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tv   The Presidency Kai Bird The Outlier - The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy...  CSPAN  August 1, 2021 2:03am-3:07am EDT

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he was the only person offered that position. when carbo said no, i want to remain in atlanta, i cannot afford to move to washington. it was a little suspicious since he's a well off,
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powerful atlanta lawyer for cracks that's very true of bert lance. cracks later on curb said he would've been better off if he followed my advice and moved to washington. it was interesting to me because the surprising thing was he helped explain to me carter's political orientation. carter is an enigma president, liberals cannot fill him out conservatives can't figure him out, he has different positions. but clear when you read the memos, he was himself in that great historical tradition of being a southern tacky.
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he is from south georgia, from working class. and he has a suspicion of big business. this is also carter's view. he believes the taxes should be very progressive. and that government should be working for the common man. he is suspicious of big corporations and big government. this explains a lot to me about carter. he had a lot of influence before as you said from 62 on. but even during the white house years. i tell one funny story in the book, heath generally fly up to washington every two or three weeks. particularly when there was a
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crisis so he could just be in the white house for a few days and wander around quietly observed what was happening. and would have a one on one with carter and tell him what he thought. one day carter is in the residence upstairs of the white house, having a session with a group of journalists, a group of thirsty journalists. but remember famously carter moved into the white house and announced he was not going to serve hard liquor. so he had served these thirsty journalists iced tea. so at one point, suddenly the door opens and he wanders in. and he yelled to him, and help
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yourself to a bourbon. he made an exception for him. >> one of the things you pointed out did not realize was part of the reason why the carter's did not serve hard alcohol was it because it cost so much. it was a financial decision less than a puritanical religious reason. they'd drink alcohol themselves and would have wine in different situations. but it cost a lot because the president themselves had to pay that tab. it gets back to the point we are making about him not going because he does not have enough money to go to washington. that does seemed like you are reminded at cost money to go and do public service. and unfortunately often times only the wealthy are able to afford its, to do that work. one of the things i wanted to ask you about involved
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president carter's rhetorical style. for any leader, how they communicate is an enormously important to their leadership forgive interesting quote from president carter's son jack in which he said his father is not an orator. but when he speaks with the moral intensity he makes you believe it. and i think that was very true of his malaise his speech. and probably his labbe speech which are so extraordinary you talk about in the book. what did you learn about in your research about president carter's rhetorical style? >> you are right you characterize right on the market. he was very good campaigning 75, 76 when he was in a small setting, a living room, a church where he could speak off the cuff to people.
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he would connect with people. he would go into a black church and be perfectly comfortable. because he had been raised in archer just 2 miles on the road from planes or his just about the only little white boy. and his playmates were african-american. he was very comfortable in black churches. he was very comfortable in small groups. he wasn't a good orator on the stump in a big audience. he was probably weakest in front of the television cameras. but on the other hand he was very good in front of a television camera when he was in a press conference, answering questions from reporters he could be witty and entertaining and
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substantive and persuasive. but he just was not an orator in that way. but you are right to refer to the law day speech in atlanta in 1974 which was a significant speech because of two things. he met ted kennedy without was going to be arrival and 76. it was blown away by carter's speech that day was an extemporaneous speech we thrown away his speech notes. it was a sermon where he talked about southern justice and how lawyers would not serve the people not representing the core and giving them equal justice.
