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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  February 19, 2011 8:00am-9:00am EST

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>> welcome to >> caller:'s booktv. we bring you 40 hours on book end history, biography and public affairs. it is the president's day weekend on booktv. afterwards, 1966 interview with martin luther king launched the career of veteran journalist harold simpson. this weekend, the story of climbing the ranks and a profession dominated by white male. hopefully this weekend, the way governments are using the internet to maintain political power. and stephanie looks at the feminine mystique and the birth of the women's movement.
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find a holiday schedule at and we will e-mail the scheduled to you. >> juan zelizer ricans the presidency of jimmy carter. juan zelizer reports on the 39th's president's difficulties maintaining support from congress due to what the author contends or legislative decisions that were unwelcome by many of the democrats who president carter needed for support. juan zelizer presents his book at the miller center at the university of virginia in charlottesville. the talk is just over one of our. >> it is a pleasure to be here as always. when republican john mccain wanted to insult his opponent in the 2008 election he warned that
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barack obama's presidency would be like a jimmy carter second term. the joke didn't need any explanation. democrats responded to the differences between obama and president carter, not by defending the former president. even if carter became known for having one of the most active post presidential careers in american history, his time in the white house has remained a symbol of failed presidential leadership. over the past few months there have been many commentators who have compared obama to carter rather than fdr, and the nuns or ronald reagan. the point is clear. in contemporary political debate and in most history textbooks carter is consistently remembered as a president who failed to articulate a compelling political vision and who was unable to hold his party
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together. the image of a worn down carter hold up in the white house desperately trying to resolve the iran hostage crisis in to the final hours of his term became almost as iconic as the images of president john f. kennedy huddled with his brother robert trying to avert a nuclear war during the cuban missile crisis. with all the praise given to ronald reagan and what he achieved in 1980 there is the sense that carter's political implosion offered an opportunity that conservatives needed in 1980. the story that best captures the position of jimmy carter toward the end of his presidency took place in the summer of 1979. the story is not the -- delivered in july but rather a story about a rabbit.
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in august, press secretary jody powell in formally told the associated press reporter brooks jackson a story that carter told him. the president had been on vacation in georgia. when he was fishing on a kenna, a rabbit tried to make his way onto carter's boat. the president batted the rabbit away with his paddle. jackson liked the story and published a humorous peace which he sent out on the wire. some of the networks picked up on the story and the washington post published it right around the front page. the title is bunny goes bonds. rapid attacks president. what started as an innocent story turned into yet another political headache for president carter. he was in such bad shape by that time that the story actually matter.
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republican senator robert dole from kansas planning to run in 1980 jokes and the president should, quote, apologize for bashing a bunny in the head with a paddle. i am sure the rabbit intended the president no harm. the fourth thing was simply doing something a little unusual these days, trying to get aboard the president's boat. everyone else seems to be jumping ship. in this book i wanted to try to understand what went wrong. i wanted to move beyond the standard historical account that carter was just inevitably doomed to failure. many argue that carter was incompetent, week, unable to leave. the conventional picture of carter as tone deaf who never displayed political skills, a man who was primarily fortunate
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to find himself in the right place at the right time after the shock and trauma of watergate and his weakness as a leader became evident as soon as he was given the response ability of governing. but these interpretations ignored some powerful factors that could have made carter a success. is was the presidency with considerable potential. he was an exceptionally smart man with a good grasp of major public policy challenges of the day. he could be very engaging and few failed to be dazzled by his memorably wide smile. at least early on he sometimes demonstrated a real capacity to understand the mood of the electorate and what voters wanted, whether this was the desire for some kind of anti-establishment politics in 1976 or the need for a new moral
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framework such as human rights or debating foreign policy. he could be a shrewd political operator with a very good feel for unlike durrell politics when he was in georgia and also nationally. he successfully defeated many powerful and more well-known democratic figures in the 1976 primary. on many issues such as race relations, welfare reform, carter had the ability to see the potential compromise at a time more liberal and conservative were moving farther and farther apart. senator george mcgovernment failed in his efforts to run a maverick campaign in 1972 losing in a devastating landslide defeat to richard nixon, carter pulled off.
