President Carter: The White House Years

President Carter: The White House Years


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The definitive history of the Carter Administration from the man who participated in its surprising number of accomplishmentsdrawing on his extensive and never-before-seen notes.

Stuart Eizenstat was at Jimmy Carter’s side from his political rise in Georgia through four years in the White House, where he served as Chief Domestic Policy Adviser. He was directly involved in all domestic and economic decisions as well as in many foreign policy ones. Famous for the legal pads he took to every meeting, he draws on more than 5,000 pages of notes and 350 interviews of all the major figures of the time, to write the comprehensive history of an underappreciated president—and to give an intimate view on how the presidency works.

Eizenstat reveals the grueling negotiations behind Carter’s peace between Israel and Egypt, what led to the return of the Panama Canal, and how Carter made human rights a presidential imperative. He follows Carter’s passing of America’s first comprehensive energy policy, and his deregulation of the oil, gas, transportation, and communications industries. And he details the creation of the modern vice-presidency.

Eizenstat also details Carter’s many missteps, including the Iranian Hostage Crisis, because Carter’s desire to do the right thing, not the political thing, often hurt him and alienated Congress. His willingness to tackle intractable problems, however, led to major, long-lasting accomplishments.

This major work of history shows first-hand where Carter succeeded, where he failed, and how he set up many successes of later presidents.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250104557
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Pages: 1024
Sales rank: 358,352
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

STUART E. EIZENSTAT was the chief White House domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter and served as the United States Ambassador to the European Union from 1993 to 1996 and as the United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001.

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James Earl Carter, Jr., was born on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia, a town of some 550 people in the deeply segregated South, and was raised there and in the nearby village of Archery, where he spent part of his childhood. Few had indoor plumbing or electricity, and mule-drawn wagons were more common than automobiles. Whites were a distinct minority, only about one-third of the residents, and young Jimmy played baseball with black children and worked with them in the fields. But his was no log cabin upbringing. His family occupied the top rung in a hierarchical society. James Earl Carter, Sr., owned 350 acres of his own land, raised peanuts, and sold them through his own warehouse. Even during the Great Depression, the father of the future president prospered. By the late 1930s he employed more than two hundred workers, and five black sharecropper families lived on his farm. As in many Southern homes of the era, the maids and cooks were black and cared for the children, including Jimmy and his siblings, and his playmates were often the children of his family's black workers.

As a boy, Jimmy developed an early love of the outdoors, playing hide-and-seek in the woods, fishing, and hiking. He also enjoyed listening to baseball games on the family's battery-powered radio, and absorbing discussions of politics, which ran in the family. His maternal grandfather went into politics simply because he enjoyed it, and his father served in the Georgia legislature because he wanted to protect the rural electrification system established under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. As he recalled decades later, the arrival of electricity "had as much of an impact on me as any single event. When people ask me what is the most notable event of your life, I have a hard time not saying the day I married Rosalynn or my appointment to Annapolis; but very few days in my life were more important than the day they turned the lights on in our home, and I saw the federal government giving me a better life."

As a young boy he wanted most to please his father, a stern taskmaster, by helping around the farm. While James senior held traditional Southern segregationist views on race, his wife, "Miss Lillian," was a registered nurse who insisted on equal treatment for black and white people, and spent a great deal of time helping deliver babies and caring for poor, sick people of both races in their homes across the county, often paid in chickens or vegetables. Jimmy saw his mother resist strong pressure to conform to racial norms and never forgot her example. As he said, "She never apologized for it, and I never knew anyone else when I was growing up who had that willingness to circumvent the segregated racial society. She was my inspiration to look beyond what was then the separate but so-called equal society to a more moral environment." At the age of sixty-eight the indomitable Lillian Carter enrolled in the Peace Corps and served in a community hospital in India on the outskirts of Mumbai (then Bombay). She was a captivating personality who came into my life during the early stages of the Carter presidential campaign. Her hair had turned totally white, and her skin was wrinkled, but her youthful enthusiasm and translucent smile seemed to emanate from the inside. I found her sparkling, warm, and loving, always with a hug and good word for me, my wife, Fran, and my boys, Jay and Brian.

