Jimmy Carter's presidential Diaries might have been better entitled by critics anyway as the Prequel to a Meddler. To such skeptics, this book makes them and others wonder why it is that he sees some of his daily details in the White House as important at all for a good president. Focusing on personal factors and the calendar of tasks suggests too much concentration on his hands-on comfort and a loss of appreciation for why he was elected -- the very kind of perspective that generates the belief of some that even President Obama today has lost track of his bigger expectations of change in favor of being the next best Administrator in Chief.
An exceptional case can be made from reading the Diaries that President Carter was a leader ahead of his time on many fronts. But he too strayed, only this time by giving too much respect to the down-home, humble elements of mundane curiosities, which is how it often appears in the Diaries. Carter does, of course, pull a lot of information from the 5000 pages of his original journal and returns in many instances to a wide range of topics that have some degree of contemporary relevance, but this book leave the facts and substance of decision-making elsewhere (to his other 20 books) and lets him overly emphasize how even NOT being a natural politician (page 536) has its drawback when the country is anti-government no matter the promises of tweaking the system.
The number of topics mentioned in the book is significant and many could be the focus of understanding something for today. This is true of some of the regular topics that are nearly always Carter's main focus. But his reminder of how the Moral Majority laid the foundation for divisions in the Republican Party are a good for letting us know how deep the roots of division are now, and why it might be hard to get from there to traditional organizational efficiency. While he is probably right about talking about his accomplishments and the minutia of getting through the Israeli and Palestinian quagmires, this is not really want American's want during their own troubled times. And that could well have been Carter's problem during his administration too.
What is most interesting at this juncture is the overall sense of public malaise that he had to maneuver through. Carter's many selections showcase the incredible missteps that were driving down the country's confidence. Rising consumer prices, unemployment, long gas lines, allies abroad who were involved in various conflicts, the Iranian hostages, nuclear reactor and arms impasses and even the pending bankruptcy of Chrysler: these hit home then and many be similar to why the country today is struggling with President Obama's approach. But what Carter opted to do when given the chance did not help overcome the resulting national funk.
Carter's reaction to the many challenges was to go to the media that he distrusted and that seemed more interested in finding problems with him than accepting him as a good leader. From the beginning of the Diaries he wants us to know he was glued to his promises of not lying. That was why, when the time came, that he did well with his famous speech on the country's emotional depression regarding waiting in lines for expensive gas and other energy problems. The details in the Diary show his pride and how he liked what the new technologies like instant polls were saying about his approach. As he notes about that experience and of the routine of convincing his wife that he could give a good speech, my "instantaneous poll results on the West Coast were the best they've ever had for a half-hour program (344)" He was feeling good about 100 million people watching and that they got his message.
When left to follow his administrative devices, the opportunity turned around. He fired his cabinet, and then lectured the country on their bad habits of consumerism and capitalism. At that time, like now, this effort to balance the blame didn't work. His viewers didn't like it any more than would those of today who are literally occupying the streets of the nation to hear their president turn the criticsm to them. They just wanted government…