Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President

I'll admit it's hard to review a political autobiography. It's in the author's best interests to ratinonalize away errors and magnify triumphs, and there's a desire to flip that on its head for her opponents. No matter how much they protest otherwise, there is always - always - partisan bias at play.

Still, take me at my word: I tried to remain objective.

As a book Keeping Faith is a bit dry at times, although Carter was never a bad writer, even at the early stage of his literary career. He uses a lot of background material and contemporary records to back up his recollections, which is obviously a plus for future historians.

From the distance of three decades, a few items stood out. One, he seemed to have a genuine dislike for Ted Kennedy, above and beyond bitterness involving the 1980 election. Oh, there's not much ink devoted to it, but when the subject comes up, it bleeds through the page.

Second, there is, perhaps understandably, relatively few pages devoted to his failure regarding the Iran Hostage situation ('few', relative to other subjects he discusses, that is). On the other hand, the Camp David Accords receive an exhaustive examination. Of note, given recent accusations of anti-Semitism, is Carter's annoyance and obvious displeasure with the Israeli Prime Minister, in contrast to his admitted affection for Sadat. Did that lead to a biased view of the Israeli conflict three decades later?

The decision to gift the Canal to Panama gets a lot of pages, and it has to be said: the amount of man hours and political captial devoted to the issue was staggering. Carter himself admits this, saying it was an issue that could have waited until a potential 2nd term.

There is one glaring, infuriating anecdote about Panama: Carter refutes the idea that he acted out of a fear that Panama would initiate bloodshed if we failed to give them the Canal. And yet, as soon as he writes of his success, he relates feeling relieved because - wait for it - he knew that Panama stood ready to attack the Canal, that very day, should the American Congressional vote fail! Weakness and a desire to avoid confrontation seems to be a Carter stereotype that rings quite true.

The book is worth a read, 3.25 out of 4.


Bridgett said...

I just can't read books like this. I've tried, but they're so very dry.

Are you going to read, Going Rogue, by Sarah Palin? ;)

Slapinions said...

I've already picked up Going Rogue, but may not read it. Nothing against Palin but she's never going to be Prez. It would seem like a waste of time to read it when I still have Ford and Hoover's bios on the shelf.