KENNETH E. MORRIS, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 397 pp. including bibliography, index, and notes, $29.95 cloth (ISBN 0-8203-1862-0).
Jimmy Carter would have been an outstanding minister. As president, however, he is considered by many as one of the nation's least effective chief executives of the twentieth century. Often, because he had no distinct political ideology, he is blamed for the doubling of inflation, interest rates of 21 percent, a decline of almost 30 points in the index of consumer confidence, failure to solve the hostage problem in Iran, and the general "malaise" sweeping the country.
He was among the first of the new breed of politicians emerging from the South. His early youth, recounted by his older brother, Billy, certainly no asset to his career, somehow illustrates his "disengaged" family. "I've got a mama who joined the Peace Corps when she was sixty-eight. I got one sister who is a holy roller preacher, another wears a helmet and rides a motorcycle, and my brother thinks he's going to be President. So that makes me the only sane one in the family." Despite Billy's disrepute, however, he was the acute businessman who built the family's peanut warehouse into a multi-million dollar success during Jimmy's many absences and distractions.
Undoubtedly influenced by his fragmented family, Carter was much of a loner, graduating from the Naval Academy where he was strongly influenced by Admiral Rickover of nuclear submarine fame, and resigning his commission at his father's death. Although born in Plains, most of his childhood was spent in Archery, a black community, two and one-half miles distant. Here all his playmates were black, and the Carters were landowners, benefiting from the evils of Southern racism. However, Jimmy's father, Earl, a dedicated conservative, refused to join the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens Council, and similar organizations, yet never doubted the system or hesitated to defend it.
Kenneth E. Morris, the author of this comprehensive analysis of truly an enigma, succeeds in exploring Carter's metamorphosis from his deep, Southern racist background to become one of today's outstanding civil rights protagonists. As Professor Morris explains, his goal was not a psychological diagnosis but a moral explication of his subject. He does this well.
In trying to understand Carter, one must take the following characteristics as fundamental: his personal and public morality, his desire to be a...