The news that President Carter's cancer has spread is a moment to reflect on the under-appreciated achievements of our 39th president.
It's a shame that it took the ascendance of Barack Obama, a president who, unlike Mr. Carter, hardly ever cooperates with Republicans to move policy toward more free markets, to cause an appreciation of Mr. Carter's tilts toward centrist moderation. But there were some, as I trace in a couple of pages of the book JFK, Conservative.
Mr. Carter appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, who eventually, (though too late for Mr. Carter's reelection) succeeded in reining in inflation.
Mr. Carter signed into law (albeit reluctantly) the Steiger Amendment, named for William Steiger, a Republican of Wisconsin. That cut the capital gains tax to 28 percent from the effective 49.875 percent rate to which it had been increased under Nixon and Ford.
Mr. Carter worked with Congress to pass the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which led to lower fares, the abolition of the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the rise of discount carriers like People Express and Southwest. He also passed the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, deregulating trucking. Air cargo, railroad freight, even to some extend banking and energy saw bureaucracy rolled back during the Carter years, paving the way for the growth of FedEx and alternative energy. In October 1978, Carter asked a rally, "Do you want a government that will get the regulatory agencies' and government agencies' nose out of the private sector's business and let our free enterprise system work in the United States? Well, that's the kind of government we're trying to bring you in Washington."
The point isn't that Mr. Carter is perfect, or that the voters were wrong to replace him with Reagan. The point is that there was a time not so long ago when Democrats and Republicans worked together for common-sense, free-market-oriented reforms that, when tested, worked. And that even someone like Mr. Carter, often caricatured as a hopelessly left-wing, had at least some areas where he worked with Republicans (as Bill Clinton later did with the Gingrich Congress on welfare reform and on capital gains tax cuts).