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tv   The Presidency Kai Bird The Outlier - The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy...  CSPAN  June 1, 2022 5:45pm-6:53pm EDT

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let me introduce our wonderful panel tonight. last year and this year we've seen a reassessment of the presidency of jimmy carter through both films and books. as former vice president walter mondale said at the opening of the movie carterland, there -- very sorry -- there is a perception that jimmy carter is a wonderful former president and a nice guy, but a failed president. and mondale goes on to say that that is all wrong. kai bird is
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the latest to take a fresh look at the carter presidency. kai is a pulitzer prize-winning historian and journalist. he's the author of a number of books including the color of truth, the george bundy and william brothers who is in arms. the chairman, john j. mccloy and the making of the american establishment, crossing mandelbaum bomb gate, coming of age between the arabs and israelis, 1956 to 1978, the good spy, the life and death of roger robert ames. ames perished in a [inaudible] 1983 truck bombing of the american embassy in beirut. and the american previous, a triumph and tragedy of jay robert oppenheimer, with co-author martin j sherman, which won the 2006 pulitzer prize for biography our autobiography. his latest book, which we are going to talk about tonight, the outlier -- the unfinished presidency of jimmy carter, is a rich and human story of jimmy
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carter marked by both formidable accomplishments and painful political adversity. author and historian douglas brinkley calls the outlier a profound [inaudible] clear eyed evaluation of a leader whose legacy has been deeply misunderstood. for tonight's conversation with high, we are fortunate to have joe crespino. joe is the jimmy carter prove hash so if history at [inaudible] him university. he's an expert in the political this whole culture history of the 20th century united states and off the history of the american south since reconstruction. joe is also the author of three books. his most recent book, atticus finch, the biography, harper lee, her father in the making of an american icon. so welcome to both kai and joe. and a reminder to our audience to put
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your questions in the q&a box at the bottom of the screen and we will get to them a little bit later. joe? >> thank you so much, ceri. i do want to encourage everyone to chime in with their questions. i've got some questions for kai but we are eager to have your participation. kai, welcome virtually to atlanta and to the carter library. i know it's a kind of homecoming for you. you spent a lot of time here at the library in doing your research for this book. and it's wonderful book. i really enjoyed reading it. i i know a lot about the carter, president carter's life and his presidency. i've talked seminars on his presidency four or five times. but there were many, many things that i did know know that i learned from your book and from your research. so thank you for this, for this work. i'm really excited about talking with you about it. >> well, thank you for having me. >> well, you've written a biography biographies about a variety of fascinating figures. ceri talked about some of them robert teams and george bundy, william bundy, most notably jay
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robert oppenheimer, the book that you won the pulitzer for. what attracted you to jimmy carter as a biographical subject? >> more than 30 years ago, i was just finishing my first biography that took me ten years to write on john j mccloy. in that book i had to write a long chapter really about the iran hostage crisis, which of course involved jimmy carter's presidency. that was my sort of first introduction to writing about him. i got curious about his presidency in particular. you know, the thought occurred to me in 1990 that it might be fun to try to do a presidential biography. and i explored the whole issue by doing a magazine piece on what jimmy carter was doing with his ex presidency.
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particularly the carter center, which was just opening up in 1990 and getting started. i flew down to atlanta and spent two weeks interviewing a bunch of his new aides at the carter center and i had a brief telephone interview with him. and i wrote the piece, it was a nice cover story in the nation magazine about all the wonderful things that carter was doing. i came away from the experience thinking i was actually the wrong guy to do a biography of carter i didn't understand the south, i didn't understand southern baptist's i did not understand race, and the role it played in the south. i also learned that
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carter's archives were still pretty much closed, it was only ten years after he left the white house, most of his papers were still classified. i backed off from the idea, i was still curious about carter. i went on to other projects, and in 2015 i sat down and wrote a proposal. and i was still ignorant i think about the south and all those other issues. but i was still curious, and i wanted to learn. you write a book to try to satisfy your own curiosity in the first instance. i sold the proposal in 2015, just a few weeks later carter had that incredible press conference, where he announced that he had brain cancer and was probably not going to be with us very much longer. i thought i would never get a chance to interview him. as we all know, he survived and i did get a chance to have four or five good interviews, six years later i have produced thye book.
