is true that large numbers or workers will tend to depress wages. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to set a floor in terms of wages and working conditions for all applicants to avoid businesses using the most exploitable labor. The various campaigns for an increased minimum wage are encouraging. Interestingly, the push to eliminate or alter tipped wages may even be more effective because immigrants are so heavily concentrated in that sector. Bring up working standards and wages will make these jobs more attractive to white and black workers and will help the Latino and Asian people working there now.
The issue of benefits needs more explanation to the general public. Illegal immigrants are NOT eligible for most Federal and state programs and this needs to be repeated as often as the truth that they are not even allowed to vote. Just like the renewed discussion of what an increase in the marginal tax really means, progressive need to counter the falsehoods that right wing and even centrist sources state. Why are there all these people speaking Spanish in line to receive Medicaid? It’s most likely because they are citizens. There are a few limited exceptions but I am waiting for compelling evidence that this loopholes are huge or there is fraud. From a federal government website message from 2014: “No federal funding to cover undocumented immigrants, except for payment for limited emergency services.” https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/outreach-and-enrollment/downloads/overview-of-eligibility-for-non-citizens-in-medicaid-and-chip.pdf
I do believe there is a limit to the overall level of immigration but I don’t think we have reached it if we are concerning about having enough workers to support the future economy as the article mentions. The ultimate lose-lose situation (which of course is a libertarian/Republican dream) is many workers with no benefits. Given that immigration from Mexico is down, lets focus on the later.
On the better benefits and salaries issue
1. Better salaries and benefits would increase the difference between wages in the US and other countries, thereby making it even more attractive. This is called the pull factor in immigration.
2. Labor laws in the US are poorly enforced, with workplace inspections in particular being very infrequent. This is why the article calls for enforcing labor laws against employers.
3. Levels of immigration are related to working conditions in the US and to enforcement of immigration laws. It may be true that current levels of immigration are low, but that doesn’t mean they will remain low forever. Conflicts in other countries are increasing and the number of potential immigrants is very high.
On the issue of the strain of immigration on public finances
1. This is probably the aspect that most liberals misunderstand and most pundit misrepresent. The working class understand how the strain works because they use public services more.
2. Immigrants may not be eligible to all public programs, but they are eligible to a substantial proportion either directly or indirectly.
3. Asylum seekers do receive some public benefits (including during the period their applicants are pending -which can take a lot of time and a very high proportion of which are rejected-).
4. More important the children of immigrants receive a lot of public benefits, whether documented or undocumented (eg public education). Ordinary people don’t make a distinction between documented immigrants and their undocumented or native born children. Native born children though have access to many programs that benefit their parents (ie their parents administer the money that their children receive).
5. Undocumented immigrants have indirect access to benefits for example via the use of hospital emergency rooms which are prohibited from turning away people.
6. Another example is jails/prisons, regardless of whether immigrants commit more crimes or not. And of course detention centers and supervision of absconding.
Most cost/benefit analysis for immigration don’t take into account the costs of native born children. The US is in this respect different to Europe where many countries don’t have soil citizenship.
I will agree with you that enforcement of existing labor laws is crucial. In fact, some of the campaigns against tipped wages stems from the fact enforcement of a minimum wage (if tips fall below that level) has not been sufficient in the service industry.
I don’t think increased wages and benefits will create much more of a pull because the rap against immigrants is that they settle for lower wages and thereby hurt all wage earners.
Finally, you seem to be saying that the issue of benefits really comes down to emergency services. Sorry, I am not in favor of banning people from ER rooms or schools. Putting aside all moral arguments, the latter will help create a permanent precariat class which is not in anyone’s interest. In fact, that is probably why Europe has more social tensions over immigration that the US.
Where the working class has succeeded in the past to improve things for themselves are the times they were able to mute ethnic, racial, and other differences (eg. skilled vs. unskilled). Pandering to resentments against others in the same economic boat or worse is not really a viable option. Yes, we have increased border security over the years (and probably a good thing) but that has not nipped xenophobia in the bud. Making sure there is a floor native and foreign born won’t fall through is a better answer all the way around.
That is the whole point of the article, which I don’t dispute.
The fact that the proportion of the foreign born is near an all time can’t be ignored. It has positive consequences electorally, but in policy terms it is more complicated.
I also agree that this is why Democrats must take both social and economic aspects equally seriously.
Let’s see what the House produces, if anything.
Shorter version: scapegoating immigrants is not fair or helpful.
My apologies for all the typos.
Why are “undocumented” immigrants undocumented? Because they are illegal immigrants. Speaking of their illegal conduct in euphemisms like “undocumented” or “unauthorized”, or ignoring the difference between legal immigrants and illegal ones, merely convinces the hearer that the speaker wants to evade the issue. If the Democrats want to speak credibly on this issue, the first thing they must do is abandon the doubletalk.