June 22, 2018

Stuart Eizenstat sets the record straight on Carter presidency at ABA lunch

Former President Jimmy Carter is a beloved humanitarian, working with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for the poor. But it’s what Carter built while in the White House that Stuart Eizenstat wants more Americans to understand.

Stuart Eizenstat, former chief White House domestic policy adviser to the Carter Administration.

“Carter was, in my opinion, the most accomplished one-term president that we’ve had,” Eizenstat said at a luncheon sponsored by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security on Wednesday. In his new book, “President Carter: The White House Years,” Eizenstat describes Carter as a decent, well-intentioned president who helped forge peace between Israel and Egypt, ratify the Panama Canal treaty and launch the military buildup in response to Soviet aggression.

And, he would know. Eizenstat, who served as chief domestic policy adviser to the 39th president, took copious notes while working in the Carter White House – “an old habit from law school,” he said. Eizenstat also served as U.S. ambassador to the European Union; undersecretary of commerce and international trade; undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs; and deputy secretary of Treasury in the Clinton administration. He is now senior counsel at Covington & Burling.

From a national security standpoint, the 1970s were significant because the Soviet Union was at the apex of its power, China was on the rise and the world experienced the first radical Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, Eizenstat said. Carter laid the foundation for the energy security that we enjoy today by passing three major energy bills, which deregulated the price of natural gas and crude oil and encouraged maximum production. 

Carter also put conservation at the center of the nation’s agenda for the first time and ushered in the era of clean energy with tax credits for solar and wind power, he said.  “Carter was a great consumer champion, appointing consumer advocates – not industry stalwarts – to regulate industries and gave them a charge which he backed up with legislation. And that was to transform our whole transportation system. He deregulated trucking, railroads and airlines and really brought air travel to the middle class. We wouldn’t have the Jet Blues and Southwest and UPS and the cargo systems we have now without that deregulation,” Eizenstat said.

Carter was also a great environmentalist, doubling the size of the national park system. When pushing the Alaska Lands bill, Carter invited Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to the Oval Office, where a huge map of Alaska was laid out on the floor, and proceeded to discuss each mountain range, river and stream, to which Stevens remarked, “I can’t believe the president knows my district better than I do.”

He also helped heal a nation still reeling from the scandal of Watergate by ushering in a new focus on ethics by getting the Inspector General law passed, starting merit appointments for all judges, creating the Office of Special Counsel to investigate wrongdoing and passing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. 

The most lasting national security contribution and Carter’s greatest achievement was the Camp David Accords in 1978, Eizenstat said. “At Camp David, Carter pored over intelligence reports and drafted 20 separate agreements which he used when negotiating with the leaders of Israel and Egypt.”