Faculty, staff and students convened in Rapaporte Treasure Hall on Thursday for a talk by Stuart Eizenstat, the former U.S. ambassador to the European Union and White House domestic affairs advisor to President Jimmy Carter, about his book “President  Carter: The White House Years.” 

Eizenstat began the talk by introducing his book and recounting his time serving alongside Carter in the White House, which he described as Carter’s best history.  As Carter’s key domestic policy advisor, Eizenstat was able to witness the pressure of high-level decision making in the White House. According to Eizenstat, however, the book is by no means a mere memoir of his time working with Carter, but a thorough assessment of the Carter’s administration’s successes and failures through the lens of his involvement in relations with the Middle East. In particular, he argued that the public remembered Carter’s failures more than his accomplishments. Eizenstat emphasized the importance of Carter’s greatest accomplishment, which he said was his involvement in orchestrating robust international relations, such as peacemaking between Egypt and Israel in which he established a framework for peace treaties among Middle Eastern countries.

During Carter’s tenure, the nation’s economic downturn took its toll on Carter’s public image, Eizenstat said. He explained that Carter received overwhelming criticism, “obscur[ing]” his effort in making hard but visionary decisions to alleviate the consequences of a struggling economy. Carter appointed Paul Volcker as the Chair of the Federal Reserve, however, who served as his economic consultant and implemented several policies to expedite the end of stagflation, notably tightening U.S. monetary policy. Eizenstat, however, credited Carter for his nuance in high-level decision making, despite the fact that Carter faced heavy criticism from his advisers and the public as Volcker substantially tightened the monetary policy and imposed a “tough medicine” on the economy. He raised the federal funds target rate to stabilize the price level of goods and services, resulting in a precipitous decline of inflation from over 14% in 1980 to less than 3% in 1983. This resulted in Carter losing to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, intensifying the public’s criticism toward Carter. 

In addition to Carter’s ability to make tough decisions, Eizenstat commended Carter’s humanitarian foreign policy, which he said reflects “respect for individuals and democracy,” regarding embassies as “the sovereign of people.”  In 1978, he signed the Airline Deregulation Act, which substantially transformed the nation’s air transportation system by largely switching to low-carrier aircraft, allowing competing services in the market, and thus repealed the requirement for passengers to pay the exorbitant public utilities under the government’s supervision.  Eizenstat also praised Carter’s stance on environmentalism because of how it valued the views of consumers, describing him as a “consumer champion.” In the 1980s, he signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which mandated the preservation of Alaska National Park, in addition to doubling its size. According to Eizenstat, this act is recognized as one of the most influential pieces of legislation surrounding land conservation measure. Through his accomplishments, Carter proved himself to be a public servant and visionary president who was not only capable of making tough decisions, but genuinely understood “the pulse of the public,” Eizenstat said. 

During the Q&A that followed, the audience raised questions regarding the repercussions of Carter’s presidency on the current political climate. In particular, one student was fascinated by whether Carter’s role in Israel and Middle Eastern relations impacted President Donald Trump’s military action against Iran. Eizenstat contended that there is “little credibility” to associate Carter’s involvement in Israel with Trump’s entanglement with Iran, as Iranians see Trump as not prepared to apply military force directly, but rather as imposing “devastating sanctions” that threaten Iran’s economy, instead of their military. 

The event was sponsored by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Politics and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies. 

—Editor’s Note: News Staff Writer Chaiel Schaffel works for the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.