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carter was also politically appealing in the new south. the increasingly urban cosmopolitan and racially tolerant choices of the region. he was a member of a group of progressive moderate governors like from south carolina or ruben of florida who represented the potential for democrats to regain the south after the passage of the civil-rights act in 1954. legislation had to convince president lyndon johnson that he had just handed way the region to the republican party for many generations to come. >> we must also acknowledge that carter had to govern in a tumultuous political time. americans elected parter -- parter at a moment when democrats had come out of the turmoil of the 1960s deeply divided, without any clear sense
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of direction and fundamental disagreement over the key issues that the party faced ranging from foreign policy with regards to the soviet union to issues like human rights. the struggles over vietnam and civil-rights had opened up few risks among factions in the party which once had remained relatively united by shared loyalty, policies and anti communism. congressional reforms during the 1970s greatly fragmented power in the house and senate. after watergate, made it more difficult in terms of how congress worked to control these different factors. the nation also faced an enormous economic crisis in the 1970s, unemployment and deflationary combined,
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devastated americans leaving them anxious about where they would find their next paycheck and whether they would be able to afford their basic needs. leaving americans feeling as if they were out of control of many of the basic goods and items that they needed on a weekly basis. the hostage crisis in iran, soviet invasion of afghanistan, generated similar anxiety about the ability of the united states to influence its events abroad. carter could be a very skilled politician. in georgia he had been able to break the entrenched corrupt democratic machine to win his way into the state legislature and then the governorship. i recount in my book, his 1962 run for the state senate when he took on the quintessential
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southern machine politician who was very good and even had his people in the voting booths warning voters that their houses would get burned down if they voted for carter. a very risky move carter contested the election and win the. in the 1976 democratic primaries carter was the first candidate to really grasped how the nomination process changed in the post george mcgovernment era. he mastered the iowa caucus and the politics of the television media so to bring down more established figures like henry scoop jackson deeper turtle he understood how to use his own biography and his own image to very powerful effect such as when he changed out of his formal suit after he had won enough delegates to secure the
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nomination, took off the suit and put on his trademark jacket to convey that even though -- this was the same jimmy carter voters were longing for. his message was perfectly tailored for frustrated americans in the post watergate age. he played all of the different caucuses and primaries in a very skillful manner. even dealing with people like mayor daley of chicago in true fashion to win over. one of my favorite moments in the general campaign against president ford came in the fall. gerald ford chose a rose garden strategy whereby he would stay in the white house to look presidential. his vice-presidential pick, robert dole, became a pivotal figure in the fall campaign
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often standing in at regional events. during the kickoff week carter scheduled an appearance at a stock car race. win carter staffers learned that dole had been invited as well over a negotiated through very heated exchanges and agreements whereby carter would ride in the rear car twice and dole would ride in the front car once. when dole was introduced there were some polite cheers. when the announcer introduced carter, the 70,000 fans stood up, yield, cheered and waved their arms and forced their support. gold took his wapner around a track and walked up to the vip booth where both candidates were to be seated. carter finished his and unexpectedly walked into the pit to greet the people. then he went into the grandstand and just sat with the fans.
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displayed very significant concerns from the secret service about his safety. with dole in the vip section and carter with the fans the event turned into a pretty massive opportunity to highlight the differences between the parties. in the context of difficult times carter had many accomplishments during his presidency that i think are often forgotten. president carter recently it was reminding everyone of them with the publication of his diary and comments in the media. the president pushed some comprehensive energy programs. some of the most comprehensive programs proposed until that time and fruit today. some of the policies would not get through congress but the ones that did like solar energy have been essential through today and the ideas themselves triggered decades-long debate over how the government could
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conserve resources. he persuaded congress to pass a major ethics reform. in 1978, created the most stringent and independent investigatory mechanisms that never existed to monitor executive-branch corruption. the deregulation of the airlines which took place in his second year launched a new era of public policy toward the economy that would be expanded into other areas. the social security amendments of 1977 constituted the first successful effort directed by taxes and benefits to approve the health of the program. carter could succeed in politics with the best of them. there is another story about a government reorganization that reveals how carter could operate when he was interested in doing so. in december of 1976 after his election carter met with texas
