October 23, 2003

MY MISTAKE: Atrios takes me to task for identifying Jimmy Carter with the 55 mile per hour speed limit in this week’s TCS column. Originally, I did so very specifically because I remembered so many people complaining about it and blaming Jimmy.

Trouble is, they were wrong, and so was I. (Yeah, I could have found the right answer via Google, but you have to think to look at Google, and I thought I knew.) A couple of readers emailed me and pointed out the error, and I fixed it, though not to Atrios’ satisfaction. The point of the column, however (at least to me), wasn’t really Jimmy Carter. But I’ll post a clearer correction at TCS, just to make it plain. I don’t promise not to make mistakes — and anyone who does is, ahem, overoptimistic — just to fix ’em when I do.

As for Atrios’ comments on the Reagan drinking-age increase spearheaded by Liddy Dole, it was a lousy and hypocritical move, the sort of thing I’ve called fair-weather federalism.

UPDATE: As proof, of, well, something, a reader immediately emailed me to say that I shouldn’t be accusing Atrios of fair-weather federalism. Unless he’s secretly Liddy Dole (not the first on my list of his potential secret identities, but hey, who knows?) I wasn’t.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The beauty of blogs. The TCS folks noticed this post and put up their own correction, which is more generous to me, and less generous to them, than is really warranted, or than I would have written myself. They didn’t catch the mistake, it’s true, but I’m the one who made it. I must say, though, that the manufactured outrage over this issue from the lefty bloggers is rather amusing. It’s as if I’d accused Carter of ordering thermostat settings across the country or something. Oh, wait. . . .

And reader Geoff Campbell notes that the national speed limit, which was originally intended as a temporary measure, was reenacted in 1978 with more teeth — which probably explains why I remember people bitching about Carter in connection with speed limits. And reader Robert Ellison notes:

You say you’ll clarify the issues regarding Jimmy Carter’s support of the 55-mph speed limit at TCS. I hope that when you do, you also make it clear that Carter was a very strong supporter of the limit, and that it was he more than anyone else who switched the standard justification for the limit from “55 saves fuel” (which is why the limit was originally imposed) to “55 saves lives” (which was a minor argument at the time of the imposition).

So Carter strongly supported a stupid law that didn’t achieve its original goal (saving fuel), and then he put up a new, more stupid reason for the law, thus undermining its legitimacy. When we repealed the limit, both the original and new reasons were proven false.

Carter wasn’t malevolent here, but as usual, he was an idiot. THAT is why we tend to associate him with the 55-mph limit. 55 wastes time!

This seems to be true, judging by this State of the Union message:

In the area of accidental injury control, we have established automobile safety standards and increased enforcement activities with respect to the 55 MPH speed limit. By the end of the decade these actions are expected to save over 13,000 lives and 100,000 serious injuries each year.

I urge the new Congress to continue strong support for all these activities.

At the very least, Carter certainly didn’t mind being associated with the speed limit. I suppose it’s progress toward suspicion of the Nanny State that even lefties now view such an association as a vicious calumny. Nonetheless, I regret the initial error.

MORE: I don’t think I can tie it to blogs and CB radio, but Andrew Lloyd points out Jimmy Carter’s best moment as President. I agree.

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