Jimmy Carter was on The Daily Show last night to talk about his new book “White House Diary.” It’s an amusing interview, and he doesn’t mince words…

Cool guy. In my opinion, an underrated President. This got me thinking about a little piece of history I learned about recently.

You see, Carter was losing to Reagan in the polls back in the fall of 1980, largely because of the Iranian hostage crisis (for you kids, 52 people were being held hostage in the American embassy in Tehran by a bunch of “students,” with the tacit approval of the Iranian government.)

In April 1980, the military had attempted a rescue mission that failed when a helicopter and plane collided in the Iranian desert.

But the military had not given up on the idea of a rescue mission. There was a soccer stadium almost right next to the American embassy. If the U.S. could just find a way to land a plane there, in that very short space (for a plane,) they could send in commandoes and hopefully rescue the hostages.

No such plane existed at the time. However, the C-130 Hercules, the Air Force’s workhorse cargo plane, had already been modified to use solid rockets to take off with almost no runway. Wanna see what that looks like? ‘Cause it’s pretty cool…

So, okay, they could probably adapt that and get the C-130 off the ground in the relatively tiny space of a soccer field, but what about landing? Well, that was going to require something new. And damn it, it almost worked. But just a few days before the election – and before the final rescue attempt – one of the test planes had a little problem. (The first part of the video shows some successful tests, followed by the failure. Nobody was seriously injured.)

I couldn’t help but think about this last night while watching Jimmy Carter on The Daily Show. What if the computer-controlled rockets had fired at the right time? (You’ll notice that the downward-facing rockets failed to fire before the crash.) What if they’d gone over to Iran and gotten the hostages out? Believe me, that would have clinched the election for Carter, and we never would have been exposed to the horrors of Ronald Reagan.

History is full of what-if’s. This one hits a little closer to home because I was alive and aware of events at the time.