The maverick politician from Georgia who rode the post- Watergate wave into office but whose term was consumed by economic and international crises
A peanut farmer from Georgia, Jimmy Carter rose to national power through mastering the strategy of the maverick politician. As the face of the "New South," Carter's strongest support emanated from his ability to communicate directly to voters who were disaffected by corruption in politics.
But running as an outsider was easier than governing as one, as Princeton historian Julian E. Zelizer shows in this examination of Carter's presidency. Once in power, Carter faced challenges sustaining a strong political coalition, as he focused on policies that often antagonized key Democrats, whose support he desperately needed. By 1980, Carter stood alone in the Oval Office as he confronted a battered economy, soaring oil prices, American hostages in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Carter's unpopularity enabled Ronald Reagan to achieve a landslide victory, ushering in a conservative revolution. But during Carter's post-presidential career, he has emerged as an important voice for international diplomacy and negotiation, remaking his image as a statesman for our time.
This slim biography portrays a president (1977-81) with more idealism than his predecessors but less luck and political skill. In a nation still reeling from Watergate, Carter's 1976 campaign stressing freedom from Washington politics propelled him to the presidency. Princeton history professor Zelizer (Arsenal of Democracy) regretfully points out that outsider status may win elections but exercising power requires traditional insider arm-twisting which Carter was slow to learn. His successes including the SALT II arms treaty, the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace accords, and a Social Security tax increase (denounced by conservatives but a lifesaver for the program). Zelizer feels Carter's hardest fought victory, passage of the Panama Canal treaty, damaged him by energizing his enemies without increasing his popularity because few Americans cared. They cared about inflation and unemployment, and Carter managed to anger both liberals and conservatives by rejecting both expensive social programs and massive tax cuts. Few blame him for Iran's revolution or the hostage-taking at the American embassy, but no presidential reputation could survive their long captivity or the bungled rescue attempt. And in this latest addition to the Am erican Presidents series, Zelizer concurs with other historians' lukewarm opinion of Carter but adds that many problems were beyond his control.