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>> yeah. well, talking about those interviews, i wanted to ask you about, you mentioned in the prologue you had access to president carter interview him. i wonder what was it like interviewing president carter compared to interview subjects or other historical figures that you have interviewed for your other biographies, other works? >> well, you know, he was difficult. because he's a busy guy, even in his 90s. he would give me exactly 45 minutes for each session. and he'd then look at his watch and sharp on the dot, at 45 minutes, he would, his secretary would knock on the door and i would be escorted out. so i had to be fast and furious with my questions and try to cover a lot of ground. but he was focused on his good works, his
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work on the carter center, and bringing peace to the middle east and wiping out guinea worm disease. and you know, he wasn't much interested in answering familiar questions. but i remember, i'd like to tell this story. in my very first interview, i was, i had the wisdom or good chance to ask him about charlie kirbo, his personal lawyer, who everyone was describing to me as the atticus finch of the carter administration. so, as the author of a book about atticus finch, i think you know what that means. kirbo was an incredible figure, and pretty unknown. but he wrote many, many hundreds of pages of letters and memos to carter before his presidency, but during the white house years.
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and i pointed out to carter in that very first interview that kirbo's papers were not there, they were missing. and he expressed surprise. those bright blue eyes lit up and he turned to his aide, steve hochman, and said, well we have to find those. and deed, three days later, i got a phone call from steve hochman, who said, well we have located them in the attic of kirbo's widow. there are five boxes, cardboard boxes i believe of these memos. this was a major breakthrough for me because eventually i was given access six months later to these papers, and they form a real spine for my narrative, particularly of carter's, the odyssey of his political career his, first run for governor. and even in the white house
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years, because kirbo was his closest adviser, his closest friend in many ways. and it was a window into jimmy carter's mind, to be able to read these memos that kirbo was writing for the president. >> i agree, in fact i wanted to ask you about, one of my questions were about the kirbo papers. it was a tremendous find and it does provide a spine, as you, say for the book. it is really fresh material. i wondered, as you came to those was, reading those documents, what most surprised you about his influence on carter? what did we not know, what did you not know, what do we not know -- we know that he is the long time, we know that he first help carter on that 62 campaign that was contested. that is when they met. i was surprised
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myself at how, because kirbo did not go to washington, you assume that his influence on carter it doesn't really. it continues to play a very influential role, even though kirbo himself didn't go to washington. i wonder, as i was reading, i wonder, why didn't kirbo didn't go to washington? what would you say is the influence that he continued to have, even when carter was in the white house? >> that is a great question. kirbo refused to go to washington. he was offered by carter the position of chief of staff. he was the only person offered that position. and when kirbo said no, i want to remain in atlanta -- i can't afford to move to washington was his line, which was a little suspicious, he was fairly well off, powerful atlanta lawyer. >> although that was very true
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of burt lance, burt lance shouldn't have moved to washington. >> well exactly. later on, kirbo said, burt lance would have been better off if he followed my advice and not move to washington. kirbo it was interesting to me, the surprising thing was he helped to explain to me carter's political orientation. you know, carter is sort of an enigma as a politician and president. liberals can't figure him out, conservatives can't figure him out, he has different positions, and he is hard to categorize. but kirbo, it is clear when you read the memos, kirbo himself, in that great historical tradition of being a southern populist, he is from south georgia, from working class, as
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suc, h origins, and he has a suspicion of big business. and this is also carter's view. he believes that taxes should be very progressive and that government should be working for the common man, he is suspicious of big corporations. and big goverment. this explains a lot to me about carter. he kirbo had a lot of influence, before, as you said, from 62 on. even after the white house years. i tell one funny story in the book about kirbo. he would generally fly up to washington every two or three weeks and particularly when there was a crisis so that he could just be in the white
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house for a few days and wander around, quietly observe what was happening. and then he would have a one-on-one with carter and tell him what he thought. so one day, carter is apparently in the residence upstairs of the white house having a session with a group of journalists, a group of thirsty journalists. but remember, famously carter moved into the white house and announced he was not going to serve hard liquor. so he had served these thirsty journalists ice tea. at one point, suddenly the door opens. and kirbo wanders in. jimmy, who is kind of bored with this session, his eyes lit up. he yelled to kirbo, charlie, come in and help yourself to a bourbon! [laughs] so, you know,
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he made an exception for kirbo. >> one of the things you pointed out that i did not realize, part of the reason why the carters didn't serve hard alcohol is because it cost so much. it was a financial decision less than a political decision. they drank alcohol themselves, they would have wine and different situations. it cost a lot because the presidents themselves, you had to pay that tab. it gets back to that point you are making about kirbo not going to see did not have enough money to go to washington. it does seem like you are reminded that it costs money to go, and to do public service. unfortunately, oftentimes, only the wealthy are able to afford it, to do that work. let's see, one of the things i wanted to ask you about too involved president carter's rhetorical style. for any leader, how they >> you
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characterize it right on the mark.é he was very good style. for any leader, how they communicate is enormously important to their leadership. and you have an interesting quote from president carter's son jack, in which he says that his father is not an orator, when he speaks with moral intensity, he makes you believe it. and i think that was very true of, say, his malaise, quote, unquote his malaise speech. also his laude speech. which is so extraordinary, which you talk about in the book. what did you learn about, in your research about president carter's rhetorical style? you're right. >> you characterize it right on the mark.é he was very good campaigning, when he was in a small setting. a living room. a church dog, where he could speak off the cuff to people. he would connect with people. he could go into a black church and feel just perfectly comfortable, because of course he had been raised in archer just two miles down the road