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as a speech and hunter thompson became a carter advocate at that point. >> i love to go back to that speech and teach that speech. it's a very timely speech it is a sermon about injustices of the criminal justice system. it is remarkably timely in our own moment with the race and criminal justice and contemporary america. the closing and that speech is remarkable it really reflects on having read war and peace as an 11-year-old. i don't know what 11-year-old breeds war and peace. but it is a remarkable speech. this is the first ever kind of cradle-to-grave biography. there been books about president carter before but this is the first to deal with the whole light. it's interesting that 22 of the 27 chapters i counted were
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about the presidency itself. which is seem to me there is an implicit argument in that decision as a biographer to spend so much time on the presidency. i think we forget, as kerri said in the opening we think about president carter is a post- presidency. a lot happened in the presidency. what did you find to be some of the accomplishments of carter as president that we forget? >> i should say johnson alters book was also cradled biography. he focused less on the presidency in comparison to my book. you're right my book is heavily weighted towards the white house years. initially i started out thinking i was only going to do the white house years. but when i started i could not
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stop right in the preface. it grew and grew i realize i had to explain where this came from. south georgian planes and the whole story was a key to explaining his politics and his presidency. but yes, the carter presidency is particularly relevant today. in the wake of the failed trump presidency as we see joe biden occupied the white house there are many lessons learned that you can learn from the carter presidency. coming back to your opening comment the perception is carter was a failed president. actually he was a very consequential president. he passed more legislation than bill clinton or barack
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obama. he was only there for four years. but he deregulated natural gas. he gave us seatbelts and airbags. he deregulated the airline industry which allowed middle-class americans to fly for the first time in an affordable way. he bravely expanded the food stamp program, bringing 3 million new working-class people, largely african americans in the south, giving them access to food stamps. he did a lot on the domestic agenda. the policy or just remarkable the panama canal treaty, vote to the arms-control negotiation, china normalization immigration
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reform is at the center of american policy for the first time as successors have not been able to walk back from any of this. they also focused heavily on the middle east and trying to bring peace between the israelis and the palestinians. he was not afraid to take on really tough issues. it is a remarkable record. >> it is a remarkable record. it reminds me of something in the book that you talked about the remarkable relationship that jimmy and roslyn carter have. they're so close as a couple they did not really have a broader social set. they had their family and this marriage were they were full
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partners. great material with roslyn all the things she did sitting on the side of the wall the cabinet meeting and taking notes. and people being upset about that. not knowing how to handle that. but roslyn carter, you're telling how political instinct that maybe her husband didn't. she was telling him maybe don't do this but wait for the second term. it was interesting to hear her political counsel. if anyone could get through to him about those things that would have been her and she was not able to get him to consider the political implications of trying to do everything at once. >> how do you explain that? >> she is a very interesting personality. she's extremely shy when
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carter began his political career to the point that if she had to give a speech it made her quite nauseous. but, by the time she entered the oval office she had become one of the best campaigners on the road. she could go in and give a talk to any kind of crowd. she also is sent out by carter on meet the press when he was in the oval office. he would send her to talk to the reporters on this great television show that reached millions of people. she was articulate and persuasive. she had the political instincts that carter wanted to ignore. this is again one of the paradoxes about jimmy carter. he could be ruthless on the campaign trail.
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he knew how to win political power part he knew what was necessary, what he would have to do to appeal to certain voters. he could make that calculation because he was ambitious and he wanted to win the governorship in georgia. and then the presidency. but once he was in those positions of power, it was his religiosity that kicked in. he believes he was obligated, is his responsibility to not do the politically expedient thing. do not consider the politics. but figure out what was the right thing to do. what was the intelligent thing to do and to do it regardless of the political cost. he decided early on the panama canal treaty was something that had to be done. it came at great political
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cost for the u.s. senate to pass it by very narrow margin. seven of those senators who were up for reelection in the next election a few years later lost their seats. partly due to the votes on the panama canal treaty. so again and again he paid a tremendous cost. port rosie as he refers to her, could see this. at one point she says jimmy don't you want a second term? [laughter] she could see he was in trouble before he could even see it. >> is fastening your portrait of that marriage. one to ask a bit of a nerdy historical question. i think it's an important insight you have the historians need to wrestle with. they write about the shift in global economy since the 1970s. the rise of market fundamentalism that underlies
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what's called neural liberalism. they often point to the democratic presidency of jimmy carter, carter is one of the originators of neoliberal us. it's not the arch conservatives. it's true that carter was responsible for number of deregulation efforts. somewhat you talked about. sin airline and craft brewing industry have not realized that i appreciate as a consumer as many craft brews myself. in your book you make a really interesting points. in the case of airline deregulation it was the business roundtable that opposed deregulation because they sought is what you describe as a radical, consumer agenda. i thought that was fascinating context. tells more about carter radical consumer agenda in the mid- 1970s?
