Obama's Presidency Draws Comparisons to Jimmy Carter

The similarities between Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter are undeniable.

Carter studied nuclear physics and taught Sunday School. Obama edited the Harvard Law Review and taught constitutional law. Both can flash a million-dollar smile. And both won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Even before Obama replicated Carter's inaugural day walk along Pennsylvania Avenue, presidential historians had already begun making the comparison.

"His rhetoric is more like Jimmy Carter's than any other Democratic president in recent memory," said Sean Wilentz, a Princeton University historian. "He has talked about rejecting the old politics, attacking special interests and lobbyists, wearing his Christian ideals on his sleeve. All of that is very much Carteresque in many ways."

Now the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, published by The Washington Post Co., takes the comparison even further.

Historian Walter Russell Mead argues both men came to power after exceptionally turbulent times. The Vietnam-Watergate era for Carter. The post-9/11 "war on terror" period for Obama.

And both sought to reduce tensions between the U.S. and its adversaries. But that goal, Mead said, conflicts with another held by both presidents.

"Both Obama and Carter were in some ways visionary idealists," he said. "And they're worried about issues like genocide, like poverty, tyranny around the world. And so it becomes very hard: How do you balance a human rights agenda with a kind of live-and-let live agenda?

"You reach out to Iran and you ask Russia for help, that means that now Putin and Ahmadinejad have the power to either make you look good or look bad. So when you set out to try to reduce tensions with adversaries, you can sometime give hostages to fortune."

But Mark Knoller, a CBS News correspondent who has covered every White House since Gerald Ford's, isn't completely sold on the comparison. 

"They have a similar approach in some areas to problem solving, to world politics, to world affairs," he said. "But I'm not sure at any point you're going to say, you know, 'It looks like Barack Obama is taking a page or chapter from Jimmy Carter's playbook.'"

 For all their similarities, there are two key differences.

Obama won the presidency with a much larger margin of victory and thus a greater claim to a mandate from the American people than Carter enjoyed in 1976.

And of course, Obama is only one year into his term, giving him an eternity, in political terms, to write for his presidency a much different ending than Carter's.

Fox News' James Rosen contributed to this report.