The Real Jimmy Carter…

I collect books about the US Presidents.  Not just collect them, but devour them.  The presidency fascinates me because of what the job entails and what it takes to get there.  I love reading a biography of a president and seeing something in the boy who is 12 years old that will still be there when the man takes the oath of office.  I love reading about the people behind the president, hand picked friends/advisors and how they can be brilliant or brilliant mistakes.

Generally speaking I try to have one good biography of a president. An autobiography, if possible or book of letters for the personal edge.  A book written by someone who thinks the president hung the moon and stars and a book written by someone who details all of the mistakes, real or imagined.  I’m also happy to pick up a book of their speeches whenever possible.  I think building a collection this way gives me a balanced view of each president. 

For some presidents I have no trouble finding people who write the good and people who write the bad.  I’m up to my ears in books about President Clinton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, FDR, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson.  I haven’t had as much luck finding good books about Martin Van Buren, Chester Arthur or Warren Harding.  And while he is a modern president, I have also had a difficult time finding books about Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

The books that Carter has written himself don’t really have much to do with his presidency.  They may touch on it here and there, but he hasn’t done what Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did, which is write a very painful book detailing their mistakes and trying hard to point out the good things that got lost amidst the protests and scandals.  One term presidents seem to have such bruised egos that they are unwilling to write about what went wrong, like George H. W. Bush.  They write other kinds of books, hoping to justify their philosophies or ideals, and teasing us with the hope that the next book will be an in depth review of their time in the White House.

Several years ago I picked up a book called The President Who Failed: Carter out of control by Clark R. Mollenhoff.  It was not such a good book.  It was the kind of book that is often written by Clinton Haters or Bush Haters.  Basically it took the view that Jimmy Carter as a born again Christian who promised an ethical administration failed.  He failed by surrounding himself with unworthy advisors and then sticking by them until their scandal smell started to stick to him and then he kicked them to the curb.  And the scandals detailed in the book aren’t the selling state secrets or lying to Congress sort.  You know, things that could harm the nation.  Mollenhoff focused on whether or not Hamilton Jordan was snorting cocaine with  swinging singles in his bachelor pad.

Because Mollenhoff’s book was so bad, I was a little hesitant to purchase The Real Jimmy Carter by Steven F. Hayward.  I suspected it might be another book of scandals rather than a real look at this presidency that so spectacularly failed.  I started reading it holding several grains of salt.  But I didn’t need them.  This book was what I had been looking for.  The focus is on Jimmy Carter, his personality, his beliefs, his character.  This is a book about his time in the White House, the decisions he made, and why he failed as a president.  Toward the end of the book Hayward looks at Carter post-presidency and that is where the books starts to fail.  If the book had ended with Carter leaving office, it would have been a great book.  And if Hayward went on to write a book about Carter the roaming peace maker (misguided) I would have read it and probably enjoyed it.  But what Carter has been doing since 1981 calls for a lot of opinion and that is a different approach than Hayward used for looking at the actual Carter presidency.

I recommend this bookon the basis that it gives a good look at the Carter presidency, including some political biography.  It details how the Carter policies led to or exacerbated the energy crisis and stagflation and how his foreign policy was so muddled as to allow a mucking up all over the globe from Nicaragua to Iran to Afghanistan.  I think it would be good for Democratsto read before they nominate yet another new face who charms the nation but has little experience and even less foreign policy experience.  It was difficult to not see shades of Barack Obama while reading this book.

I do not recommend the last couple of chapters that call out Carter for being some sort of traitor for hanging with Hamas and consorting with dictators.  Those are issues to be written about and analyzed in magazines and political journals, for now.  I don’t think his current day actions can be given an honest look until after his death and more time has passed.

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