Jimmy Carter, American Moralist

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Jimmy Carter, American Moralist is the first full-scale biography of Carter since 1980. Drawing from scores of interviews and other primary sources, Kenneth E. Morris follows Carter from his southern roots through his naval service and political career to the international projects of the Carter Center. All of the major episodes of his life are here, including some not previously covered and many others that have been given fresh interpretations. The portrait that emerges is of a man influenced by his early life ...
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Overview

Jimmy Carter, American Moralist is the first full-scale biography of Carter since 1980. Drawing from scores of interviews and other primary sources, Kenneth E. Morris follows Carter from his southern roots through his naval service and political career to the international projects of the Carter Center. All of the major episodes of his life are here, including some not previously covered and many others that have been given fresh interpretations. The portrait that emerges is of a man influenced by his early life in a fragmented family and segregated community, a man whose truly remarkably career has been driven by a synthesis of evangelical, populist, and universalistic convictions. Yet we also see more clearly than ever before an individual whose moral outlook was so uncritically and perhaps unconsciously held that he could not appreciate its limitations. Through film and popular music, personality profiles and campaign summaries, poll findings and landmark court decisions, Morris sheds light on the cultural forces that shaped Carter and produced the troubled society that made him president. This mix of biography and social history is especially telling when Morris situates the Carter presidency in the "malaise" of the late 1970s. Any conclusions about Carter's leadership and its adequacy to his challenges as president, Morris shows us, cannot ignore the moral quandary that vexed the nation not only under Carter but ever since. Thus, Carter's story is the moral story of our times, and in asking not whether Carter is "good" but whether he has been good for America, we see the promises and pitfalls of our common values.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It is astounding how little attention has been paid to Jimmy Carter's lifebefore, during and after his presidencyby publishers and biographers. University of Georgia sociologist Morris tries to fill the void with this thematic biography of a U.S. leader generally seen as a failure in office and a success as a statesman after defeat at the polls. Morris succeeds as an intellectual biographer but largely fails as the teller of a life story. He admires Carter as an above-board moralist during an age when such a persona could have been drowned by cynicism. But Morris is also convincing when he suggests that Carter's moralism didn't suit the country's needs during the last half of the 1970s. Morris is especially critical of Carter's failure to formulate and convey a platform for domestic policy reform. A president cannot, should not, try to govern with a foreign policy vision only, Morris asserts. While his decision to plumb the depths of Carter's moral lobe is a wise one, he could have done so while also giving more consideration to the events in Carter's life. That glossing of externalities often makes it difficult to understand Carter's moral judgments. Although Morris leaves the field open for a more thorough recounting of Carter's life before and during his presidency, his treatment of Carter at age 70 does offer satisfying insights. (Nov.)
Library Journal
On the 20th anniversary of Jimmy Carter's election as America's 39th president, this is a timely volume that serves as a biography, cultural critique, and reevaluation. Morris (sociology, Univ. of Georgia) shows that Carter's primary interest has always been in personal morality, which operated to diminish his concern with formulating a domestic vision during his presidency. He simply expanded his emphasis on domestic civil rights to general human rights abroad. Moreover, his post-presidential career tends also to emphasize international concerns more than community needs at home. Except for militaristic rhetoric as a superficial substitute, Carter's successors have not been any more successful in finding a genuine domestic vision to unite Americans. Balanced, readable, and interesting, this book is recommended for all specialized presidential collections and larger public libraries.William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport
Kirkus Reviews
A revisionist study of a controversial and misunderstood president, stressing the origins, nature, and central importance of his beliefs.

In this in-depth portrait of Carter, Morris (Sociology/Univ. of Georgia) argues that Carter's unique moral outlook was critical to his career as a politician, from his election as governor of Georgia through his presidency to his statesmanlike contributions to national and international policy today. On July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter gave his memorable "malaise" speech (though that word was not used in the address). Ostensibly a talk about the energy crisis, it became a sermon about a "crisis of confidence" born of a national spiritual decay. It was, Morris asserts, quintessential Carter, treating private morality as a public problem. Morris uses this speech as a springboard for a discussion of Carter's morality, which he believes animated many of his actions as a politician. Carter's beliefs are a mixture, Morris suggests, of concepts drawn from his fervent evangelical Christianity and from an old-fashioned southern populism. As a young man, his emerging racial liberalism estranged him from white society in Georgia, and together with a fragmented family life, fostered in him a yearning for community that, Morris argues, propelled much of his political life. Morris traces the influence of those close to Carter (most prominently Admiral Hyman Rickover, who became a surrogate father to Carter during his years at Annapolis) on his ideas and provides a succinct record of Carter's career, from his days as a prosperous businessman through his successful campaign for the presidency in 1976. Evaluating Carter's approach to political problems, Morris argues that he has consistently attempted to use private spirituality as a moral basis for addressing world problems, including poverty, human rights, and world hunger.

A penetrating analysis of the unique moral outlook that animated an enigmatic president.

From the Publisher
"A penetrating analysis of the unique moral outlook that animated an enigmatic president."—Kirkus Reviews

"[Written] with humor, precision, and precocious hindsight.”—Washington Post Book World

"A nuanced portrait of an intelligent, sincere, and decent man, who is more complex and more conflicted than Carter himself might like us to think."—St. Louis Post Dispatch

"Morris succeeds as an intellectual biographer.”—Publishers Weekly

"This volume is a thorough examination of a man whose high ideals were shattered as president but who, like the Phoenix, rose from the ashes to realize his highest dreams. A book well worth reading-and studying."—Presidential Studies Quarterly

"A timely volume that serves as a biography, cultural critique, and reevaluation."—Library Journal

"Required reading for every junkie of contemporary politics and history."—Bill Shipp

"Outstanding."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820319490
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth E. Morris teaches sociology at the University of Georgia.

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