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and how that might provide a different context for understanding his embrace of deregulation. >> interestingly enough, just after he won the democratic nomination he retired to the plains to take a break. he invited a bunch of people down to give them advice. one was ralph nader. ralph nader was assigned in his black suit to pay the role of umpire. [laughter] anyway they broke bread together and nader became enamored with carter because he was completely open to taking his advice on who to appoint various positions in the government. he and since got joan
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claybrook and put her in as director of the audit safety board. and ralph nader of course was famous for his first book on the dangers of the automobile. joan was a woman who pushed through seatbelts and airbags. she was not the only who was appointed. there are literally dozens of them. the whole point was that he wanted to, as president he wanted to use his office to protect consumers. this helps consumers allowed middle-class americans to travel. but it also disrupted big
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business and the airline industry, opening up the big carriers, the business roundtable was opposed to it. it also alienated labor unions because it made it difficult for the airlines, the unions that represented airline workers to keep their monopoly on power. it was a populist proconsumer administration that undercut some of the core constituencies of the liberal democratic base, trade unions. that's another paradox of the carter prep presidency but. >> i thought it was interesting to you take to task in this book some of your fellow journalists. you have a really interesting chapter for example involving
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carter's former speech writer who published a blistering exposé of the carter administration that did a lot of political damage to carter. you're pretty critical i thought of the decision to polish that piece and is characteristic of carter in that piece. i want to if you could say a little bit more about that? also more generally did carter get a fair shake from the press? >> he did not get a fair shake. he became president in early 77, in the wake of the watergate scandal where every journalist in washington wanted to emulate bob woodward and bernstein and become known as an investigative journalist. so they went out trying to find dirt on the carter administration. mary unsuccessfully. but, is also a time in the "washington post" was
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inventing the style section. you had journalists like sally quinn is writing very gossipy pieces about hamilton and jody powell, the georgia boys surrounding the carter white house who she would make fun of for their southern accent, the way they dressed the way they talk about issues they were not interested in the georgetown sets, they did not circulate on the cocktail circuit. and carter himself sally quinn was very critical of carter for turning down dinner invitations from katherine graham the publisher of the "washington post". carter didn't, as you said he would rather spend time with rosie in the white house in a
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quiet dinner then go out, shake hands and talk to a bunch of rich folks from georgetown. so he got a bad shake in general. you mentioned james was a very young man in his 20s for the first two years in the administration he was the chief speech writer. his real ambition was to break into magazine journalism. after two years he left his very first piece with staff writer of the atlantic was long, long exposé entitled the passionless presidency. it was sort of psychological investigation of jimmy carter. rather thin in my opinion.
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it did, as you say, did real damage for the carter presidency at a moment in 1979 when he was facing long gas lines and a lot of criticism over many issues. that piece gave a green light to the rest of the press that it was okay to dump on the carter presidency. there was something wrong was suggested per jody powell, and carter himself regarded the article as a stab in the back of betrayal of a one-time insider. it's a colorful story. james has made some good points about some of the failings of the carter presidency.
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there's problems giving a speech in front of a tv camera. but in my view was an unfair attack. >> you have that point you make about it is remarkable. this is interesting in a study of rhetoric and writing and what people remember. but the story told there is a story about carter scheduling the white house tennis courts for which you point out is not true. [laughter] but it gets reported. that becomes the emblematic story that people go on to tell even to this day about carter as the micromanager. not seeing the forest for the trees. having to have his hand in everything. but that story wasn't true was it? >> it was a result of a misunderstanding was an avid
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tennis player and president carter was the first president to open up the white house tennis court to staff. so allowing them to use it. he was instinct to allow his staff to have one of those perks, why not. one day he goes down to the tennis court with one of his sons to play a game. the court is occupied. i'm not sure if it was someone else but it was occupied. instead of kicking them off the court, jimmy carter turned around and walked back to the oval office. and casually mentioned to secretary susan clow, why don't we have a sign-up sheet. [laughter] for the tennis courts. so it was clow who maintained the sign-up sheet.