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congressman jack brooks, chairman of the house committee on government operations. and told the congressman he intended to seek authority to reorganize the federal government with greater efficiency. the legislation carter wanted that would give him this authority was not new. presidents since harry truman have received this authority from congress but in 1973 congress for the first time refused to extend this measure because capitol hill was tired of richard nixon's continual efforts to circumvent the legislative process and was opposed to any extension of executive power. president-elect carter wanted data 40 back and justified the request in the post watergate rhetoric of the time. he wanted to cut federal agencies, combine federal agencies, reduce the number of
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civil servants and deregulate certain areas of policy because most people found the bureaucracy to too complex and intrusive. congressman brooks was not pleased with what he heard from carter. the chairman interrupted carter repeatedly during the conversation to say the government was reorganized according to the interests and vision of congress, not the president. pulling out records he collected from the 1960s congressman brooks said governor lyndon johnson was the greatest arm twister washington has ever seen and he didn't like to get beaten down capitol hill. look at this list. he was never successful in getting more than 1-third of his proposed reorganization plan through congress even with this special procedure. if you win this argument bleaker turtle mr. president, on the legislation you still won't have
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anything to show for it in the end. carter looked at brooks with that steely face and promised the american people he would do this and he would not put this aside. the conversation was so intense that carter's adviser stepped in and move them to a different topic. he told the mitanni committee chairs all this reorganization proposal he would use every ounce of his power to move bills around them. he singled out congressman brooks. without hesitation speaker o'neill looked at the president and responded this would be the worst thing you could do particularly with a fellow like brooks. jack doesn't get mad. he gets even. you don't even know if your throat is cut until you turn
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your head. that didn't scare carter. after his encounter with brooks carter just reached out to republicans who were more favorably disposed to the plan because it promised to reduce big government. carter the news republican votes he had to win enough democratic votes and obtain a coalition to pass the measure. democrats were scared by the point of looking like opponents of government efficiency so more moved closer to carter's position. one month after the election congress passed the measure carter wanted an even brooks went along with the bill with one minor concession that the administration gave him. the institutional as asian of human rights also generated excitement among many americans who had been disillusioned by the cynical politics of richard nixon, henry kissinger and gerald ford.
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most important, the middle east. carter brokered a durable peace agreement between the egyptians and the israelis that has lasted over three decades that no other president has been able to replicate. when push came to shove carter could play politics quite well on foreign policy as with domestic policy. building support for the ratification of the panama canal treaty in 1978. carter obliged senators to panama so they could be lobbied by military leaders, local residents and business leaders on the importance of the treaty. he addressed audiences in key states and local communities to build pressure using state of the art town hall meeting technology and remote telephone connections and exploited divisions among conservatives on this issue. it is easy to forget that carter scored big victories in his first two years after his first hundred days.
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he had approval ratings approaching 69%. washington post columnist joseph kraft reported republicans and independents like him as well as democrats do. the biggest problem for carter was he didn't enjoy being a party leader. this is a major theme that i explore in the book. like it or not president are the leaders not only of their country but their party. if they are unable to build strong political coalitions and strengthen their party's true there policy choices and the timing of their decisions they risk finding themselves isolated and alone when crisis strikes and when opposition mounts. one of the problems carter faced was he picked policy based on his own presidential agenda and policy ideas without giving that much attention to what it would mean for the party and what the political implications would be.
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in 1978 the president used an enormous amount of political capital to push unpopular panama canal treaties through the senate. the treaties were crucial in carter's mind if the u.s. wanted to rebuild trust among latin americans but these were never very popular. the holy people who give a damn on the ones who oppose it, one white house staffers said. the first lady warned her husband he shouldn't touch of this until his second term but she realized her warning fell on deaf ears. the senate did ratify the treaty by one vote and carter claimed a major victory. but conservatives were able to use that despite their loss to rally support. financial support and membership support to conservative groups. the battle over ratification energized conservative organization like american conservative caucus and committee for the survival of
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free congress who use the panama canal treaty where they lost to raise money. it is not the issue itself we are fighting for, one conservative activist said. this is an excellent opportunity to seize control of the republican party. it is patriotism the bridge the one conservative said and that is the issue we do best with. on domestic policy carter won passage of energy reform legislation though it was watered down but it divided the party along regional lines. congress did an act of the reform act which created the office of the independent counsel. they did deregulate the airline and reform social security with initiatives that generated much excitement among middle and working-class americans who were struggling to make ends meet. carter never really recovered from the 1978 midterm election.