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from plains, where he was just about the only white boy. his playmates were african americans. he is very comfortable in black churches. he was very comfortable in small groups. he wasn't, he wasn't a good orator on the stump in a big audience. he was probably weakest in front of a television camera. [laughs] on the other hand, he was very good on in front of a television camera when he was in a press conference. answering questions from reporters. he could be witty, entertaining, substance and persuasive. he just wasn't an orator in that way. you are right to refer to the laude speech in atlanta in 1974. which was a significant speech
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because of two things, it was the first time he met ted kennedy, who he thought was going to be his rival in 76 and it was the first time that gonzo journalist hunter thompson encountered carter. and thompson was blown away by carter's speech that day, which was an extemporaneously speech. he had thrown away his speech notes and he made this sermon, it was a sermon, where he talked about southern justice and how lawyers had not served the people by not representing the poor and giving them equal justice. and it was a passionate speech and hunter thompson became a carter advocate at that point. yeah.
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>> yeah. i don't go back to that speech and detached beach. it's a timely speech regarded as a sermon about the injustices of the criminal justice system. and it's remarkably timely in our own moment when we're going through this reappraisal of race and criminal justice in contemporary america. but the closing in that speech, too, is remarkable, when he reflects on having read war and peace as an 11-year-old -- i don't know what 11 year old reads war and peace -- but it's a remarkable speech you. you know, this is the first ever, kind of, cradle to grave biography. there have been books about president carter before, but yours is the
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first to kind of deal with the whole life. it's interesting that 22 of the 27 chapters accounted were about the presidency himself! -- presidency itself. which it seems to be there was an implicit argument in that decision as a biographer. who spent so much time on the presidents. i mean, i think we forget, i mean, as ceri said in the opening, we think about president carter as a great post presidency, but a lot happened in his presidency. so what did you, what did you find to be some of the accomplishments of carter, you know, as president, that we forget? >> well, i should say that, you know, jonathan alter's book last year was also a cradle to biography. but he focused less on the presidency in comparison to my book. you're right, my book is heavily weighted towards the white house years. and initially i started out thinking i was only going to do the white house years but when but when i started to write i just adjust couldn't stop writing the preface and it grew and grew because i realized i had to explain where this guy came from and south georgia and
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plains and all that that whole story was just a key to explaining his politics and his presidency. but yes, i think the carter presidency is particularly relevant today, in the wake of the failed trump presidency and, as we've seen, joe biden occupy the white house. there are many lessons learned that biden could learn from the carter presidency. and coming back to your opening comment, you know, the perception is that carter was a field president. but actually, he was a very consequential president. he passed more legislation than bill clinton or even barack obama or the bushes. you know, he was only there for four years, but he deregulated natural gas, he gave us seatbelts and airbags. he deregulated the airline industry, which allowed middle
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class americans to fly for the first time in an affordable way. he greatly expanded the food stamp program, bringing 3 million new working class people, largely african americans in the south, giving them access to food stamps. you know, he did a lot on the domestic agenda, but he, his accomplishments in foreign policy are just remarkable. the panama canal treaty, salt 2, the arms control negotiations. china normalization, immigration reform, and of course, he put human rights at the center of american foreign policy for the first time as a key lodestone. and you know, his successors haven't been able to walk back from any of this and of course he also
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focused heavily on the middle east and trying to bring peace to between the israelis and the palestinians and you know, he was not afraid to take on really tough issues so it's, it's a remarkable record. >> it is a remarkable record. one -- it reminds me of something in the book that you talked about, the remarkable relationship that jimmy and rosalynn carter had. i mean, in some ways they didn't have friends. i mean, they were so close as a couple that they didn't really have a broader social set. they had their family and this marriage where they were just full partners. and great material and rosalynn and all the things that she did sitting on the side on the wall
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in cabinet meetings and taking notes and people being upset about that, not knowing how to handle that. but rosalynn carter, in your telling, had a kind of political instinct that maybe her husband didn't. she was telling him, you know, you characterize it right on maybe don't do this, wait for this, a second term. and it was interesting to hear her political counsel. and i wonder if you think if anybody could get through to him about those things it would have been her. and yet, even she wasn't able to, kind of, get him to, you know, consider the political implications of trying to do everything at once. >> right. >> i wonder if you'd be able [inaudible] how do you explain that? >> well, it's -- you know, she is -- she's a very interesting personality. you know, she never finished college. she was extremely shy when carter began his political career, to the
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point that if she had to give a speech, it made her quite nauseous. but by the time he entered the oval office, she had become one of the best campaigners on the road. she could go in and give a talk to any kind of crowd, and she could -- she also was sent out by carter on meet the press. when he was in the oval office, he would send her to talk to these reporters on this great television show that reached millions of people, and she was articulate and persuasive. and, yeah, but she had the political instincts that carter wanted to ignore. and this is again one of the paradoxes about jimmy carter. he was -- you know, he could be ruthless on the
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campaign trail. he knew how to win political power. he knew what was necessary, what he'd have to do to appeal to certain voters. and he could calculate, make that calculation, and because he wanted -- he was ambitious and he wanted to win the governorship in georgia. you wanted to -- and then the presidency. but once he was in those positions of power, it was his religiosity that kicked in. and he believed that he was obligated, it was his responsibility, to not do the politically expedient thing, do not consider the politics, but to figure out what was the right thing to do, what was the intelligent thing to do, and to do it regardless of the political costs. so, he decided early on that the panama canal treaty was something that had to be done. and it came at great political cost. he persuaded you, know, the u.s.
