President Carter The White House years

Stuart Eizenstat

Book - 2018

"The Carter presidency is the most underappreciated of the last century. Often considered just a smiling but ineffectual Southerner in a sweater, Jimmy Carter deserves to be remembered instead as a risk taker who did what he felt was right, not what would be politically expedient, whose legacy led to presidential successes long after his term, and whose list of lasting achievements reshaped the country. Stuart Eizenstat saw everything firsthand. As Carter's Chief Domestic Policy Adviser, he was directly involved in all domestic and economic decisions as well as in many involving foreign policy. Famous for the legal pads on which he recorded every meeting and call, he draws on more than 5,000 pages of contemporaneous notes, as well... as declassified documents and more than 350 interviews he conducted with the era's key players from both parties, to write this comprehensive yet intimate history. Eizenstat takes you inside Camp David during the grueling negotiations for peace between Israel and Egypt; shows how Carter transformed our transportation, environment, and energy policies and supported a tough monetary policy that finally defeated stagflation; and lays out how Carter made human rights the centerpiece of American foreign policy. This book is no apologia, however. Eizenstat analyzes Carter's triumphs and failures honestly so that we can understand how he dealt with some of the most intractable challenges any president has faced. He reveals the story behind the "malaise" speech and how the cabinet firing that followed nearly cost Carter his vice president. He describes the Iranian hostage crisis from both inside the White House and Ayatollah Khomeini's camp. And he puts you in the war room during Carter's 1980 presidential campaign against Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. In the end, Eizenstat's definitive chronicle of Carter's consequential term in office shows that this good man from Georgia was a far better president than history has so far recognized."--Dust jacket.

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New York : Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press 2018.
Main Author
Stuart Eizenstat (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxi, 999 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Into the White House
  • 1. The 1976 Campaign
  • 2. A Perilous Transition
  • 3. The Making of the Modern Vice President
  • 4. A New Kind of First Lady
  • 5. The Indispensable Man
  • Part II. Energy
  • 6. The Moral Equivalent of War
  • 7. Energizing Congress
  • 8. The Senate Graveyard
  • 9. Energy and the Dollar at the Bonn Summit
  • 10. Into the Pork Barrel, Reluctantly
  • Part III. The Environment
  • 11. An Early Interest
  • 12. The Water Wars
  • 13. Alaska Forever Wild, Despite Its Senators
  • Part IV. The Economy
  • 14. The Great Stagflation
  • 15. The Consumer Populist
  • 16. Saving New York and Chrysler
  • Part V. Peace in the Middle East
  • 17. The Clash of Peace and Politics
  • 18. Sadat Changes History
  • 19. Carter's Triumph at Camp David
  • 20. A Cold Peace
  • Part VI. Peace in the Rest of the World
  • 21. The Panama Canal and Latin America
  • 22. The Soviet Union
  • 23. Afghanistan
  • Part VII. The Unraveling: Resignations and Reshuffling
  • 24. The "Malaise" Speech
  • 25. Resignations and Reshuffling
  • Part VIII. Iran
  • 26. The Rise of the Ayatollah
  • 27. The Fall of the President
  • Part IX. A Catastrophic Conclusion
  • 28. "Where's the Carter Bill, When We Need It?"
  • 29. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
  • 30. "Are You Better Off ...?"
  • 31. Final Days
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by New York Times Review

