Last month, Jimmy Carter became the longest living former president.. At 94 years, and then some. To many, he may be better know for what he's accomplished since -leaving- the White House. But a new book makes the case that there was more to the one term presidency than much of history notes. Full Measure contributor James Rosen offers a new take on Jimmy Carter.
Pres. Carter: To my deep regret, eight of the crewmen of the two aircraft which collided were killed, and several other Americans were hurt in the accident.
April 1980, and the catastrophe of "Desert One" -- the aborted rescue mission for 52-american hostages languishing in Iran.
Fuel shortages, double-digit inflation, stubborn unemployment, and soaring interest rates -- All critical factors in the 1980 landslide that swept Ronald Reagan, and a new generation of conservatives, to power, and ended at one term the troubled White House tenure of America's thirty-ninth President, Jimmy Carter.
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat: He honored the office of the Presidency.
Stuart Eizenstat sees the history very differently. A lawyer from Georgia, Eizenstat served as top domestic policy adviser for the entire Carter Presidency, and later, as President Clinton's ambassador to the European Union. A copious note-taker, Eizenstat filled up over a hundred yellow pads, more than 5-thousand pages, with verbatim quotes from his private sessions with President Carter, preserving the secret history of the era like a one-man taping system inside the Carter White House.
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat: It makes you a fly on the wall to the presidency.
And in his book, President Carter: The White House Years, a densely footnoted hybrid of memoir and history that weighs in at a thousand pages, eizenstat argues the "man from plains" deserves a fresh look -- and better rating -- from history.
James Rosen: How do you think Jimmy Carter's presidency is popularly remembered, and what's wrong with that vision?
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat: Well, frankly, Jimmy Carter's presidency is remembered as a failure. But the fact is his achievements at home and abroad were not recognized, I think, for two reasons. First, they were obscured by a whole host of problems, Iran, inflation, inexperience, interparty warfare with the liberal wing of the party. Also, because, he didn't communicate them well.
Among those achievements...The Camp David Accords, which forged a peace between Egypt and Israel still holding today.Carter also passed three major energy bills that nudged America toward energy independence, deregulated the airlines, as well as the transportation and telecommunications industries, doubled the size of our national parks, and concluded the Salt 2 accord with the Soviet Union, limiting the numbers of ballistic missiles each superpower could strike.
James Rosen: What role do you think Jimmy Carter played in the ultimate winning of the Cold War?
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat: All the major weapon systems that Ronald Reagan deployed, the cruise missile, the stealth bomber, intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe, the MX mobile missile, all were green-lighted by us. So, Ronald Reagan deserves -- and I give him in my book -- all the credit for bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. But, Jimmy Carter began that whole process and deserves credit for doing so.
But it was on Carter's watch that the USSR invaded Afghanistan, adding to a perception of his weakness on the world stage.
James Rosen: You spent a lot of time with Jimmy Carter. When was he at his lowest that you personally observed?
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat: He was at his lowest when the hostage rescue failed. When the eight servicemen died, he had us all into the Roosevelt Room at the time for our staff meeting, and you could see that he was just traumatized by it. He didn't blame it on the military. In fact, he said to us before the rescue mission, "If it succeeds, it's because you, the military, have done it. If it fails, I'll take the responsibility."
Eizenstat was with the president aboard Air Force One when he received the news that his presidency was finished.
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat: And I remember him coming out of the cabin, and I said to him, "Mr. President, we've let you down." And, I literally cried on his shoulders like a baby. And, he said, "You didn't let me down. I let everyone down."