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democrats retained control of congress and had sizable margins, daily loss three seats in the senate and 15 in the house. a new cohort of republicans closely tied to the conservative movement won office in a midterm such as newt gingrich in georgia. their victory was perceived as a defeat for democrats. several senators supported the panama canal treaties were defeated and they were defeated by candidates who had been bankrolled by conservative organizations. we change the focus of politics in america from their ground to our ground, new york representative jack kemp. shifted from the defense to the offense. carter shifts to the right starting in december of 1978. he announces that inflation and deficit reduction rather than unemployment would be his top domestic concern and the administration calls for sizable
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increases in defense spending and more aggressive posture toward the soviet union. carter also had trouble dealing with congress at the personal level. he didn't like the give and take of legislative politics. the president congressional staff didn't help the situation. frank more, congressional liaison had limited experience on capitol hill and constantly made embarrassing blunders. one member was not told the president would be appearing in their district until they learned about it on the radio. and was quite infuriated with the administration for having this happen. at one breakfast hosted by the president, will lead sweet rolls were served instead of a full breakfast. a symbol of carter that he was toting down the office. speaker tip o'neill of massachusetts he held at vice-president mondale i didn't
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get this way in sweet rolls. i want a breakfast and i am not coming back unless i get a meal. o'neil didn't trust a southern politician and once said a southern politician was a sweet talker who continued to live with his charming contest in northern legislators who were far more blunt and rambunctious. one of carter's most controversial decisions early on was to oppose proposals for over 300 water projects across the country that president ford included in his final budget. carter dismissed the proposals as congressional pork and said they were not good for the environment and sent a letter stating 19 of these projects would be cut. congress was furious. these funds were essential to their constituents and one of the people affected was the
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powerful chair of the senate finance committee. the senate would overturn many of carter's proposals. finally, carter had trouble keeping liberal democrats in his coalition. the essential story of much of his presidency, tensions that developed between liberal democrats and a president who wanted to position himself as a centrist and go beyond the orthodoxy the party had been offering until the 60s. we see the trouble he had maintaining peace with liberal democrats through his relationship with senator ted kennedy, a relationship parenthetically that still bothers president carter has emerged in one of the first conversations following the release of his new white house diary. again carter represented the center of the party, an early version of what president clinton would try to do in the 1990s and he was conscious and
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deliberate in saying he wanted to avoid traditional left/right divisions on most issues. as soon as he started his presidency carter showed a willingness to challenge key liberal interest groups like organized labor. he brought that maverick outsider mentality into the white house and also preserve energy conservation which many liberal democrats at the time did not like because of the effect on key constituencies. on foreign policy carter refused to be pinned down by cold war orthodoxy and though he sometimes pleased the left on issues like improving americans' standing in central america and human rights he could also cause tension by making tough remarks toward the soviet union. in contrast senator kennedy of massachusetts represented the liberal wing of the democratic party. kennedy remained committed to most of the policies and ideas that had come out of the great
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society. at a time when some members of the party were blacking away from lyndon johnson's legacy kennedy unabashedly defended issues like racial equality, voting rights and anti-poverty programs. if kennedy was particularly dangerous to republicans he was also a shrewd politician. he knew how to round up a vote and had seen the damage caused by the left wing during the 1960s and was determined to working within the political process rather than outside of it. he also was open to ideas like deregulation and the economy which did exist in provisional pattern of democratic thinking. if kennedy and carter had worked to get the results could have been explosive but the relationship didn't work and carter was unable to nurture the alliance and in the end it became a huge liability for the administration. their first clash was on health care. liberal democrats in this period
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led by organized labor thought that national health care had to be a top priority for the administration in 1977. a single payer system that would cover everyone in the country. in his first year carter decided to postpone action on health care savings stabilizing the economy had to come first. kennedy and carter had a series of poor conversations ultimately leaving kennedy to say that carter loves to give the appearance but nothing more. ..