shortly before Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in January 1981, one of his aides drafted a memo recommending that he invite his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, for a meal at the White House. "Ultimately, while the American people overwhelmingly rejected President Carter," the memo said, "they continue to like Jimmy Carter personally." I found the memo during archival research recently, a reminder of a time when Carter loomed large in our national life. He was the down-home, jeans-wearing peanut farmer with the infectious grin who promised to heal the country after Watergate only to be brought down by a miserable economy and a hostage crisis that overwhelmed him. He was a populist outsider promising to make America great again long before someone else claimed that mantle. The memo got it right: Americans did reject him, but they also liked him personally. Today, most Americans are too young to remember Carter's presidency firsthand and know him more for his active postpresidency, appreciating his energetic, Nobel Prize-winning efforts to help the downtrodden, monitor elections and search for peace in the darkest corners of the planet. He has gone too far for some, particularly with his criticism of Israel. But while many in both parties consider Carter a failed president, they generally view him as a model former president. Stuart E. Eizenstat argues that it is time to re-evaluate his four years in the White House too. Carter may seem like a transitional figure between scandal-tarred Richard M. Nixon and venerated Reagan, but in "President Carter: The White House Years," Eizenstat makes the case that the 39th president changed the course of the country for the better. "He has more than redeemed himself as an admired public figure by his post-presidential role," Eizenstat writes. "Now it is time to redeem his presidency." Eizenstat is no neutral arbiter. A fellow Georgian, he joined Carter's 1976 presidential campaign and became his White House domestic policy adviser. He is an unabashed admirer who in judging Carter against his presidential peers deems him "one of the most consequential in modern history." Indeed, he opens with a burst of excess, contending that Carter's accomplishments outpace not just those of fellow one-term presidents like Herbert Hoover and Warren G. Harding but also the more highly regarded John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush. He goes further, asserting that Carter's record outshines those of two-termers like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Few historians would go so far. But for those who resist the temptation to put the book down there, what follows is not the hagiography the opening lines suggest. Instead, relying in part on more than 5,000 pages of his own contemporaneous notes and 350 interviews, including five with his former boss, Eizenstat has produced a thoughtful, measured and compelling account that bemoans Carter's weaknesses even as it extols his strengths. If readers are not convinced that Carter was the second coming of Kennedy, they will come away with a three-dimensional portrait. Coming in at nearly 900 pages, Eizenstat's book requires an investment, and it may explain more about, say, energy policy than anyone really wants to know. But overall it proves a surprisingly good read and fills a gaping void on the presidential bookshelf. While Carter himself is a prolific author and writers like Douglas Brinkley, Mark Bowden and Lawrence Wright have examined specific periods of his life, until now there has never been a satisfying fulllength history of his presidency. Eizenstat closes that gap, evidently on the leading edge of a wave of new books about Carter currently being worked on by Jonathan Alter and Kai Bird. In Eizenstat's rendering, Carter was a thoroughly decent, well-intentioned idealist who tackled tough issues like energy, wrestled with economic troubles and advanced human rights, all with drive and determination. He made peace between Israel and Egypt, ratified the Panama Canal treaty and started the military buildup in response to Soviet aggression that Reagan would accelerate. Despite punishing inflation and unemployment, economic growth under Carter was nearly as high as it was under Reagan, and he added less to the national debt as a percentage than either Reagan or the two Bushes. Yet by Eizenstat's own description, Carter was also priggish and pedantic, correcting grammar in memos "as if he were my elementary schoolteacher" and immersing himself too deeply in details, as when he requested world oil reserve estimates in square miles instead of barrels. He stood by his unseasoned "Georgia mafia" too long and should have appointed a strong chief of staff from the start. He tried to do too much at once, as even his wife, Rosalynn, warned. He had a moralistic streak, striking a congressman off a Camp David invitation list because he was living with a woman outside marriage. More broadly, he "did not like politicians and felt uncomfortable with the normal byplay of political compromise" - and he was a downer for a country whose spirits needed lifting. His Inaugural Address was "a tone poem, but with a downbeat note." He opened an energy speech to the nation by saying, "Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem that is unprecedented in our history." In celebrating the creation of the Department of Education, he told a joyful crowd, "This thing won't work as well as you think it will." Overall, "Carter's message was sacrifice and pain," Eizenstat writes. "When he faced Reagan's message of hope and optimism amid soaring inflation and interest rates, the very contrast itself was painful." Indeed, his fatal flaw was captured in his infamous "malaise speech," in which Carter lectured the nation on its poor morale (although he never actually used the word that would come to define it in history). After the speech and subsequent cabinet firings, Vice President Walter F. Mondale grew so despondent that he contemplated resigning. This was reported before, in a 1997 book by a former Carter adviser, and Mondale disputed it then. Eizenstat, however, is a firsthand witness. In a phone call, Mondale told me that he was just venting and would never have followed through. "I just had a spasm there but I kept right on going," he told me. "I was just depressed there after that meeting." Still, a president who demoralizes his own vice president invariably has trouble inspiring a nation. The crushing finale of Carter's presidency, the 444 days when American diplomats were held hostage in Iran, demonstrated his essential humanity even as it cemented an image of fecklessness. Alone among his team, Carter had anticipated what would happen if he allowed the deposed Shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment. "What are you guys going to advise me to do when they overrun our embassy now and take our people hostage?" he asked. Yet he granted the request anyway, triggering the rage that led to the storming of the embassy in 1979. Much like Carter's critics, Eizenstat believes the president erred by holing up in the White House consumed by the impasse while taking even the theoretical threat of military force off the table. Carter looked incapable of commanding events, and the long standoff undercut American stature. But Carter's laser focus did, at last, secure the release of the 52 hostages, at the cost of his presidency. The final indignity came when Iran barred the plane with the hostages from taking off until after minutes after Reagan was inaugurated. For the following 37 years, Carter's presidency has been held hostage in a way, too - to the string of missteps, the missed opportunities and the two-dimensional image. He has Eizenstat to thank for seeking to free him from the chains of history and provide a fuller picture. ? This is a measured account that bemoans Carter's weaknesses even as it extols his strengths. peter baker is the chief White House correspondent/or The Times. An updated edition of his latest book, "Obama: The Call of History," will be reissued this fall.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 17, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Few Americans anticipate seeing the face of Jimmy Carter added to Mount Rushmore, but Eizenstat Carter's chief domestic-policy adviser sees in him a much better president than historians have yet acknowledged. As one who experienced the Carter presidency up close, Eizenstat draws from his own copious in-the-moment notes, as well as hundreds of interviews, to deliver an exceptionally detailed chronicle of four eventful White House years. That chronicle exposes failures that made Carter a one-term president but also illuminates accomplishments likely to elevate his reputation over time. Readers see Carter's obsessive micromanaging, his preachy idealism, and his political naïveté, weaknesses that hamstrung the president in his struggles to free America's economy from stagflation and to liberate 52 of its citizens from captivity in Iran. But readers also see Carter's courageous leadership in modernizing the economy by deregulating the energy, transportation, and communications industries; protecting the environment by expanding the national park system; improving relations with Latin America by ending American ownership of the Panama Canal; and reshaping diplomacy by making human rights a new global priority. And Eizenstat's taut behind-the-scenes narrative gives readers unexpected reasons to appreciate Carter's stunning accomplishment in negotiating peace between Egypt and Israel. A compelling reassessment of an oft-maligned chief executive.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

