Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kevin Mattson's "'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?'"

Kevin Mattson is Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University and serves as a faculty associate of the Contemporary History Institute. He is author of Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century (2006); When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism (2004, 1st edition, 2006, 2nd edition); Engaging Youth: Combating the Apathy of Young Americans Towards Politics (2003); Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (2002); and Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era (1998).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, 'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?': Jimmy Carter, America's 'Malaise,' and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country, and reported the following:
Ah yes, 99 tells all (I’ve always thought Ford Madox Ford was a smart dude): This page explains how the Moral Majority formed. There’s Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, the battle against the ERA and abortion, and numerous activists in the “New Right” pressing Falwell to form an organization. And then the page ends…

In essence, this is the story of the right wing getting organized in the midst of some of the worst times for the Carter administration. So 99 is a quick view of the future victors in the political and culture wars to follow. It’s fascinating to note here that Jimmy Carter was perhaps one of the last, famous liberal evangelists known to Americans. Falwell would talk about America as a “chosen people,” about its mission blessed by God. Carter instead was well-read in the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr who had warned about conflating a nation’s cause in the world with God’s will. Carter was all about national humility – after all, wasn’t this the nation that had battled for ten years or more in Vietnam only to wreck destruction and never accomplish its goals? Wasn’t this a nation that had become too reliant upon foreign sources of oil and too unwilling to talk about “limits” and now faced an energy crisis? Chosen people?, you could imagine Carter wondering.

So the book’s ending is prophesied on page 99. There’s a lot more to come, of course, but once the New Right mobilizes around this message and once they find their candidate – Ronald Reagan – they’re ready to outgun Carter. And they do. But not before he gives the speech that serves as the center of this book. And that’s a good story too. And there’s nothing about it on page 99. For that the book has to be read in its entirety.
Learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and at Kevin Mattson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue