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“WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU UP TO, MR. PRESIDENT?” by Kevin Mattson

“WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU UP TO, MR. PRESIDENT?”

Jimmy Carter, America’s “Malaise,” and the Speech That Should Have Changed the Country

By Kevin Mattson

Pub Date: July 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59691-521-3
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Mattson (Contemporary History/Ohio Univ.; Rebels All!: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America, 2008, etc.) presents a bright snapshot of a nation in flux.

The election of squeaky-clean Jimmy Carter in 1976 was in part a reflection of America’s desire to shed the overwhelming feelings of distrust and negativity that surrounded Watergate and Vietnam. In his inaugural address, the president humbly asserted that even if we couldn’t solve all of the country’s problems, at least, “in a spirit of individual sacrifice for the common good, we must simply do our best.” But by the summer of 1979, the country seemed to be imploding in the face of a gas crisis, resulting in long lines at the pump, trucker strikes and violence. The nation’s confidence plummeted and calls for “inspirational and innovative leadership” remained unheeded. Starting on July 4, Carter holed up at Camp David for ten days, emerging with a legendary address—delivered on national television on the evening of July 15—that would both galvanize and deeply cleave the country. Mattson, who takes his title from a July 5 headline in the New York Post, sifts through the varied media coverage of the event to isolate this crucial moment in America’s recognition of itself. In Carter’s speech—largely engineered by speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg—the president warned about a moral crisis affecting the United States, acknowledging the “wounds” of the past and the loss of faith in public institutions. He also enumerated action for the energy crisis and how the country could work together to pull out of it. Yet despite the outpouring of support for the speech, the forces of the GOP’s Moral Majority—especially Ronald Reagan—were gathering strength against Carter. Mattson fully renders the motley array of Carter’s “Georgia Mafia,” along with countless details of this turbulent era in American history.

A galloping history full of interesting characters and significant moments.