* * *

There was good reason for Carter to win a disproportionate number of black votes against far more liberal opponents in Democratic primaries on the road to the White House: He understood black Americans as individuals, while they viewed blacks as a group. Still, as Georgia and the other Southern states required, he attended the all-white Plains High School while there was no high school at all for black children. He explained it to me in searing, highly personal terms: "I grew up with blacks. I got to know them, and I could see the ravages in their lives of a second-class existence," especially when contrasted with his own. His father was determined that he finish high school and go on to college, a rarity even for a privileged white boy during the Depression, especially for one who was the first in his family even to graduate from high school. He began a lifelong, ceaseless commitment to educational self-improvement, making all As in school, while playing basketball and joining the book club.

From the time he was five years old, his ambition was to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, which he eventually reached only by a circuitous route. Through his father's political connections, Jimmy won an appointment through the local congressman but first had to wait a year because the slot had been promised to another candidate. So he studied engineering at Georgia Southwestern Junior College, and when the Navy asked for additional engineering and science courses, he made the honor roll at Georgia Tech. Years later when he was in the nuclear Navy, he studied nuclear physics at Union College in Schenectady, New York. His determination to qualify for the Naval Academy went beyond extra study; concerned that his flat feet and skinny frame would disqualify him, he rolled his feet over Coca-Cola bottles to strengthen his arches and went on a banana diet to bulk up.

Carter's years at Annapolis opened a world far wider than the rural hamlet where he was raised. As he told me, "When I went to the Naval Academy I was a different person from what I am now. I was smart. I never had any problem with studies, but I spent a lot of my time reading great literature and philosophical books, and sailing and flying airplanes, and I studied classical music. I could name almost every piano concerto that had ever been written, and I could listen to a record and I could tell which artist was playing." He stood fifty-sixth in a class of eight hundred. A squib in his academy yearbook read, "Jimmy Carter never opened a book, unless it was to help one of his classmates study." While Carter dismissed this backhanded compliment as untrue, he did tell me that the "point is that I was learning more than just how to tie knots and how to run a steam turbine, and how to navigate a ship."

He also befriended and defended the only black midshipman, Wesley A. Brown, the sixth black man in the academy's history and the first to graduate, his predecessors having been hounded out during their first year by racial harassment. White midshipmen refused to sit next to him, he was barred from joining the choir, and so many racial epithets were thrown at him by his classmates that he considered quitting every day he was there. What led him to stick it out was the support of a small handful of midshipmen who intervened. Carter, then an upperclassman, visited Brown in his dorm to encourage him to hang on and hang tough against seniors who gave him demerits with the aim of forcing his discharge. "If not for that, I'm not sure I would have made it," said Brown. The two were runners on the cross-country team, and in a speech Carter made at a Naval Academy event in 2011, he described his encounters with Brown as "my first personal experience with total integration." That was in 1945, three years before President Truman desegregated America's armed forces. Carter recalled to me that Brown, who retired eventually as a lieutenant commander, "was a better runner than I was, and so I defended him to anyone. It didn't seem like any courageous thing, but when he wrote his biography, he pointed out that I was the midshipman who came and helped him."


After graduating, the young naval officer married his local sweetheart, Rosalynn Smith, in 1946, and together they escaped the confining environment of rural southwest Georgia in a career that took him and his young wife to assignments in Norfolk, Pearl Harbor, submarine training in New London. Great opportunity knocked in 1952, when he applied to join the new nuclear navy headed by then captain (later admiral) Hyman Rickover, who became another formative force in his life. During his initial interview he proudly told Rickover that he had finished in the top 10 percent of his Naval Academy class. Unimpressed, Rickover asked: "Did you always do your best?" The young officer stammered and admitted he had not. "Why not?" Rickover asked, turning his back and ending the interview. Carter continued sitting on an uncomfortable chair that Rickover had prepared with the front legs two inches shorter than the back ones, and then stumbled out of the room, certain he had washed out. Rickover brought him on board, however, and Carter always assumed it was because of his honesty. This seminal event was memorialized in the title of his presidential-campaign book, Why Not the Best?