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senate to pass it by a very narrow margin, and seven of those senators who were up for reelection in the next election two years later lost their seats. and partly due to their votes on the panama canal treaty. so, again and again, he paid a tremendous political cost. and poor rosie, as he refers to her, could see this. and she, at one point, says, you know, jimmy, don't you want a second term? [laughter] and you know, she could see that he was in trouble before he could even see it. but -- >> yeah. it was fascinating, your portrait of that marriage. i'm going to ask a bit of the dirty historian question, but i think it's an important insight that you have that historians need to wrestle with -- according to the united states, you write about the shift in the global economy since the 1970s and the rise of, kind of,
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market fundamentalism that underlies, you know, what scholars call near liberalism. they often point to the democratic presidency of jimmy carter as one of the, you know -- carter's one of the originator self near liberalism. it was not just the arch conservative reagan, they pointed out, who valorized markets or pilloried big government. you know, and it's true that carter was responsible for a number of deregulation efforts some of which you've talked about, you know, the airline, and trucking industry and craft brewing industry, which i [inaudible] realize, which i can appreciate as a consumer of many craft during. [laughter] but in your book, you make a really interesting point that in the case of airline deregulation, it was actually the business roundtable that opposed deregulation, because they saw it as what you described as, quote, a radical consumer agenda. so i thought that was a fascinating context. tell us more about carter's quote, unquote, radical consumer agenda in the 19, the mid 1970s, late 1970s, and how that might provide a different context for understanding his embrace of deregulation. >> well, he -- interestingly enough, you know, just after he
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won the democratic nomination, he retired to plains to take a break, and he invited a bunch of people down to give him advice -- one of them was ralph nader. and they played baseball together, ralph nader was assigned in his black suit to play the role of umpire. [laughter] anyway, they had, they broke bread together and nature became enamored of carter because he was apparently completely open to taking his advice on who to appoint to various positions in the government. you know, he for instance got joan claybrook and put her as director of the auto safety. by then ralph nader was famous for his first book on the dangers of the
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automobile. and joan claybrook, you know, was the woman who pushed through seatbelts and airbags and you know, so carter -- and she wasn't the only naderite who was appointed, there were literally dozens of them. and his whole point was that he wanted to, as president, he wanted to use his office in the interests of, to protect consumers. and you know, this cut both ways. so you talk about airline deregulation, you know, this helped consumers. it allowed middle-class americans to travel. but it also disrupted big business and the airline industry, opening up the big carriers to competition. so the business roundtable was initially
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opposed to it. it also alienated labor unions because it made it difficult for the airline -- the unions that represented airline workers to keep their monopoly on power and such. so, it was a populist, pro consumer administration that undercut some of the core constituency of the liberal democratic base, trade unions. so this is the paradox, another paradox of the carter presidency. >> yeah. it's interesting. i thought it was interesting, too, how you take to task in this book some of your fellow journalists. you have a really interesting chapter, for example, involving carter's former speech writer, james
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fallows who published a blistering exposé of the carter administration that did a lot of political damage to carter. and you were critical, i thought, of fallows'decision to publish that piece and his characterization of carter--. so, i wonder if you can say a little bit more about that but also more generally, good car to get a fair shake from the press, do you think? >> well he did not get a fair shake. we became president in the 77 just in the wake of the water gate scandal, where every journalist in washington wanted to emulate bob woodward and bernstein and become known as one of the investigative journalists so they went out trying to find dirt on the carter administration, very unsuccessfully. but it was also a time when the washington post was inventing the style section and so you had the journalist who were -- like sally quinn -- who were writing very gossipy pieces about hamilton jordan and jody powell and the georgia boys surrounding the carter
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white house, who she would make fun of four there is certain accent and the way they addressed, the way they talked about issues, and the fact that they weren't issue interested in the georgetown set, they didn't circulate on the cocktail circuit, and carter himself, you know, sally quinn was very critical of carter for turning down dinner invitations post. and you know, carter from catherine graham, the just didn't -- he, as he said, publisher of the washington he would rather spend time with rosie in the white house and a quiet dinner than go out and shake hands and talk to a bunch of rich folk from georgetown.
