I finished reading The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter by Kai Bird. It’s a fascinating and insightful book. Also heartbreaking because we know how it turned out. What I never understood at the time was how a handful of extremists – primarily Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, John J. McCloy, and Zbigniew Brzezinski – orchestrated an extensive propaganda campaign to pressure Carter to grant refuge in the U.S. to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. That was the very act that provoked Iranian extremists to take hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, an outcome that Carter himself had predicted. No Iranian hostage crisis, and we might very well have had a second Carter administration, and the entire history of the world would be different.
The main point of this blog is creativity, not politics, but open-mindedness is fundamental to creativity. In the summer of 1979, President Carter held what amounted to a Domestic Summit at Camp David. No other U.S. president, before or after, has done something of this magnitude. Over ten days, Carter met with state governors, members of Congress, representatives of the civil rights movement and labor unions, and religious leaders. The president spent most of that time listening and trying to put his presidency in the context of the nation’s long-term needs.
The outcomes from the Domestic Summit were sometimes muddled. The most immediate follow-up was Carter’s July 15, 1979, “Crisis of Confidence” speech, often referred to as the “Malaise Speech,” even though the word “malaise” was entirely absent from the address. The administration didn’t fully translate the larger issues into concrete policy actions, and when they did, they sometimes failed to present those actions in simplistic terms that the rabid, post-Watergate media could easily absorb. And the whole experience was too heavily influenced by uber-outsider Pat Caddell. But none of that diminishes the fact that Carter dug deeper into a thoughtful analysis of the duties of the presidency than any president in memory. He emphasized long-term results over short-term political wins and rejected special interests in favor of the greater good. Those are all traits of a creative thinker. And in a time when politicians are so corrupt that they force us to take sides with a big sinister corporation like Walt Disney, some good honest creativity is something we sorely need.
- P. 581: “Carter had lost in a landslide in the Electoral College [in 1980], winning only forty-nine electoral votes… Reagan won with 50.7 percent of the popular vote; Carter received 41 percent and John Anderson took 6.6 percent. … It may have looked like a landslide – but actually nearly 50 percent of eligible voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot. This meant Reagan was elected president with votes representing barely a quarter of the electorate.”
2 thoughts on “Friday Food for Thought: 28 April 2023”
I’ve really enjoyed your perspective on “The Outlier” and Carter’s presidency. He truly cared about the country and the American people…kind of the “anti-politician” of today. It’s so disheartening and frustrating that the people he represented and cared about couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote. Imagine how different the outcome would have been if we had given him the opportunities of a 2nd term. Thanks for sharing this!
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I completely agree with you, thank you for the kind words!