Pitching the Presidency: How Presidents Depict the Office

By Paul Haskell Zernicke | Go to book overview

7
Jimmy Carter:
The People's President

Jimmy Carter valued logic, and it was logical to assume that after Vietnam and Watergate the public wanted a different kind of presidency, one that placed a premium on honesty and intimacy with the people. These characteristics naturally fit the born-again Baptist who was committed to a life of public service and spiritual redemption. Ever present in Carter's conception of the office was a belief that the presidency can be simultaneously ethical and powerful when the people are firmly behind it. This conception worked well for a time. But sustaining public expectations was even more daunting for Carter because he inherited an office that had been weakened by the rhetoric and actions of Johnson and Nixon. Carter made matters worse for himself by resisting efforts to perfect his relations with Congress and his public presentations. Still, Carter's personality, attitude toward public speaking, and presentation of the presidency combined to make him what Nixon had failed to be--a moral president who reached out to the people.

James David Barber labeled Carter an active-positive (the ideal blend of personal self-esteem and political activity), but cautioned that "like the other active-positive Presidents, his character based troubles are going to spring from an excess of active-positive virtue: the thirst for results. The temptation to go ahead and get some high thing done by some temporary low route may swing him off course, as with Roosevelt and the Court, Kennedy and the Castro problem."1 Biographer Betty Glad argues that Carter was both self-confident and self-centered. He consequently proposed bold programs that did not gain political support because he overestimated his own abilities and underestimated his opponents. 2 Whatever his political energy and insight, Carter never exhibited what one political

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