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so, he got a bad shake from the media in general. and you mentioned james fallows, who was a very young man in his 20s. for two years, the first two years in the administration, he was the chief speech writer. but his real ambition was to break into magazine journalism and after two years he left, and his very first piece as a staff writer for the atlantic was a long, long exposé as such, entitled, the passionless presidency. and it was a sort of psychological investigation of jimmy carter and rather thin in my opinion! [laughs] but it did, as you say, it did real damage to the carter presidency at a moment in 1979 when he was
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facing long gas lines and a lot of criticism over many issues and it's sort of that piece gave a green light to the rest of the press that it was okay to dump on the carter presidency, that there was something wrong, fallows suggested. and you know, jody powelll and hamilton jordan and carter himself regarded this article as a stab in the back, a betrayal from a one-time insider. but it's as colorful story and, you know, james fallows made some good points about some of the failings of the carter presidency and his problems with giving a speech in front of a tv camera. bit it
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was, in my view, it was an unfair attack. >> you have that point that you make about, it is remarkable, it is interesting as a study of rhetoric and writing and what people remember. the story that follows tells there, about carter scheduling the white house tennis courts, which you point out is not true, it gets reported. that becomes the emblem, the emblematic story that people go on to tell even till this day about carter as a micro manager and not seeing the forest for the trees and having to have his hand in everything. that sort of wasn't true, was it? >> no. it was the result of a misunderstanding on the part of fallows, who was an avid tennis player. and president carter was the first president to sort of open up the white house
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tennis court to staff. so -- and allowing them to use it. it was his instinct to allow his staff to have one of those perks, why not? well, one day, he goes down to the tennis court with one of his sons to play a game, and the court is occupied, i'm not sure if it was fallows or someone else. it was occupied. instead of kicking them off the court, jimmy carter just turned around and walked back to the oval office and casually mentioned to his secretary, susan clough, why don't we have a sign up sheet? [laughs] for the tennis court. it was clough who maintain the sign up sheet. fallows would occasionally write draft speeches and send
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them into carter and he'd attach a note saying, mister president, can i use the tennis court at 3 pm? he would get an answer from clough or sometimes from carter. but it wasn't that carter was managing the tennis court schedule. anyway, it was an unfortunate misunderstanding. but you're right, this is one of the stories that everyone remembers about the carter presidency, that he paid so much attention to detail that he was even managing the tennis court. now, in fact, you know, he was a detail oriented president. he read 300 200, 300 pages of memos every day. and you can see that in the archives, because he has scribbled in the margins of these memos his comments, often quite funny or acerbic. he was a great reader, and that's how we took in his information. he worked hard. i think he was the hardest working president we had in the 20th century, i think, and probably one of the most
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intelligent. and without a doubt, the most decent. here because of the tennis court story, he is saddled with this notion that he is just an engineer, an engineer's mind paying attention to the tiniest detail. >> well, to me the most telling thing about the tennis court story is that when it was occupied by staffers, he just turn around go back. he wouldn't go off the court, which you imagine most presidents would do. it speaks to his egalitarian sensibility. if it's crowded, i'll go do something else. the classic standoff in the quarter foreign policy shot is between one brzezinski and vance. tim naftali wrote in the review of your book, he thought you sided
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too often with vance and your assessment. i wonder, how do you respond to professor tim naftali? one, do you think that is a fair characterization, and if it is why did you make that choice? >> well, it's true. if you read my book, you will come away with a strong understanding that zbig brzezinski, the national security adviser, was constantly nagging carter to have a tougher foreign policy. brzezinski saw the world through his aristocratic polish eyes and he just hated the russians. and he believed the soviet union was an evil empire, to use ronald reagan's term, and that we were in a generational -- multi generational conflict. he viewed every foreign policy through that prism, that cold war prism. he was constantly, you can see in the archive, he
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was telling carter to be tougher. do something militaristic. say something nasty about the russians. use some, send a signal by using a little force. and in one of these memos, you can see in the margin, carter scribbles, oh, use force, like mayaguez? a reference to kissinger and president ford's disastrous use of force in cambodia that led to unnecessary deaths, of hostages that have been taken aboard a ship. carter repeated was astonishing to me, carter repeatedly turned down and rejected zbig's advice, particularly during the first years. he had a different attitude about the cold war and about the third world in
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particular. he didn't think that the soviets were behind every little revolution in the third world. he took brzezinski with a large grain of salt. and he more often sided with the worldview of cy vance. the mystery is, why did he put up with zbig if he disagreed with him so often? i asked him this in one of my interviews and he said, you know, zbig entertained me, he had 100 ideas every day and i'd have to reject 98 of them. he would be an entertaining conversationist on an airplane, on airplane rides. they had numerous arguments. i remembered when i interviewed brzezinski, he himself told the story. he had a really vociferous argument one day in the oval office with
