Jimmy Carter has baffled the public from his first bid for elective office in racially divided rural Georgia through his post-Presidential career as a global peacemaker and human rights activist. Is he a moral visionary or a well-meaning but sometimes misguided moraliser? More important, what might America learn about itself by examining the life and legacy of this enigmatic leader? "Jimmy Carter, American Moralist" is a full-scale biography of Carter. Drawing from 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 Centre. 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 remarkable career has been driven by a synthesis of evangelical, populist and universalistic convictions. Yet we also see 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, 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.
Kenneth E. Morris teaches sociology at the University of Georgia.
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