Working in the nuclear navy was itself transformative, recalling that Rickover "drove all of us to levels of effort that we had never before contemplated, and he set an example for us, and he did as much or more than we did." Carter remembered taking off for an eleven-hour flight to Seattle with Rickover aboard a Constellation prop airplane, and working as hard as he could but nevertheless dozing off. When they landed, Rickover was still working. Carter said: "He was obsessed with his work, very demanding, and I responded well to it, although he never said a congratulatory word to me until after I was governor. He would find something wrong, if possible, with which to condemn me publicly in front of my men, or if he couldn't find anything wrong, he wouldn't say anything. ... I still think he was the greatest engineer who ever lived, because he made sure that things were designed right, built right, worked right, and operated safely." In a nuclear submarine there was no room for error, and I believe that Carter's own relatively reclusive lifestyle was shaped by his time in the Silent Service. It was normal to stay submerged for thirty days or longer in the notoriously tight quarters of a nuclear submarine.

But his most harrowing experience as a submarine officer came during a storm, as he stood watch on the bridge after midnight, when a huge wave washed him overboard into the Pacific. He managed to swim back to the sub, grab onto its five-inch gun and clamber back on board. If the boat had been traveling just a few degrees at an angle to the waves instead of directly into them, he would have been lost at sea. The storm damaged the radio antenna, so the captain was unable to check in at the usual eight-hour interval, and for the three days it took to reach an island base, the USS Pomfret was listed as lost, and next of kin were notified. Fortunately for Rosalynn, she was in Georgia at the time and never got the news. While he never used this incident in his political campaigns, it showed him the fragility of life.

Rickover was unsmiling and always parsimonious in praising his officers, a trait his most famous acolyte shared in dealing with us on his staff. There was a lot of Hyman Rickover in Jimmy Carter. They were both slight in stature, and they both made it to the top the hard way. Rickover was born Chaim Godalia Rickover, into a Jewish family in Russian-controlled Poland, not exactly the normal background for a rise to rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, while Carter through intelligence and diligence vaulted from a town of five hundred people in rural Georgia. Both men had a fierce commitment to public service and to principle, as well as personal austerity and an abhorrence of waste, especially of public money. When Rickover's office was moved from the old Navy Building to nearby Crystal City, the navy wanted to build a wall to block the view from nearby high-rises to protect the classified papers on his desk; Rickover said he would simply close the blinds. He also patched the decrepit linoleum instead of replacing it, and when he brought in projects under budget, he enjoyed testifying before Congress that he was returning the unused funds to the Treasury.

Both Carter and his mentor had a ferocious certitude about their goals and plowed through individuals and other obstacles to achieve them. To Rickover's consternation (as he expressed during some of his visits to my office), he felt his protégé did not always demand the highest level of performance from some of his closest staff and maintained almost a family relationship with some of them, disregarding the foibles Rickover would never have tolerated in his subordinates.


After six years of service he earned a prize post as senior officer of the pre-comissioning crew of the nuclear submarine USS Seawolf, and his career path to senior ranks in the navy seemed assured. Then came an unexpected turning point in his life, without which he would never have been a resident of the White House: His father contracted cancer — a disease that ran in his family but did not strike him until his ninetieth year. Lieutenant Carter decided to leave a career he loved and return to Plains to take over his father's peanut warehouse. This provoked one of the few significant personal disagreements in his long, loving, successful marriage to Rosalynn. After traveling the world with Jimmy in the navy, the last thing she wanted was to return to the narrow life of a small, mosquito-ridden Southern town. He bluntly admitted he made the decision without her approval, "in fact with very strong disapproval!" "She almost quit on me," he later said. It was one of the few times he acted without her input, and she barely spoke to him on the long trip from Hawaii back to Plains.

Carter idolized his father, who was a model town squire as well as the town's principal employer. As he sat by the bedside of his dying father, he was struck by the stream of blacks and whites who came by to thank him for his private acts of generosity. More than anything else Jimmy Carter wanted to live up to his namesake and follow in his footsteps. After his father's death in 1953, while serving his first term in the Georgia legislature, the seat was offered to his mother, who refused. Jimmy discovered only after his father's death that — although a successful businessman — the senior Carter had extended so many loans to his workers and townspeople to tide them over hard times that when his remaining assets were divided among his children, there was little left for Jimmy and Rosalynn. They lived for a year in government-subsidized public housing. Another serious family problem was Jimmy's younger brother, Billy Carter, who felt he should have taken over the business. Billy's resentment would come back to bite his older brother when he became president.

