This is my brief review of President Carter's book: White House Diary.
I can recommend the book, IF one is a political junkie. Note: it is not a comprehensive review of the time period, and it is a diary of partially digested and, at times, half baked thoughts and impressions.
Yes, I winced at times and yes, President Carter seemed impatient with those who actually voted with him the most (sound familiar?).
More below the fold; this is cross posted on my personal blog.
White House Diary by Jimmy Carter:
I listened to much of this while driving between Peoria and Texas; I finally got my copy of the hardback book and finished it last night.
My take: I found it enjoyable, though perhaps it is better to listen to than to read. I had to keep in mind that this is an edited version of a diary rather than a typical book; hence some of what I read represented raw, undigested "thoughts at the time". The clarifying remarks (put in italics in the book, or spoken by President Carter in the audio) helped a great deal.
Was this book self aggrandizing?
I suppose that any honest diary would have to be; after all, President Carter is reporting his point of view of events. But, in the clarifying notes and in the afterword, he does do some reflection and admits where he was wrong or misguided.
What I learned
The "conventional wisdom" was that he was a bumbler who, aside from the Camp David Accords, didn't get much done. That is not the case. The Camp David Accords was a huge international accomplishment, and he DID get the hostages back unharmed.
Other big accomplishments: trucking and airline deregulation. An energy bill which featured conservation. He got the Alaska lands bill passed (environmental) and also established the Department of Energy and Department of Education.
Now he may have overstated his accomplishments, or at least left out context.
Yes, it was a bit too pious for me; I prefer "here is a list of stuff YOU can do" and I liked his several point plan that he outlined at the end of the speech; note that it had an "all of the above" approach that Republicans SAY that they prefer. But it wasn't bad.
President Carter's downfall came AFTER that speech, when he admittedly bungled the mass resignation of his cabinet officers.
It is interesting to get a glimpse on how much is on a President's plate.
It was good to see someone in Washington taking a balanced approach to Israel and the Arab/Muslim world. Sure, he got heat for that.
President Carter seemed to be exasperated with the liberal wing of the Democratic party, even though the liberals voted with him more often than anyone else (and he admitted as such). Part of the reason for the tension lies with the liberals themselves: all too often, we
1. Want it all instead of being happy for what is feasible at the time.
2. Want the program couched in our language. President Carter admits: (page 432):
Hedley Donovan came by. I had asked him what we should do about recruiting back the northern liberals. [...] He notices that when I do something that is liberal in nature, I generally cloak it in conservative language.Later, President Carter says: (page 527)
The way I saw it, getting good final results was the only scorecard that counted, but that view wasn't shared by everyone.That sure reminds me of President Obama.
Of course, it wouldn't hurt for President Carter to admit that, maybe, just maybe, that liberals (sometimes) know what they are talking about? (think: Paul Krugman)
President Carter was impatient with the superficial stuff (e. g. the flap over the 2000 Soviet troops in Cuba, which was in accordance with the 1962 Missile Crisis agreement) and didn't participate in things like the correspondence dinner (President Obama seems to like the dinners).
I was impressed at how good of a runner President Carter was and at how much he read. Note: some of President Carter's training runs (50 and 53 minute 10K) at 55 years of age were superior to my current races. Yes, he talks about his blowing up at a 10K race (trying to run too fast for the conditions).
He also had detailed knowledge of the situation at hand. I was impressed at the accuracy of his description of the problem of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. I'd love to have seen President Reagan try to master such details.
Then again, those who can learn details are often accused of micromanaging, and President Carter admits that his critics may have been right here. (page 527)
Some of his descriptions of the major actors are, shall we say, colorful. President Carter had a temper. Some of his language is surprisingly salty.
I called Paul Volcker, who is raising the discount rate. This will hurt us politically, but I think it's the right thing to do.Note: President Reagan kept Chairman Volcker (Federal Reserve chair) and Volcker's policies were widely credited for stopping inflation. Of course, President Reagan got the credit. Few remember who actually appointed Chairman Volcker.
The piousness and the "its never to late to become a believer" stuff was embarrassing.
Page 378: his characterization of NOW being "that crazy women's group" made me wince. I'd rather he used some of his "let's see this from the other person's point of view" ethic here. I am not saying that there aren't loud, idiotic feminists. There are. But why not look at their valid concerns?
Page 402: he had lunch with Rupert Murdoch (later of Fox News fame); he set this up because he wanted favorable coverage from the New York Post. His description:
I came back and had lunch with Rupert Murdoch, the Australian news publisher, and really liked him. He was interesting, friendly and promised me full support of the New York Post in the primary campaign.(facepalm)
Page 313: President Carter seemed to be interested in the CIA's use of...parapsychology? (more here) He admits that it "defies logic". I wish he had consulted with competent scientists about "false positives".
I can recommend this book, but I am a politically junkie. I was reminded both why I liked President Carter (smart, informed, intellectually curious) and what irritated me so much (piousness, minimal "people skills"). Yes, I voted for him in 1980; in fact that he the first president I voted for. My parents supported Senator Kennedy's primary challenge, but I did not.
Remember though: it really is a diary and not a comprehensive treatment of the politics and history of the era.