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>> on october 24, 1978, carter made a televised speech in which he called for spending cuts, wage and price guidelines and other measures to control inflation. and the anger from the left was palpable. in a midterm convention in december of 1978, kennedy told fellow party members that sometimes a party must sail against the wind. rather than giving in to conservative pressure as he said carter had done. the struggle with liberals extended into foreign policy by 1979. after the '78 midterm elections, again, kennedy criticized the administration for becoming too hawkish with the soviet soviet union and for failing to articulate a clear vision on foreign policy. after the soviet union invades afghanistan in december 1979 and
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carter takes a tough posture calling for a buildup of military pressure in the persian gulf and vowing to combat soviet aggression, kennedy delivers a speech in georgetown university where he castigates carter for his helter-skelter policy, and he warns that exaggeration and hyperbole are the enemies of sensible foreign policy. as carter was forced to confront the burgeoning conservative movement during his final year as president and faced a series of very difficult policy challenges from the oil embargo to the iranian hostage crisis, carter lacked support and organizational energy that liberal democrats could have provided. indeed, kennedy directly challenged carter in the democratic primary in 1980. in march 1980 kennedy won the new york primary which energized
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his campaign. the primary took a few weeks after the u.n. security council had voted on a resolution stating that israel should dismantle settlements in occupied territories which they said included jerusalem. when the u.s. ambassador voted in favor of the resolution, many jewish organizations were furious. carter apologized but then secretary of state vance defended the decision. many jewish voters in new york expressed their anger by voting disproportionately for kennedy, and they were an important constituency in the new york primaries. of course, there were many other factors at work because this just reflected a general anger among democrats toward the administration. the primary also reflected a broader problem that by 1980 carter had alienated himself from much of his own party. as washington post columnist david broder noted that the longer kennedy campaigns, the
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more he sounds like the authentic voice of 1960s liberalism, passing for what he called economic democracy and social justice that found expression in ambitious interventionist, activist government programs. in the end carter does defeat kennedy and shows that he remains a formidable campaigner. but the primaries took a toll on many democrats as they were less comfortable or enthused with this president. in a final jab at carter, kennedy delivered a rousing speech at the democratic convention in 1980 that called on the party to renew its commitment to the founding principles of economic justice, and he reminded his audience that our cause of the common -- our cause has been since the days of thomas jefferson the cause of the common man and the common woman. the crowd gave him a standing ovation. madison square garden in new york city was filled with chants of teddy, teddy.
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carter's speech paled in comparison. it started off on the wrong note when the teleprompter broke. the president couldn't see the text, and his delivery was mechanical and choppy. the nervous president worried that the audience was not with him, and when the speech ended, the machine that was supposed to drop down balloons onto the convention floor malfunctioned and nothing came down. as the convention ended, a large number of democrats appeared on stage alongside carter to show their support, and the crowd waited for kennedy. and they waited. it took over 15 minutes for kennedy to finally appear. and reporters took this opportunity as one last time to discuss the tensions that emerged in the democratic party. when kennedy finally walked onto the stage, he raised his fist to the massachusetts delegates. he quickly shook carter's hand and walked away after a few minutes.
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kennedy had actually practiced the more enthusiastic embrace but decided not to do it, nor did he lift carter's arm for the traditional sign of unity. after kennedy started to walk off, the crowd started to shout again, we want ted. so vigorously that kennedy returned for an encore. and at that point it looked like carter was chasing kennedy down only to have kennedy merely put his hand on the president's shoulder in a very cold sign. carter would never forgive kennedy for failing to heal the divisions that had emerged in the party. and, again, i think the comments that carter made recently reflect how bitter those tensions were. ronald reagan, the republican nominee in 1980, took close notice of what had happened. if that's the best they can do in unity, he said, they have a long way to go. when carter conceded in 1980 to reagan unusually early in the evening before the voting had
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ended in california where there were some important democratic congressional races, speaker tip o'neill exploded at white house official frank moore. you guys came in like a bunch of jerks, he said, and i see you're going to go out the same way. the story of carter is a story about the continued centrality of party leadership to the person in the white house. especially democrats in a conservative age. more than anything else it was his failures on that front that put carter into such a deep hole, one that made an otherwise harmless story about a swamp rabbit seem like a symbol for a presidency. as carter himself recently admitted in this spate of interviews, one of the things i could have done better is i could have been a better leader of the democratic party. i just didn't feel comfortable. thank you. [applause]