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and he would attach a note said mr. president can i use the tennis court at 3:00 p.m. [laughter] he would get an answer from clow or sometimes from carter. wasn't that carter was managing the tennis court schedule. anyway it was an unfortunate misunderstanding. but you are right. this is one of the stories everyone are members about the carter presidency. he paid is so much attention to detail he was even managing the tennis courts. the detailed president per he read 300, 200, threaded pages of memos every day. he scribbled in the margin of the memos, his comments often quite funny. he was a great reader nothing took as information pretty
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worked very hard he was the hardest working president we've had in the 20th century. >> probably one of the most intelligent. and without a doubt the most decent. but here, because of the tennis court story he was settled with the notion he was an engineer mind paying attention to the tiniest detail. >> to me the most telling thing about the tennis court story is when it was occupied by staffordshire turned around too go back. you would not kick them off the courts. you imagine most presidents would do. >> it was a sensibility. vince got it i've got to do something else. the classic standoff in the foreign policy is between them. put in the "new york times" review of your book just came out over the weekend he thought you cited too often
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with fans in your assessments. i wonder how you respond? a one, and you think that is a fair characterization? and if it is why did you make that choice? it's true if you read my book you'll come away with a strong understanding as a national security advisor. it was constantly nagging carter to have a tough reform policy. he saw the world through his aristocratic polish eyes. and he just hated the russians. and he believed the soviet union was an evil empire. to use ronald reagan's turn. and we were any generational, multi generational conflict. he viewed every foreign policy issue through that prism.
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that cold war prism. he's constantly you can see him in the archives telling carter to be tougher. do something militaristic. say something nasty about the russians. use some -- send a signal by using a little force. any one of memos you can see in the margin he scribbles use sports like midas? a reference to henry kissinger and ford's disastrous use of force in cambodia that led to unnecessary deaths of hostages that had been taken aboard his ship. what was astonishing to me turn down the advice for a particular during the first three years. they had a different attitude
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about the cold war and about the third world in particular. he did not think the soviets were behind every little revolution and the third world. he took him with a large grain of salt. they were sided with the world view but the mystery is why did he put up with that if he disagreed with him so often? i asked him this in one of my interviews. he's that you know, big entertainment. he was witty, he had 100 ideas he would be an entertaining conversationalist on an airplane, a long airplane ride. they had numerous arguments when i interviewed him, he himself told the story.
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he said i had an argument one day in the oval office with carter. i left, went back to my office in a few minutes later susan clow the president's secretary comes in and hands me very formally a green envelope. in the green envelope is stationary signifying a hand written instruction from the president. and so he knew something from jimmy carter. he opens the envelope and there carter says big you ever know when to stop? now he was proud of this note. he thought it was like signified the nature of his access to the president. but you know, this relationship work carter down.
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by the third year of the presidency during the hostage crisis, big was beginning to win the argument. he was the one who is constantly urging cards respond to the crisis he was the one who persuaded carter in the end reluctantly to give a green light to the helicopter rescue mission. which turned out to be a disaster. i think the preordained to be a disaster could never have succeeded. he was in favor of force and it is ironic it is over this you, he finally resigned leaving him standing on the field. this is i think one of the tragedies of the carter foreign policy apparatus. >> was there an october surprise in 1980?