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carter. i left, went back to my office, a few minutes later susan clough, the president's secretary comes in and hands me very formally a green envelope. now, the green envelope is stationery signifying a hand written instruction from the president. and so, he knew it was something from jimmy carter. he opens the envelope, they are carter says, zbig, do you ever know when to stop? [laughs] brzezinski was proud of this note. he thought it was, like, signified his, the nature of his access to the president. but you know, it was, this relationship wore carter down. and by the third year of the presidency, during the hostage crisis, zbig was beginning to win the arguments. and you know,
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zbig was the one who was constantly urging carter to respond to the iran hostage crisis with military force. and he was the one who persuaded carter in the end, reluctantly, to give a green light to the helicopter rescue mission. which, of course, turned out to be a disaster and i think was preordained to be a disaster. it could never have succeeded. but brzezinski was in favor of force. and it's ironic that over this issue, cy vance finally resigns, leaving brzezinski standing on the field. and this is, i think, one of the tragedies of the carter foreign policy apparatus.
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the archives that it looks like there was an october surprise and 1968 involving the nixon administration, with dealing with negotiations in vietnam, telling the enemies that there is a better deal coming, don't make it a cease-fire, with the johnson administration. there are, you've written a chapter here about the issue of the iranian hostage crisis. what did you find out, and how should we think about the october surprise in 1980? >> well, let me say, most good historians shy away from conspiracy stories. because most of them turn out not to be true. so, i approach this with some hesitation. but you know, some conspiracies are true. the conspiracy to assassinate abraham lincoln was a real conspiracy. and the evidence about the so-called october surprise in 1980 comes down to one christian, did ronald reagan's campaign manager, william casey, take a break in
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the summer of 1980, specifically in late july, fly to london for an academic conference on the oss, where he had worked, he was a veteran of the office of cities external says. as a young man, he had his greatest experience of running covert operations during world war ii. he loved the skulduggery of it all. so he attended this. this is true. he did fly to london. to attend this academic conference. he had a window of about three days over the weekend. and that was enough time for him to take another flight into madrid, spain. and the allegation is that he went to madrid that weekend and met with a representative of the ayatollah
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khomeini and engaged in some private diplomacy, specifically telling the iranians that his candidate, ronald reagan, would be able to give them a better deal, that they should not deal with jimmy carter. well, this is prolonging the hostage crisis, if it happened. there was a congressional investigation, ten years after carter left the white house, three years after casey had died. congress couldn't come to a clear, the evidence was muddy. well, i found, with the help of another journalist, a white house memo that referred to a cable from the madrid embassy, reporting that, quote, bill casey is in town for purposes unknown. i think that's the smoking gun. it proves that casey did go to madrid that long weekend and spend a few hours negotiating
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with the iranians, sending them a signal. and if this is what happened, it is an outrageous example of interference and, in u.s. foreign policy, and it led to the prolonging of the hostage crisis. but bill casey was, you know, exactly the type of guy who was capable of doing that. >> casey, do you have some questions -- or ceri? >> some questions that i will read out. so the first on is, kai, what's unique questions did you ask president carter? >> well, i asked him about the october surprise, and he very diplomatically -- deferred, saying he had no opinion about it. but he was clearly aware of the allegations and curious about what i would find. i also
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asked him as i explained about kirbo and his influence in thinking about various issues, and i asked him about the helicopter rescue mission. and you know, he was, he was helpful. but i have to say the best thing he did to help his biographer was to keep a very detailed white house diary throughout his presidency. and of course, as you know, he published about 20% of it. and it's a fabulous diary. it's substantive. it's a place where you can see him venting about various issues and personalities and problems he's
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facing on a daily basis. and i asked him, you know, repeatedly, if he could open up the 80% that was still closed, but he turned me down and he's turned other historians down. but someday, we are going to get access to that diary and i'm sure it's going to require yet another biography of jimmy carter. [laughs] >> our next question is, kai, you wrote a letter to biden from jimmy carter's biographer for the nation magazine. what was the message you wanted to give president biden? >> [laughs] well, that was sort of a tongue-in-cheek article that i wrote for the nation recently, lessons that biden could learn from carter. and you know, i sort of, you know, in a joking manner suggested that he could learn from carter not to attempt to bring peace