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>> dr. zelizer has agreed to answer a few questions in the remaining time, so will all of those of you who would like to ask questions, please, queue up in the back of the room, and we will take a number of them. julian, i'd like to kick off the questions by asking you about carter's post-presidency. in your book you seem to place special emphasis on his work as an election observer in the sandinista/ortega defeat and his relationship that he developed with jim baker and others in the george h.w. bush white house as kind of a turning point in his march to become sort of a central player on the world stage in the post-presidency. could you talk some about his involvement as a man of peace and his post-presidency generally? >> yeah. carter, i mean, immediately goes
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back to georgia, and he'll establish the carter center which is tied to his library in emory university which he uses as, basically, a base for diplomatic negotiations. and one of the things i think about carter is that he felt a bit liberated once he left the presidency. given this was a man who didn't like the political part of his job in terms of dealing with his party, he felt freer. once he could actually just deal with policy, say whatever he wanted to say and not worry about his accountability to democrats or to voters. the work he does in 1989, 1990 is very important, and ironically, it's his work with george h.w. bush which puts him on the scene not just as someone who has a lot to to say about foreign policy, but who could be
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quite effective particularly in convincing ortega to accept the results of the election. interestingly, a lot of his, i think, his concern over voting and kind of the election process really dates back to his time in georgia. the story i told you about 1962, his first run he is exposed to the enormous corruption of the local political system and contests it, i think, extends into his post-presidential career. he's, obviously, continued with the middle east, with korea to be a very important player and has redefined what a president does. at the same time, his tendency toward controversy and toward angering many of his supporters have continued, you know, particularly with his statements on the middle east. but i think most of the policies are really an extension of what he wanted to do as a president freed from the political apparatus he was never great at dealing with. >> um, one of the things i was
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interested to hear you talk about is his born-again faith and the politicization of christianity over this time. and how maybe it was a strength for him in the beginning, but how these voters ultimately end up going for reagan and sort of what the dynamics are with that. >> that was very important. in 1976 when carter runs, he's very open and very forthcoming on his faith. again, carter used his biography very effectively. a lot of his ads -- you can look at a lot of the ads on this web site called living room candidate, and they have old ads from every campaign, i think, dating back to '52 or '54. and a lot of carter's ads are about him. faith was one of the things he sold. and he saw an opportunity, and, you know, hamilton and pat tidell his advisers to attract
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evangelical voters who weren't yet in either of the political parties. and his willingness to talk about his faith which sometimes backfired in his "playboy" interview but at other times were very successful, i think, attracted new constituents into the party. evangelicals do go with carter, and it's an important part of his '76 victory. not, you know, most of the '76 victory is still the old democratic coalition, organized labor, african-american. be but that's pivotal. by 1980 what you have is not that the evangelicals who voted for carter leave him, but a whole different group of evangelicals has mobilized. by 1979 and 1980 with jerry falwell and the moral majority. and they take many of carter's issues such as the tax treatment of private schools in the south as, like the panama canal treaty, ways to rally support
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for a much more conservative version of evangelical christian politics. and so by the end, you know, that asset that carter brought with him in 1976 is less important. not because the people who voted for him had left, but it had spawned in some way a whole new population that saw ronald reagan, despite a personal background that's probably not as hospitable as jimmy carter, as the candidate of choice. but it was very important, and you see kind of religion in the political sphere very clearly during that '76 campaign. >> um, early on you mentioned that obama's detractors will use the jimmy carter analogy. to what extent do you feel that this is fair or unfair in comparison to the problems that faced carter and then faced obama? >> yeah. the comparison has only
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accelerated since 2008, and i think in the last few months it's been front and center again. i know the president will be here today during a midterm which i think bears some resemblances to '78. look, in general whenever someone says is president b like president a, it's tricky. obviously, the time was very different. obama has a much closer relationship still with democrats, his approval ratings are still higher than carter's were at this point, and finally, carter -- i mean, obama has still a much bigger legislative record that he's accomplished. you know, carter did not have health care, something of that size. that said, i think there are fair comparisons in terms of some of the problems that he faces. the first is the difficulty of communication as president. there has been a certain failure that obama has suffered from in
