Thursday, October 1, 2015

A review of PBS's "Jimmy Carter" movie

"For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the last five years."

- Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech, 15 July 1979 (after he'd been president for two and a half years)

PBS made a three-hour documentary about the life of Jimmy Carter. The documentary was a lot like Carter himself: frequently boring (particularly in the first part).

In fairness to the documentary, the research is fairly good, with lots of old photographs and even footage of Carter, and clips from a modern interview with his wife. But despite Jimmy Carter still being alive today, the documentary surprisingly had no modern interview clips with Carter himself, perhaps omitting them to combat (accurate) audience perceptions of pro-Carter bias in the documentary.

Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan

To its credit, it reports the dismal facts about his presidency's economic situation candidly in explaining his loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980, but its liberal bias becomes apparent when former Carter administration members and other left-wing talking heads try to spin these events Carter's way. They blame the recession of that time on previous administrations' spending on the Vietnam War, which ended two years before Carter's inauguration, and six years before his defeat in the 1980 elections - too long before, in my opinion, to explain the downward economic spiral of the Carter years.

Line at a gas station, 1979

The documentary felt more like a story about current events than a history, some of which is inevitable when talking about events so recent; but even allowing for the recentness of the events, this is probably my least favorite of the presidential biographies I've seen. I think Carter is mostly a good man, but I think he was a terrible president, and this documentary isn't much more interesting than he is.

"[Jimmy Carter] tries to tell us that we are 'only' in a recession, not a depression, as if definitions—words--relieve our suffering. Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help, Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well if it's a definition he wants, I'll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

Ronald Reagan, in his "Remarks at Liberty State Park," Jersey City, New Jersey, 1 September 1980

DVD at Amazon

Can be viewed online at PBS website

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Richard Nixon movie

Cold War miniseries

Ronald Reagan movie

Part of a series about
The Presidents

George Washington 1789-1797
John Adams 1797-1801
Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809
James Madison 1809-1817
John Quincy Adams 1825-1829
Andrew Jackson 1829-1837
Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865
Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877
Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909
Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921
Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1933-1945
Harry Truman 1945-1953
Dwight Eisenhower 1953-1961
John F. Kennedy 1961-1963
Lyndon B. Johnson 1963-1969
Richard Nixon 1969-1974
Jimmy Carter 1977-1981
Ronald Reagan 1981-1989
George H. W. Bush 1989-1993
Bill Clinton 1993-2001

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