Reading the Carter Riddle

The Search for Jimmy Carter

by Tom Collins
Word Books, 192 pp., $5.95 (paper)

Running for President 1976: The Carter Campaign

by Martin Schram
Stein and Day, 406 pp., $11.95

How Jimmy Won: The Victory Campaign from Plains to the White House

by Kandy Stroud
William Morrow, 442 pp., $10.95

Convention

by Richard Reeves
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 246 pp., $10.00

We Almost Made It

by Malcolm D. MacDougall
Crown, 244 pp., $8.95

The Natural Superiority of Southern Politicians: A Revisionist History

by David Leon Chandler
Doubleday, 394 pp., $10.00

There is something about Jimmy Carter that makes journalists want to change the subject. No candidate has been so extensively covered, yet so ill described. We largely get repeated stories about his “conversion,” his red-necking in 1968, his ethnic purity in 1976. Plus, of course, his family. Already the canonization begins in a literate picture book like The Search for Jimmy Carter, which describes him early on as “the man from South Georgia who refused to lie down and settle for the vicepresidency as a ticket-balancer.” I wrote an article in the spring of 1972 saying he meant to balance the McGovern ticket, and he told me in Miami that was the only thing about my piece he didn’t like. It was the only thing I wasn’t sure of at the time—but it has been confirmed by Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell since then.

Few alternatives to canonization seem available as yet. Martin Schram’s book is full of good campaign stories, but most of them are about other campaigns—principally Morris Udall’s doomed noble effort. Granted, success in politics, as in most other games, depends on your opponent’s mistakes; and Schram is full of good stories of the way Jackson and Wallace blew it. We understand the campaign better after reading him; but Carter still escapes analysis.

Kandy Stroud changes the subject by giving it Women’s Wear Daily treatment. She cuts bitchily through the smarm surrounding Miss Lillian’s ego and Rosalynn’s fears—necessary work, perhaps, but not very pleasant. Norman Mailer, in his worst piece of political journalism, found Rosalynn transparently good and non-devious. Ms. Stroud sees that she is as fiercely determined as her husband, yet not as pious or self-confident (who could be?). That makes her edgy on platforms, and prone to push Joan Mondale off. But bitchiness ends when Ms. Stroud comes to her principal informants—Dr. Peter Bourne in Washington and Gloria Carter Spann in Plains.

Ms. Stroud seems, at times, haunted by the thought that other women journalists were getting interviews, denied her, by sleeping with the Carter staff. Some of those women may feel she used feminine wiles in introducing her daughter Brooke (known to Carter from a two-hour plane flight where he chatted with her) into discussion of a canceled interview: “I was just as disappointed for her as I was for myself. I told him so. He was moved. ‘You know I love Brookie’…I felt my voice crack. In all my life I had never shed a tear over an interview…. Carter sensed he had brought me to tears. ‘Don’t cry,’ he said softly. ‘You know I love you. Can you be here by two o’clock?”’

The book is disjointed, obviously written in batches during the campaign. Ms. Stroud repeats verbatim her introduction of various characters at various places, not certain which part will come first in the final manuscript. The book swells and dwindles to fit her travels. Sometimes …

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Letters

Running for President’ June 9, 1977