Doug Mataconis notes that Romney’s Carter-Obama comparisons won’t mean much for more than half of the electorate:
Moreover, according to data from the 2010 Census (PDF) there are some 100,000,000 Americans (roughy half of whom are currently of eligible voting age) who weren’t even born when Jimmy Carter left the White House, and another roughly 83,000,000 (all of currently of voting age) for whom the Carter Presidency is mostly a childhood memory. While it’s possible that the Carter analogy may resonate for people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, I really have to wonder if people from 18-49 are really impacted all that much by the specter of the peanut farmer from Plains.
Romney’s frequent Carter references fit into a larger pattern of running his campaign on outdated themes. Republicans haven’t been able to get a lot of mileage out of anti-Carter rhetoric and portraying Democrats as weak on national security since the early 1990s, but they can’t drop these old habits. Not only are they used to making these attacks, but they also must think they’re still effective, or else they wouldn’t keep trying to use them against Obama. I was born in 1979, and the two Democratic administrations that people in my generation can remember don’t fit the caricature that Republicans used against Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s. That is generally not a good thing as far as the substance of their policies is concerned, but it makes the standard Republican rhetoric on this subject politically useless.
I certainly grew up hearing stories about Carter’s failures, and they eventually informed my very early political views, but it was the Bush administration that had the most failed and disastrous foreign policy record in my lifetime. It’s not even close. Except for committed partisans, there are very few Americans out there capable of ignoring Bush’s failures while having a strong, negative reaction to Obama’s alleged Carter-like mistakes. Many hawkish Republicans cannot fully come to grips with the reality that George W. Bush already was the Carter of this generation. Younger voters do not remember the Carter years, but they do remember the Bush years quite clearly. Outside of a core of Republican partisans, there is no desire to relive them.
Painting Democratic candidates as new Carters wasn’t all that effective when Bush took office, and after he left this had no force at all. As unfortunate as Carter’s tenure was in many respects, running against the current incumbent with anti-Carter rhetoric makes as much sense as running against FDR by mocking William Jennings Bryan. The attack rings false because the comparison is basically false. It is borrowed from a completely different time, and it pretends that nothing has changed in the last thirty-two years.
Anachronism defines several of Romney’s positions. Romney talks about Europe as if the last twenty years of economic liberalization never happened, which is why he thinks it’s clever to associate Obama with “European” policies. Because he feels compelled to align himself with an imagined, ideologically pure version of Reagan, he rails against the “reset” as if he were Reagan railing against detente, but once we look past the very superficial likeness we find that the two cases aren’t similar at all. Russia and the rest of the world have changed dramatically in the ensuing decades, but for whatever reason Romney doesn’t want to take that into account. His view of Russia is at least twenty years out of date, and it means nothing to most Americans when he invokes the specter of a Russian threat (via Adomanis). Romney is running against an administration foreign policy that never existed because he fears foreign threats that haven’t existed in decades. It’s fitting that he can’t stop mentioning a president who hasn’t been in office in 31 years.