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his first two years to communicate what his policies are about, to communicate a feeling of sympathy and connection on some of the economic issues whether it's fair or not in the modern media environment is a different question, but the problem has been there. carter had the same thing. you know, he would say things and immediately people would just see someone who was stiff and removed. so there is that. and both are extraordinarily intelligent, but they don't have that skill. a second comparison, again, i didn't write this -- i wrote this pre-obama. most of it was developed. but there is, i think, obama has put his party in a difficult position as well. and there's a similarity. obama, like carter, went for some of the issues he thought were most important for the country. i think he often put the concerns of the democratic party, the political concerns as a secondary issue. so by choosing something like
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health care reform early on, you almost insured a politically explosive atmosphere. you start to look at the history of health care, and if you overload congress with very controversial policies, you don't solve baseline economic issues, you're going to end up in a situation like you face today. both carter and obama suffered through that. both energized the movement that, ultimately, in cart carter's case defeated them, and we'll see with jimmy carter. so i think those are two fair similarities in terms of their leadership. and finally, sorry, on that last point, in both presidencies about midway through their first term you do see the emergence of a pretty vibrant and effective conservative opposition. carter did trigger this. there were many sources for conservativism, but again, they constantly used his policies as a way to rally support and,
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ultimately, they used carter himself as the figure to define what conservativism would be about. and i think you're seeing some of that as well right now. through the tea party, through people like palin, i think a very similar phenomenon has,s has set in. and carter -- finally, i'm sorry, carter's relationship with liberals in the democratic party -- not the far left, talking about kennedy here -- was very strained, and i do think became a problem for carter. he has dismissed this. he has said that, you know, liberals like kennedy were too far out, they didn't understand compromise, they didn't understand how to get bills through. but i think in his case it became a huge political liability by 1980 not to have the support. you've seen the same thing with obama. enormous tensions, not with, but with speaker pelosi and the very people he's been depending on, a series of
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badly-timed comments from his press secretary, by him as well. i think it's left some strains on capitol hill, and i think that's where i see some similarities as well. >> thanks for a great talk, julian. in the most recent issue of "the nation," rick pearlstein has an interesting survey of political histories of the 1990s -- 1970s. and one of the common threads he seems to find in all of these histories is the characterization of the decade as an age of diminished expectations. usually we hear that carter subscribed to that analysis. did you find that to be true? and if so, what did you find to be the principle source of his belief in that kind of an analysis? >> yeah, i don't know if carter had diminished expectations. i read this article, and i was thinking about that, and there are certain areas of government carter did kind of have diminished expectations of what
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government could do to solve social problems or diminished sense even of what the u.s. could accomplish around the world. but carter was very ambitious as well. i mean, he believed, ultimately, that a kind of very complex set of government policies could fundamentally transform how america used energy and america's relationship with the middle east. he believed that human rights would not -- were not just some esoteric idea, but you could literally institutionalize this concept, that's what foreign policy would be geared toward, to securing the political rights of people in all sorts of different countries. he kind of recrafts state department policy, creates new institutions in the state department to make this a reality. that was very high expectations. about what the united states could achieve. the ethics reform which is usually not treated -- historians don't write about this, and i think we often forget because, ultimately, many
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people didn't like how the independent prosecutor turned out. they think of ken starr or lawrence walsh depending on your political perspective. but it was a pretty ambitious idea in terms of trying to diminish, regulate and contain executive branch corruption. in the aftermath of watergate, this was a very serious level, very serious problem. and that's a grand expectation about what government could achieve. so i'm not sure carter, i mean, i see the image of carter and it's the malaise speech that people point to where he's, basically, lecturing americans on their need to deal with it and to understand the limits of, of what they're going to have. but that said, there's a lot in carter that didn't diminished at all. very bold. and i think sometimes it caused him political problems. it was too much for many democrats. this was not what they wanted to try to focus on.
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>> dr. zelizer, pardon me, as a veteran of the forums, let me congratulate you on a truly outstanding presentation today. could you talk a little bit about the supporting cast, what were the strengths and weaknesses of carter's cabinet, his relations with the cabinet and his vice president? >> that's a, i mean, he has two sides of his team. the one side, the most famous side, is the georgia mafia. the group of people who had really been with him since 1966 when he runs for congress unsuccessfully. ranging from people like hamilton jurdan who's really his political mastermind, i guess the david axlerod of the carter era who helped put together the plan for 1976 and is constantly thinking of the political implications of everything that happens.
