Stuart Eizenstat: Taking Another Look at the Carter Years


Manage episode 210462469 series 2359906
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Forget everything you think you know about President Jimmy Carter and get ready to ask yourself: Was he an ineffective, overwhelmed outsider who oversaw four of the worst years in our history… or, as my guest today argues, was Carter’s presidency one of the most consequential in modern history. I confess – I forgot just how much occurred during Carter’s four years – and how much of what he did set the stage for politics and policies today: Ideas like protecting the environment, putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy, energy conservation, the Middle East peace process, and perhaps most painful in today’s political ridiculousness: A post-Watergate President who ran for office on the promise that “I’ll never lie to the American people.” Say what you want about Carter; he kept that promise. But for all the success, Carter’s presidency is rarely hailed. He micromanaged. He tried to do too much. He ruined the economy. He oversaw gas lines in America – literally, lines of people in cars waiting to fill their gas tanks. Google it. And most terribly, he couldn’t free the American hostages from 444 days of captivity in Iran. So how should we consider Jimmy Carter’s presidency? Stu Eizenstat had a front row seat to it all. From 1969 to 1981, Eizenstat worked for peanut farmer, governor, candidate, and President Carter, ultimately as his chief White House domestic policy adviser. Eizenstat has written an historical take on Carter’s four years as President – one that Stu himself says is largely positive, yes, but doesn’t shy away from harsh criticism, too. As Stu writes: “I am not nominating Jimmy Carter for a place on Mount Rushmore. He was not a great president, but he was a good and productive one.” More on Stu: Before the Carter years, he had worked as a very young man in the LBJ administration. After Carter, he served as US Ambassador to the European Union and then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton. He has been a powerful presence internationally, and was awarded high civilian awards from the governments of France (Legion of Honor), Germany, Austria, and Belgium, as well as from Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers. He now heads the international practice at Covington & Burling. His exceptional book gives insight and context to every crisis and challenge of the 1970s… We talked about many of them – most relevant for today, I asked him about how much of what Carter did is being attacked by Trump and Trump’s own approach to the Presidency.