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to the middle east between israelis and palestinians because after all, he should know from carter's experience that the israelis are more interested in building settlements in the west bank than they are in having a peace or a two state solution. i also ended the peace with a sort of, again, tongue in cheek, saying, if you ever find yourself in a pond fishing and you are suddenly attacked by a killer rabbit, don't try to hit it with an oar, because americans love their rabbits, even when they are swimming. so, you know, it was a funny piece. but i think actually, seriously, biden can actually learn a lot from the carter presidency. and i think actually in a way, you know, they are on the same page. biden was the first senator to endorse carter in 76, in his 76 campaign, and they have a similar political beliefs and trajectories and i
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think carter -- carter's willingness to take political risks and not to look at the politics of an issue and then to try to simply do the right thing is something that we are seeing joe biden trying to do now. so -- and he's at the stage of cotton is 40 plus long political career, biden is, where he can afford to take political risks without worrying about them. so -- >> so our next question is, your book is the latest in the series of re-evaluations of president carter. there have been to three movies, desert one, [inaudible] president in cartilage, and john alter's book, his very best, and know your book. do you see those changing the public impression of president carter? >> yes, and there's also stu
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eizenstat's very long and wonderful book about the carter presidency. yeah, i think there's a reevaluation taking place in the same way that americans took a second look at harry truman who, left office with an improving rating of about 25% in 1952 and today he's sort of regarded as a substantive president and, you know, people like the notion of harry truman. and i think the same process is taking place with the carter presidency, particularly because his records are largely open now, thanks to you guys in the presidential library, you archivists, and more papers are being declassified, and his diary, as i mentioned, is just a fabulous window onto the
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workings of the oval office. and he, you know, he's a thoughtful, intelligent man, even to this day in his 90s. and i think people are, you know, the easily recognized that he has done something really extraordinary with his long post-presidency, but there should be a realization that it's the same man. it's a seamless story from the presidency to the ex presidency. and this is one reason why my subtitle for the outlier is the unfinished presidency of jimmy carter, because i think he's, like, you know, he used his ex presidency to simply pursue many of the same issues that he was working on when he was in the oval office -- middle east peace, health issues, etc. and it's a very admirable and interesting and colorful record. >> so we have two more
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questions, which is about all we have time for. the first -- the first of the two, which is almost like a follow-up to what we just had, he said, the question asks you, you've interviewed president carter several times and after all this research, you probably understand how president carter thinks. how important do you think it is that president carter sees this reassessment now while he is alive? >> well, he must be sitting back and enjoying it on one level. but i know as a working biographer that it's very hard to write a biography of a living person and have them approve of it, you know? biography is a very personal thing. it's an art. it's not objective. it is filled with subjective decisions on what to put into the narrative and want
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to leave out. and i'm sure president carter will read my book and recognize some of the stories and narratives and he'll scratch his head and have a long list of things that he wonders why, why did kai bird leave this out? or he didn't understand this issue. so, you know, it's a mixed bag, i'm sure, for him. >> i'm sure. >> he's looking back and in the painful position of having to read biographies about himself. >> do you feel like there was a single tipping point for the carter presidency? or do you see a series of events and circumstances that led to
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carter's loss in 1980? >> well, you know, a number of people that i interviewed in the carter administration told me that carter lost because of the three k's -- kennedy, khomeini, and koch -- ed koch, the mayor of new york -- who became a sort of thorn in his side. and it's true that kennedy, by running against him, trying to seize the nomination for the democratic party from the sitting president, greatly weakened carter. even though as smarter carter swore he was going to do, he whipped kennedys (bleep) in the primaries and fought back, and kept the nomination. but he emerged weakened for the general election fight with ronald reagan. and he was also greatly weakened by the hostage
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crisis. this was a very debilitating thing and it was psychologically draining because carter became obsessed with the safety of the hostages, and he really didn't want to do anything to endanger their lives. and you know, cy vance, the secretary of state, kept telling him, reassuring him, you know, that diplomacy was eventually going to prevail and the hostages would be released when khomeini no longer had any political reason to hold them. and yet, there was, you know, brzezinski pushing him to use military force and to do the rescue mission, which failed. and then, and even at the end of the general election in september and october the negotiations were so close that carter believed that he had a real chance of bringing the