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to eisenstadt who's his domestic political adviser who he had met also back in georgia to people like burt lams. and he brings them in, and some will have problems adjusting to washington. some don't have a smooth transition from what politics is like in georgia where carter was more familiar with the terrain, more used to the people he was interacting with to washington where often they were blindsided by the kind of political attacks they were facing from democrats, not just republicans as well as the media. that said, people like jurdan were very skilled. again, i think they put together a pretty good campaign in '76, and in the early years they're guiding him pretty effectively. that's combined with a more establishment. you know, we often think carter just had that team. that's often the attack on him, just brought the georgians in, and they didn't know what they
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were doing. but he also had people like cyrus advance who is as establishment as you can get. if you had to draw a cartoon, he would be the person. had been involved in washington politics since the '60s, guiding him on international policy. brzezinski at the national security council, people like harold brown who did bring a wealth of experience. you know, in the end carter allowed them limited room. he was a president who centralized decision making. he heard ideas famously from everyone, but he didn't even have a chief of staff until the very end of his presidency because he wanted to make these, these decisions himself. so i think it was a kind of a mixed group he had, and i think some of the problems i've talked about were not just his, but the kind of reflection of the people who worked for him. the other interesting figure i can't get enough of is patrick
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goodell who's his pollster. the image of carter and this guy being politically inept, he really elevates the role of the pollster to a high level. he's involved in almost every decision, and they're tracking almost every crisis as it happens. there's this amazing thing that i have that i found on the middle east, you know? and we know that carter puts together the camp david meetings and, ultimately, brokers the accord with the egyptians and the israelis. but from the start carter and his staff are calculating about how they're going to sell this to the public, particularly the jewish community. and they put together this very sophisticated counterlobby within the united states to make sure by the time the treaties are signed or any peace agreement is reached there would be political support here. it's an incredible outreach program sending administration officials to synagogues, constantly bringing in officials from the jewish community,
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extensive poll data which is not an unsophisticated president at all. and it's that team around him including jurdan which is very conscious about working on it. >> um, given the political climate out of which jimmy carter was elected and kind of parallelling that with obama's election where people were really fed up with what was going on before and just wanted a change, do you think carter had a chance to be considered a success, or would he have had to do something really truly amazing the same way obama probably won't be considered a success even though he's done a lot already? >> we hear all the time about obama, a campaign of change, but that's what carter did. i mean, the enormity of watergate, i think, in terms of disillusioning americans in politics was greater than president bush. i think by the mid 1970s you had a period of disgust with the american political system that was as intense as anything we
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have gone through. tales of corruption that are kind of unequaled. and carter ran a campaign which its basic message was trust me, i'm different. and that was the core. trust me. trust me. and the expectations were quite high that he would be a different kind of politician. from the start, you know, during his -- after the inauguration he walks through the streets, he gets out of the limo as a sign that his presidency would not be like all others. his efforts on reform were, again, pretty bold at the time but a reflection that he understood voters didn't want the same old kind of politician. did this inevitably doom him to failure? i don't think. i mean -- i don't think so. i mean, i came to it that way. not just the expectations, but i had the similar bias. i saw early in the his presidency he had some successes, and he, in fact, had some pretty good poll numbers early on. and i think it's more about kind of miscalculations politically
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and a failure to counteract the opposition that was rising rather than a belief that it's impossible to live up to the expectation that he himself set forth. >> you mentioned the iran hostage crisis and the iconic image of carter hunkered in the white house, but you didn't say anything more about it in the talk. i'm wondering, you know, if you do some counterfactual history and say carter was able to bring those hostages home either diplomatically or militaryically. would that have made a significant difference, or was that really just a side show? >> he said that, by the way. i have the quote in the book, i don't remember it offhand, but he's flying home after reagan is inaugurated. and, of course, for those who don't remember, the hostages are held throughout the final year of his presidency. most of the operation involves
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carter privately trying to negotiate a deal. there's one failed military rescue effort. carter does negotiate a deal in the final days of his presidency, and it's actually completed before reagan is inaugurated. and in the end, the iranians literally have the hostages sit in the airplane to be released after reagan is inaugurated as a slap in the face to carter. carter after reagan is inaugurated, he's on the plane, and i can't remember who he's with, and they're flying back to plains, georgia. and i think carter turns to him and says, you know, if that had happened a few hours earlier, we'd still be in washington instead of flying back to plains. and he really believed that could have been a turning point. and it could have been. you know, some of the reagan -- we think of the reagan landslide as inevitable. we forget in september it was pretty even where reagan and
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carter are, and it's not until the final week after the famous debate between the two of them where reagan is, i think, pretty decisively a victor that the vote starts to swing dramatically to ronald reagan. and if you read the diaries which i do urge you to read, within the administration they're still pretty confident in september that they have a good race on their hands. and i don't think it's just because they're not sensing what's going on out there. i don't think, you know, the reagan landslide was as clear and inevitable as it later looks to be. had carter been able to broker this agreement a month earlier, i think it could have had a big impact. this was kind of the major foreign policy challenge of the day, and if carter had had them released early on, you know, it could have had an impact. after the soviet invasion of afghanistan, carter's polls


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