In 1979, in an effort to right our national malaise, Jimmy Carter delivered a speech that risked his reputation and the future of the Democratic Party, changing the course of American politics for the next twenty-five years.
At a critical moment in Jimmy Carter’s presidency, he gave a speech that should have changed the country. Instead it led to his downfall and ushered in the rise of the conservative movement in America. In “What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?”
Kevin Mattson gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the weeks leading up to Carter’s “malaise” speech, a period of great upheaval in the United States: the energy crisis had resulted in mile-long gas lines, inciting suburban riots and violence; the country’s morale was low and Carter’s ratings were even lower. The administration, wracked by its own crises, was in constant turmoil and conflict. What came of their great internal struggle, which Mattson conveys with the excitement of a political thriller, was a speech that deserves a place alongside L incoln’s Gettysburg Address or FDR’s First Inaugural. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle play important roles, including Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg, Ronald Reagan, and Ted Kennedy. Like the best of narrative political writing, Mattson provides great insight into the workings of the Carter White House and the moral crisis that ushered in a new, conservative America.