Jimmy Carter ran for president as a maverick. It's also how he's
lived his life.
Two outstanding new books - Jimmy Carter, an accessible,
examination of the Carter presidency by journalist and Princeton
history professor Julian E. Zelizer and White House Diary, a
day-to-day, surprisingly blunt account of his White House years
written by Jimmy Carter himself - work together to offer not only
lucid overview of Carter's troubled presidency but also an almost
photorealistic portrait of the former president.
Neither book offers much in the way of surprises. Rather, both
confirm public perceptions of Carter as highly principled, often
uncompromising, sometimes difficult in his relations with
and the press, and, on occasion, excessively detail-oriented.
together, however, they fill in the details and - in the case of
Carter's diary - flesh out our impressions of Carter with
compelling, day-by-day details.
The 1976 election - the first post-Watergate presidential race -
was set up perfectly for an outsider running against the corrupt
Washington establishment. As Zelizer notes, Carter "had built an
entire career around positioning himself as a political outsider
[and 1976] was a year for the maverick."
Carter writes in his diary: "I chose to focus my campaign on
themes: truthfulness, management competence, and distance from
unattractive aspects of Washington politics." But running as an
outsider and governing as one were different things, as the newly
elected Carter would discover.
By all accounts, Carter's faith-based integrity was, and is,
authentic. He notes in his diary: "The last thing Rosalynn and I
every day is read a chapter in the Bible in Spanish, and we'll
prayer at all our meals and attend regular church services."
Carter's personal values were at the core of his strengths,
illustrated best by his dogged determination to find a peaceful
solution in the Middle East. Yet his values could also lead him
uncompromising. As Zelizer explains (and Carter's diary
confirms), "he simply did not like" the horse-trading ways of
One of Carter's first presidential acts was to kill public-works
projects that he considered wasteful "pork." Carter accurately
predicted in his diary, "I know this is going to create a
Carter's difficulties with Congress were many. As Congress
its feet on Carter's unpopular Panama Canal Treaty, for example,
Carter notes "[t]he House has been ridiculously irresponsible
week ... just a bunch of disorganized juvenile delinquents."
Carter's hugely complex energy bill also bogged down amid
Congressional lobbying and horse-trading. Carter's diary entries
expose his frustration: "This last week in Congress has been like
madhouse with everybody threatening filibusters and constant
squabbles." Looking back, an older, more reflective Carter writes
(in the diary's "afterword") that "I was sometimes accused of
'micromanaging' the affairs of government and being excessively
autocratic, and I must admit that my critics probably had a valid