A more serious obstacle immediately facing Carter as he tried to salvage the family business was the pervasive issue of race. About fifteen of his father's former customers, who were members of the local White Citizens Council, paid him a visit and told him he was the only white man in Plains who had not joined their virulently antiblack organization. He refused, and they even offered to pay his five-dollar membership fee. "I told them I would take the five-dollar bill and flush it down the toilet," he recalled, whereupon they threatened to boycott his business and pressure his suppliers as well. That included the owner of the local gas station, who refused to fill the tank on his pickup truck, so Carter installed his own gas pump at the warehouse. His customers gradually started returning, and the business thrived because of his good service.

Almost immediately he plunged into politics as a member of the Sumter County Board of Education in 1955, in his own words, "almost exclusively to protect the public school system" from being closed down to evade the historic 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, ordering the racial integration of the nation's public schools. This began a lifelong passion to improve public education for blacks as well as whites; he was shocked to discover books in the separate but supposedly equal black schools that had been discarded a decade earlier by the white school system. Black children walked to school while school buses whizzed by them carrying white pupils, and sixteen-year-old black students had to sit on "little tiny chairs for three-year-olds." He said, "I was not only angry but embarrassed, and I felt from that moment on a responsibility, and I believed that my concern was so genuine that there was no subterfuge. And I think that black people, even though they were suspect at first, soon realized that I was genuine, and I felt at home with them, and I didn't feel like I was an alien when I was in a black church, whereas I didn't feel at home speaking to the AFL-CIO annual conventions."

In 1962 he ran for state senate, in part to get support for establishing a four-year college in impoverished southwest Georgia, where one million people had access only to a community college and vocational schools. The initial vote count showed Carter had lost by a few votes, but his senate race was corrupted by ballot stuffing organized by the Quitman County political boss, Joe Hurst, who wanted Jimmy's opponent to win. He and his crowd watched as voters put their paper ballots into an Old Crow liquor box. Carter was determined to muster the evidence to challenge the results, despite a visitor's frightening warning to Rosalynn at the warehouse that the last time anyone had crossed Joe Hurst, his business had burned down. The loss was overturned through the efforts of an Atlanta lawyer, Charles Kirbo, who found out through a drunken local ne'er-do-well that 123 blank ballots had been taken home by a supporter of Carter's opponent and filled in. That was the giveaway: The ballots added up to more than the number of registered voters. Thus began Carter's political rise, sealing Kirbo's relationship with him for life and demonstrating that his client was a dogged fighter.


Excerpted from "President Carter"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Stuart E. Eizensta.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents

Foreword xv

Preface xix

Introduction 1

Part I Into the White House 15

1 The 1976 Campaign 17

2 A Perilous Transition 65

3 The Making of the Modern Vice President 89

4 A New Kind of First Lady 104

5 The Indispensable Man 116

Part II Energy 135

6 The Moral Equivalent of War 137

7 Energizing Congress 170

8 The Senate Graveyard 180

9 Energy and the Dollar at the Bonn Summit 204

10 Into the Pork Barrel, Reluctantly 216

Part III The Environment 241

11 An Early Interest 243

12 The Water Wars 247

13 Alaska Forever Wild, Despite Its Senators 268

Part IV The Economy 275

14 The Great Stagflation 277

15 The Consumer Populist 354

16 Saving New York and Chrysler 391

Part V Peace in the Middle East 407

17 The Clash of Peace and Politics 409

18 Sadat Changes History 470

19 Carter's Triumph at Camp David 498

20 A Cold Peace 531

Part VI Peace in the Rest of the World 553

21 The Panama Canal and Latin America 555

22 The Soviet Union 585

23 Afghanistan 635

Part VII The Unraveling: Resignations and Reshuffling 659

24 The "Malaise" Speech 661

25 Resignations and Reshuffling 694

Part VIII Iran 717

26 The Rise of the Ayatollah 719

27 The Fall of the President 747

Part IX A Catastrophic Conclusion 813

28 "Where's the Carter Bill, When We Need It?" 815

29 No Good Deed Goes Unpunished 834

30 "Are You Better Off …?" 863

31 Final Days 893

Acknowledgments 899

Notes 903

Index 973

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