President Carter!

President Carter!

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Gerald Rafshoon is an American television producer, political operative and former communications director for President Jimmy Carter. We were happy to catch up with Rafsoon at the residence of The Ambassador of Germany and Mrs. von Voss-Wittig  for a book party and conversation with Stuart E. “Stu” Eizenstat for his new book:  PRESIDENT CARTER: The White House Years at The Berliner Salon moderated by Marvin Kalb, former Chief Diplomatic Correspondent for CBS and NBC.

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The last time we chatted with Rafshoon was at his play Camp David that he produced for Arena Theater in May of 2014 with President and Mrs. Carter in attendance. “He tried to do a lot and he did a lot,” he said of his former boss. “If you ever said to him, ‘Don’t do this because it’s bad for our politics,’ he would ignore you. He got a lot of things done, but they weren’t always pretty. In general, he had a very outstanding record of getting a lot done – the Panama Canal Treaty, SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation) – so many different things. He never took the political stance, you know, of doing less,” he told Hollywood on the Potomac. “He always wanted to do more; and if it hadn’t been for the hostages (Iran) the point is, if he had done something bellicose like bombing Iran, it might have killed the hostages, and he probably would have gotten him re-elected. A lot of people felt he had to take action, but he did the right thing. He froze their assets. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. I was with him not too long ago. He’s 93 years old and he still goes around the world trying to save people and he teaches Sunday school, every Sunday.”

President Jimmy Carter and Gerald Rafshoon at Arena Theatre

Ambassador Wittig was delighted to introduce Eizenstat because they have never entertained a presidential historian before. “But tonight, we have one,” he said. “What Arthur Schlesinger was to JFK, Stu Eizenstat is to Jimmy Carter. Both  of them were the ultimate insiders, but there is a lot of difference between them. Whereas Schlesinger didn’t wait for forty years for his appraisal of JFK, as a matter of fact you might remember he was chided to be rushing out his books,  Stu by contrast let the dust settle. He reviewed not only his more than five thousand pages of notes of his famous yellow pads, but also reviewed classified documents and speaking to more than three hundred fifty contemporary witnesses.The result is impressive; a comprehensive appraisal, reappraisal of the thirty-ninth president of the United States and the four years of the Carter Administration.”

Ambassador Wittig

“Let’s begin at the beginning,” said Eizenstat.  “Jimmy Carter’s political idol was Harry Truman. He brought his famous slogan, ‘The buck stops here,’ and placed it on his oval office desk. Both presidents left office highly unpopular, but over the decades Truman is now remembered more for his achievements than his faults. And I hope that my book will cause a similar reassessment of the Carter Presidency. I believe, and I try to lay out in this book, that he was the most accomplished one-term US president in the modern era. And indeed accomplished more than most two-term presidents. That congress passed 70% of his legislative proposals, just below the level of the famed LBJ, my first boss in the white house many years ago. Fritz Mondale as vice president summed it up: ‘We told the truth, we obeyed the law and we kept the peace.’  As Peter also said, it is based on a habit I’ve had since college and continue of taking verbatim notes of every meeting and phone call and event that I’ve participated in. And that gave me, and I think gives the book, a unique view not just of this president, but about the presidency itself and of the hot-house atmosphere of working in the White House.”

Stu Eizenstat

“I’ll close with just personal stories: One about Carter’s mother. Miss Lillian, as a young woman, was a registered nurse who tended to blacks and whites in the rural south when that was highly unpopular, joined the Peace Corps at 68 in India, and was a fierce defender of  her son during his Presidential runs. His campaign was based on the Watergate notion, ‘I’ll never lie to you.’ A New York reporter came down and said, ‘Now Miss Lillian, you can’t tell me as his mother that your son never lied.’ She said, ‘Of course he did. He told white lies all the time.’ ‘What do you mean,’ said the reporter, ‘About white lies?’  ‘Well you remember,’ she said, ‘I said how wonderful it is to have you here in Plains. That was a white lie.’ Jimmy Carter is still is somewhat of an enigma. He was the first real new Democrat, conservative fiscally, progressive on race and poverty, a liberal internationalist, a mild populist, who again, I think was torn between the liberal wing of his party and his own instincts. So, I conclude the book by saying that I think he indeed deserves to go down as a major force. And to fill out your sentence, I say that he certainly is not a candidate for Mt. Rushmore, but he belongs in the foothills of Mt. Rushmore along with others who have done great things for our country.”