Eizenstat (Imperfect Justice), chief domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924), brings an invaluable insider's perspective to a study of the 39th U.S. president based on information from the author's own notes, declassified documents, and -interviews with members of both political parties. Historians are most likely to use this book, but general readers willing to take up the challenge of this substantive tome will also benefit. Eizenstat details Carter's efforts, at the time relatively new for a democratic president, to deregulate industries (air passenger travel, fossil fuel production, and mass communications) and promote a more competitive economy. He shows how Carter was sidelined by squabbles within his own party and shifts in partisan loyalties, along with the Iran Hostage Crisis. By the end of his single term, Carter unwittingly came to symbolize establishment inaction. While professing the worthiness of his own goals, Eizenstat refreshingly admits to past errors in tactics and judgement. VERDICT This comprehensive, unflinching narrative and analytical treatment of Carter is essential for a new evaluation of an earnest, often exasperating, yet important figure in late 20th-century U.S. history.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Jimmy Carter's chief domestic policy adviser tells all.In 1981, Eizenstat (The Future of the Jews: How Global Forces Are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel, and Its Relationship with the United States, 2012, etc.) began research on a history of the Carter presidency. Drawing on 5,000 pages of his own "detailed, often verbatim" notes; 350 interviews with individuals within and outside of the administration (including Carter, his wife, and Walter Mondale); and copious material from the Carter Presidential Library and many other sources, the author has created a mammoth, authoritative, and comprehensive history of four tumultuous years. A born-again Christian peanut farmer, Carter promised to fight "for the common good against Washington's entrenched interests." He disdained politics and had no interest inor talent for"buttering up Congressional egos and rallying interest groups and the public" to support his policies. Eizenstat highlights Carter's many accomplishments: He championed human rights domestically and internationally; reined in Soviet interests in the Persian Gulf and Middle East; doggedly negotiated a peace accord between Israel and Egypt; deregulated crude oil and natural gas prices as well as the transportation industry; pursued an aggressive conservation policy; bailed out New York City and Chrysler from bankruptcy; and oversaw the creation of 10 million new jobs. From the outset, though, Carter's administration was undermined by mismanagement, astounding ineptitude, and bad luck. He assembled a strong Cabinet but provided no clear guidance on his own goals, and most staff were inexperienced. A micromanager, he drowned himself in details, and he failed to communicate adequately to the press, lawmakers, and the public. He was also beset by divisiveness in Congress and among various constituencies. Domestically, he faced stagflation (high inflation and rising unemployment). In his final year, to the CIA's surprise, Iran erupted in revolution, resulting in 52 Americans held hostage in the U.S. Embassy. Eizenstat enlivens his chronicle with deft portraits of a huge cast of characters, including a headstrong 29-year-old pollster who became "almost like Rasputin" to Carter.An astute, often shocking, behind-the-scenes chronicle. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.