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we note from the archives it looks like there is an october surprise in 1968 involving the nixon administration d-link negotiations and vietnam. it's a bigger deal coming don't make a cease-fire spin a chapter here about the issue of the iranian hostage crisis. we think about the october surprise 1980? >> most shy away from conspiracy stories and most are not to not be true some conspiracies are true. the conspiracy to assassinate
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abraham lincoln. the evidence about the october surprise comes down to one question. the campaign manager william casey take a break in the summer of 1980 the office of strategic services as a young man his greatest experience is running covid operations in europe during world war ii. he loved it all. see attended it's true, he did flight to london and late july to attend this academic conference. he had a window of about three days over the weekend. that was enough time for him
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to take a nether flight into madrid, spain. the allegation is he went to mejia did that weekend and met with a representative of the ayatollah khamenei. he engaged in some private diplomacy specifically telling iranians at his candidate, ronald reagan, would be able to give them a better deal that should not deal jimmy carter. this is prolonging the hostage crisis. there was a congressional investigation, ten years after carter left the white house, three years after casey had died. and congress could not come to a clear -- the evidence was muddy. i found, with the help of another journalist, a white house memo that referred to a cable from the madrid
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reporting that bill casey is in town for purposes unknown. i think that is the smoking gun. it proves casey did go to madrid that long weekend and spend a few hours and go shooting at the iranians sending them a signal. it's an outrageous example of interference in u.s. foreign policy. but the prolonging of the hostage crisis. but bill casey was exactly the kind of guy he was capable of doing that. >> casey you have some questions? >> i've questions i will read out. what unique questions that you asked president carter? >> i asked about the october
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surprise. he very diplomatically deferred saying he had no opinion about it. but he was clearly aware of the allegations and what he would find. i also asked him as i explained about his influence in thinking about various issues i asked him about the helicopter rescue mission, he was helpful. but i have to say the best thing he did to help his biographer was to keep a very detailed white house diary throughout his presidency. as you know he published about 20% of its that's a fabulous diary it is substantive, it's
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a place you can see him venting about various issues and personalities and problems facing on a daily basis. and i asked him repeatedly if he could open up the 80% that were still closed. but he turned me down and he has turned others down. but someday were going to get access for that diary and it's going to require yet another biography of jimmy carter. [laughter] >> my next question, you wrote a letter to biden from jimmy carter's biographer for the nation magazine. what was the message you wanted to give president biden? [laughter] >> that was a tongue and cheek article that i wrote to the nation recently. the lessons i can learn from carter. i sort of and a joking manner
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suggested he could learn from carter not as an attempt to bring peace to the middle east between israeli and palestinians because after all he should know from carter's experience are more interested in building settlements in the west bank than they are having a piece or state solution. i also ended the piecework began tongue-in-cheek saying if you ever find yourself in a pond fishing and you were suddenly attacked by killer or rabbit, do not try to hit it with an oar. because americans love their rabbits even when they are swimming. [laughter] it was a funny piece. i think actually seriously biden can learn a lot from the carter presidency. and i think actually in a way they are on the same page.
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biden was the first senator to endorse carter in 76 campaign. they have a similar political belief and trajectories. i think harder willingness to take political risk and not to look at the politics of an issue. and then to try to simply do the right thing is something we are seeing joe biden trying to do now. he is at a stage of course and as long 40 plus political career, biden is where he can afford to take political risk without worrying about it. >> our next question is your book is the latest in a series of re- evaluations of president carter. there been three movies is rock 'n' roll president carter land. john alters a book his best and not your book.
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do you see this changing the public impression of president carter? >> yes. there's also to long and wonderful book in the same way americans took a second look at harry truman who left office with an approval rating of about 25% in 1952. and today he is regarded as a substantive president. people like the notion of harry s truman. i think the same process is taking place with the carter presidency. particularly because his records are largely open now.
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and more papers are being declassified per his diary as i mentioned is a fabulous window onto the workings of the oval office. and he is a thoughtful, intelligent man to this day even in his 90s. i think people are, they easily recognize he's done something really extraordinary with this long post presidency. there should be a realization that it is the same man and a seamless story from the presidency to the x presidency. this is one reason why my subtitles for the outlier is the un- finished presidency of jimmy carter.
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too simply pursue many of the same issues he was working on when he is working in the oval office it was a very admirable and interesting colorful record. >> we have two more questions which is about all we have time for. the first of the two which is almost like a follow-up to what we just had. he interviewed president carter several times. after all of this research you probably understand how president carter thanks. how important do you think it is president carter's sees this reassessment now will he is alive? >> well, and is enjoying it on level part as a working biographer it's very hard to write a biography about a living person and have them
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approve of it biography is a very personal thing, it is an art. it is not objective. it is filled with subjective decisions on what to put into the narrative and what to leave out. and i am sure president carnival read my book and recognize some of the stories and narratives. he will scratch his head and have a long list of things that he wonders why did he leave this out? [laughter] : : :
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