I recently joined a conservative book club, and because of the generous new membership package, I received a number of books that I wouldn’t have otherwise bought or read. One of these books is The Real Jimmy Carter by Steven F. Hayward.
The reason I wouldn’t have run right out to buy this book is because I always thought Jimmy Carter was a fool, so essentially I believed Steven F. Hayward would just be re-enforcing what I already knew to be true. I was wrong. Jimmy Carter isn’t just a fool; he’s a dangerous fool.
I’m old enough to remember the long lines at gas pumps and the raging inflation of the Carter presidency. I also remember wondering during the time Jimmy Carter served as President of the US how one such dysfunctional family could produce just one smart sibling. Thanks to Steven F. Hayward, I now have my answer to that question. Jimmy Carter never was nor is he now smarter than the rest of his family. He was merely seriously overestimated in the political savvy department.
The Real Jimmy Carter covers the time from when Jimmy Carter was a young man up to the present. We find out why he gave up what may have been a career in the Navy to go home and take over the peanut farm. We learn how he came to be Governor of Georgia and then later went on to become President Of The United States. But this book is more than simply a chronological order of events in Jimmy Carter’s life. It’s a tracking of his thought processes and his strategies. It chronicles his ups and downs, and showcases the fact that there were far more downs than there were ups. We learn who the people are who Jimmy Carter depended upon for advice and direction. And we find out just how little people who had to work with him during his governorship and his presidency really thought of him because of his tactics.
One of the incidents I remember clearly from the Carter presidency was the time Billy Carter, Jimmy’s brother, secured a loan from and went to Libya to meet with Mohammar Qaddafi. Not only was it outrageous that the president’s brother would receive a loan from a country considered to be an enemy of the United States, but Billy received global attention when he relieved himself against a wall in Libya. At the time I thought this was aberrant behavior, and how embarrassing it was for the President of the US to have to put up with this from his own family.
I was wrong. It wasn’t aberrant behavior — not for the Carter family, anyway. Jimmy Carter possesses exactly the same kind of arrogant misdirection his brother and sister suffered from. He just displays it in different forums — like North Korea, Palestine, Syria, and wherever else he pleases. And what Jimmy Carter does reflects upon the country he says he represents. Except that Jimmy Carter’s view of US national security interests are often at odds with whoever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office at the time. Even Bill Clinton had enough of Carter’s antics. Case in point: after Carter came back from his visit to North Korea, the Clinton Administration wouldn’t even meet with him. Still, Carter went to the White House anyway, where no senior member of the Clinton Administration would see him. He had to settle for a tense meeting with one of his own former aides.
Shortly after Jimmy Carter’s “miracle” mission to North Korea, Kim Il Sung died. The joke around the State Department and the White House was that Il Sung died from laughing so hard at negotiating with Jimmy Carter.
I did not, however, see The Real Jimmy Carter as simply one author’s ability to take potshots at someone who stirs up controversy for his thoughtless political behavior. Steven F. Hayward draws upon information from many different sources including a biography here and there that’s either friendly toward or at least uncritical of the Carter Administration.
I don’t think it would be a spoiler to reveal the one very positive thing Jimmy Carter can do. The guy can swing a hammer. His work with Habitat For Humanities has been admirable, and because of his affiliation, this worthy cause has received more attention and funding that it otherwise may have enjoyed. That’s a good thing. It’s just sad that the best thing to be said for a former president is that he really knows how to pound those nails.
I have merely scratched the surface of the story Steven F. Hayward tells in The Real Jimmy Carter. For anyone interested in knowing more about the Carter presidency and the post-presidency, this book is certainly a good place to start.