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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Review: “What the Heck are You Up To, Mr. President?” by Kevin Mattson

Book Review - ‘ “What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?”,’ by Kevin Mattson - Jimmy Carter’s ‘Malaise’ Speech - Review -
In July 1979, as the fabric of American civil society seemed to be unraveling, the president of the United States disappeared. For 10 days, Jimmy Carter holed up at Camp David, engaging in sometimes painful discussions with intellectuals and clerics. Then he returned to deliver a 32-minute televised sermon that would somehow come to be known as the “malaise” speech. (Carter never actually uttered the word, which was used by advisers and popularized by the media.)

This bizarre chapter in American politics has inspired Kevin Mattson to write “ ‘What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?,’ ” a short revisitation that is exactly what political history ought to be — incisive, fast-paced and fun to read. Mattson, a liberal historian at Ohio University, means to reclaim Carter’s legacy from the dark dungeon of presidential history, but in this he is undercut by his integrity as a storyteller. The thoughtful president who emerges in these pages is exposed, nonetheless, as a man profoundly overmatched by the job.

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