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hostages out, you know, in late september or early october or even at the end of october. and people forget, you know, that election was a landslide for reagan. but up until two weeks before the election, the polls were pretty close. carter was within striking distance, within 5%, which is sort of, you know, the margin of error in many of these polls. and he believed that he could still prevail over this be rated hollywood movie actor and ex governor of california. you know, you didn't think that reagan he the country or that the country deserved ronald reagan, and he was really quite devastated when he lost so. >> we have one question, it's kind of sneak in under the wire. did carter [inaudible]
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the opec situation negatively impact other european governmental leaders? >> well, yes. you know, you know, carter's presidency was the deaf bedeviled by stagflation, high interest rates, inflation, growing government deficits. and much of this was due to the energy crisis and the jacking up off the price of oil in the middle east in 1971, and then in 1973, due to the arab oil boycott. and that drove the inflation rates. and this was a worldwide phenomenon so it impacted not only america but europe and much of the third world too. so
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yeah, it was a real problem. and carter, carter did everything -- you know, he tried everything he could to sort of combat inflation. but he couldn't control the price of oil, and that's what was driving the inflation. and in the end, he, again, made a tough political decision. out of desperation, i would argue, he appointed paul volcker as the new fed chairman in the late summer of 1979, over the objections of his advisers, who said volcker would jack up interest rates even more in an effort to bring inflation down. and carter knew the consequences of appointing volcker but he did it anyway, because everything else he had
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tried had failed. and indeed, volcker did exactly what carter's political advisers feared he would do, and he began to jack up interest rates to a really high level, just as carter was entering the general election campaign in 1980. and you know, that was another reason for why he lost the november election. and he doesn't get credit. ironically enough, most people seem to think that ronald reagan was the guy, the president, who with volcker's help, beat inflation. but it really started under carter. >> well, thank you for those thoughtful answers. and i would like to remind everyone that you can purchase kai bird's look at a capella books with a signed bookplate. and thank you again both to kai and to joe for this wonderful evening at this wonderful program. it will be available, i believe, on the
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a capella facebook page, and thank you so much. >> thank you, ceri, thank you, joe. historian andrew roberts defended with two in churchill to take educated get contemporary criticism doing a virtual recent virtual program hosted by the new york historical his sincerity. here's a portion. >> this was a man who was born in the time that charles dolan was still alive, who at a time when, however obscene and absurd you might find it today, the scientific view was that
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there was a hierarchy of the races. and so, i'm not sure that he can be terribly much criticized for taking the view of the rest of science. however, one other thing he did very much feel was that there was a duty, a profound responsibility on the, on the british in the british empire, to take care of they disappear peoples [inaudible] and to promote them. he was incredibly proud that their numbers increased so dramatically, especially in, under the rule of the british, doubled in fact, in the course of the rule of the british empire. and this give him a tremendous pride. and he was also willing to put his life on the line for non white people. you did it again and again. you see this in the sudan, where he fought for the abolition of slavery, for example. i mean, black lives matter it
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to winston churchill. you can see it also in the northwest frontier, where he was protecting the punjabi tribesmen from the atrocities and the taliban and various other tribes further to the north and you constantly see it when he was under secretary of the colleagues colonies as well in the early part of the 20th century. so i think there is a huge difference between his actions, which are never anti black, and his words, which sometimes did as i mentioned earlier include these, you know, unpleasant, to modern years, jokes. he never used the n-word, which lots of racists did in those days. and he was somebody recognized that he is, well, his entire wellspring of his drive came from imperialism but the best
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kind of imperialism. and imperialism in which he wanted to give back and to and to sort of pay for his immense privilege. so i think more people would accept that aspect of winston churchill, and not just go on about the white yosemite supremacy and so on, which i don't think was his driving force. he was incredibly route, also, about [inaudible] and you look at the remarks he made about intelligence and germans and things, they were pretty caustic. and in a sense, one must remember that, you know, is it was essential in 1940 that churchill should believe that britons worth appearing to germs for, example. this is something that he did believe, and thank god he did. because it turned out extremely well for britain that he did
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have this extraordinary [inaudible] . watch the rest of this program and and many other appearance by andrew roberts online, by visiting c-span dot org slash history. when would cross of history professor at the university of mary washington talked about -- would lead to leadership and his admirers and critics in this top at the university's great lives lecture series. this is about an hour, 15 minutes. welcome to today's lecture on franklin d. roosevelt, the man generally considered by historians the greatest president of the 20th century and even beyond that, throughout all of american history, probably considered in the top three greatest american presidents, along with washington and lincoln. it is an assessment based on the fact that he steered the nation through its two greatest crises


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