James Fallows and Jimmy Carter

Author's book draw on virtues of a president he served -- and slammed

JAMES FALLOWS WAS President Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter in the 1970s. Two generations before him, FDR’s advisor and speechwriter Samuel Rosenman (who coined the term “New Deal”) declared that aides to a president should serve with a “passion for anonymity.” Fallows helped to break that mold, leaving the White House to become a public critic of the president he had served. In a cover article for the May 1979 Atlantic Monthly, “The Passionless Presidency,” Fallows disparaged his former boss for lacking “sophistication… the ability to explain his goals… and the passion to convert himself from a good man into an effective one, to learn how to do the job.”

The following year, Carter beat back a challenge from Sen. Edward  Kennedy for the Democratic nomination but lost reelection to the Republican nominee, Ronald Reagan. Yet in that same article, Fallows also wrote admiringly of Carter, of how the Southern Baptist president, in a visit to Springfield, Illinois, “told them of his faith in the American people, whose goodness he had seen in the small towns. Our people, he said, are basically decent, basically honest, basically have great common sense. And he was determined to reflect those virtues.”

Four decades later, the journey Fallows took, and the book he wrote about it with his wife Deborah, reflect those virtues that he admired in Carter.