White House Diary

Jimmy Carter, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (592p) ISBN 9780374280994
The snarl behind the toothy grin emerges in these acerbic entries culled from the 39th president's personal diary. Carter vents against everyone, from Congress ("disorganized juvenile delinquents"), to the press ("completely irresponsible and unnecessarily abusive") and the incoming Reaganauts ("group of jerks"). By contrast, he comes off as the principled, rational, speed-reading master of policy detail, with a cogent—to him—agenda of human rights, internationalism, and disarmament in foreign policy, and fiscal restraint, deregulation, and energy conservation at home. His account of the "national malaise" episode reveals a technocrat groping awkwardly toward a political vision. But the hectic, sketchy entries, annotated with after-the-fact elucidations, mainly show President Carter breasting the maelstrom of over-scheduling, mundane politics, and brother-Billy issues, while eruptions like the Iranian hostage crisis sneak up; the Sadat-Begin Camp David negotiations and other summits, where his leadership could be proactive and untrammeled, provoke his most involved and insightful passages. Carter's judgments will stir controversy: he tars Ted Kennedy with torpedoing his healthcare reforms and abetting Reagan's 1980 victory, and paints Israel ("obstinate") and its Prime Minister at the time, Menachem Begin, as the main obstacles to peace in the Middle East. His tart wit and cutting candor add flavor to a revealing portrait of presidential achievement and, especially, frustration. Illustrations. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/27/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
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