“Jimmy Carter will never have a non turbulent year.’”
-Hamilton Jordan​

November 4, 1980
The White House — Washington, DC

On Election Day 1980, fewer than half of eligible voters went to cast a ballot. Inflation remained high — that was a new normal for most Americans — but the unemployment rate was hovering at 6% — another constant of the Carter economy. Tom Clausen, atop his perch at the Federal Reserve, was constantly thinking about what he might be able to do to bring inflation down, but he hesitated to make any major disruptions before the election. As such, the mediocre economy that had hovered over Ford continued to do the same for Carter.

In the final weeks, the Carter campaign continued to hammer the Reagan-Kemp ticket on its “magical economics,” as Fritz Mondale had taken to calling it. “Their plan ignores a fundamental principle of budgeting,” he’d say before deadpanning: “Arithmetic.” Carter was less flippant. In his mind, the Reagan economic plan would only hurl the nation deeper into an inflationary crisis, and Carter said so in every breath, reminding voters that he would balance the budget. Reagan promised them tax cuts.

Some voters, who waited until Election Day to make up their mind, did so without having ever really seen or heard from Ronald Reagan beyond the 30-second snippets and sound bites that appeared on the evening news. There’d been no national debate. In the final weeks of the campaign, Reagan would close his stump speech with a question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It made a lot of people in the audience think, but few voters who actually went to the polls had heard the question. Instead, they were inclined to decide between the president they knew — an imperfect president but a good man who had tried hard and, through patience and a steady hand, brought the hostages home — and the Republican nominee — a former actor who Democrats said would drive up inflation and lacked the temperament to be president. Maybe if they’d seen more of Reagan, they’d have voted differently, but most of the respondents in exit polls who said they made their mind up on November 4th voted for Jimmy Carter to get a second term.

On the eve of the election, Carter fit in every last event he could before returning home to Georgia to vote. He went to Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and California. Stu Eizenstat, along for the ride, didn’t know what to make of the impending outcome. Carter was in good spirits and the energy at the rallies was euphoric. Surely, they’d win, right? But he also knew that Reagan had done a lot of groundwork to inspire the Religious Right. They could make the difference in a close election, he thought, and he worried that they’d pull through for the Gipper in the end.

Pat Caddell pulled Carter aside on Air Force one and gave him the last polling report: It was going to come down to the wire. “What’s the spread?” Carter asked.

“Right now,” Caddell said, “you’re up by four. You’ll win the popular vote,” he predicted, “but I’m not sure how it’s going to shake out in the Electoral College. We could be looking at a night like we had four years ago.” They all remembered the closeness of that race, but they also remembered how it ended.

“Well, I guess we better get some rest then!” Carter said. He went out and talked to the staff. “I want to thank all of you for everything you’ve done on this campaign,” he said. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings, but Scripture tells us that Joy cometh in the morning. So let’s get some rest.” They cheered him on and Eizenstat led them in a toast to the last four years.

• • •​

Ronald Reagan, following the orders of Nancy, had a lighter schedule on Election Eve. He woke up in Texas, where he did an afternoon rally, and then he flew home for another event in California. It carried all of the trappings of a victory event. The band played “California Here I Come,” and Jack Kemp had come along to join them before flying back to New York afterwards. Nancy could hardly look at Kemp, whom she believed would be the man most responsible if Ronnie came up short the next day. Reagan had come around to his running mate, and though it’d been a difficult campaign, he didn’t think Kemp did any worse than Bush might’ve.

The event looked like a victory rally, but it felt like something else. Like Carter’s team, the Reagan staff wasn’t confident in a prediction about how the next night would go. Dick Wirthlin told the group that he’d crunched the numbers and “there was a path.” That never sounded too sure. When Meese asked for it straight, Wirthlin said that Reagan would “probably lose the popular vote,” but he assured them that they had enough states in play that he might become the 40th president. It didn’t make any of them feel much better.

Reagan wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing. He felt like he’d finally gotten Carter on the run, but then the assassination attempt had thrown it all out of whack. He couldn’t shake the feeling that God thought he shouldn’t be president. Why else had things fallen so perfectly into place for Jimmy Carter? Nancy reminded him that getting shot could hardly count as things falling perfectly into place, but Ronnie waved her off.

Nancy didn’t blame Hinckley. She blamed Jack Kemp. She blamed John Sears, who exited the campaign in a fitful rage that had shaken them after a New Hampshire win, and she blamed George Bush and John Connally who didn’t know when to quit. As far as she was concerned, voters were idiots if they chose Jimmy Carter over her husband. If they didn’t want him, fine — they’d be perfectly happy to go back home.

• • •​

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter watched the returns with their children in the White House Residence. Supporters of the Carter-Mondale ticket gathered at the Sheraton down the street to welcome Carter in victory or defeat. Coverage of the results began around 6:30pm, and the networks announced that Reagan was likely to win Indiana. The Senate race there, between a young conservative Congressman named Dan Quayle and the state’s respected Senator Birch Bayh was too close to call. A few minutes later, Barbara Walters said that the Carter White House was “cautiously optimistic,” and that she’d heard from sources inside the Carter administration that Pat Caddell predicted a “narrow Carter victory.” Rosalynn looked over at Jimmy, who changed the channel to NBC.

The night was slow to start. Around 8:00pm, ABC called Massachusetts for Carter. ABC used red to denote states that went to Reagan and blue for states that went to Carter. NBC used the inverse color scheme, with red signifying Carter victories. CBS used the same color scheme that NBC did. It would take many cycles before all of the networks used the same universal color palette.

The coverage was devoid of much spin from either party, instead for CBS, Walter Cronkite worked methodically through the numbers — reporting on Senate races around the country (Chris Dodd was just elected over conservative James Buckley in Connecticut) and updating viewers on the electoral vote spread for the presidential candidates. On NBC, Tom Brokaw reported on exit polls, explaining that some 28,000 voters were interviewed. He also mentioned that most Americans said the assassination attempt on Jimmy Carter did not seriously factor into voters’ decision. The plurality of voters were making up their mind based on the economy, and nobody could agree on who was better to handle it. Middle class voters were split on who would be better while wealthier voters favored Reagan and poorer voters favored Carter. More educated voters sided with Carter. Less educated voters sided with Reagan. It was shaping up to be a close race, Brokaw said, though he noted Carter won decisively with those voters who thought foreign policy was the most important issue.

“What is clear from our exit polls is that the hostage crisis was a turning point for President Carter,” Brokaw explained. “Their safe and negotiated release altered the perceptions of Jimmy Carter. On Election Day, more voters thought Carter was a strong leader than thought Reagan was. Sometimes, that’s enough to win it for you.”

“We’ll see if that holds true for President Carter tonight,” David Brinkley replied.

The Reagans watched the returns from the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, and the ex-Governor was growing increasingly nervous about the results. While Nancy paced behind him, Ronnie sat with his eyes locked on the television screen. He assessed the map. The South was holding for Carter. Turnout from Falwell’s people must not have been as strong as they would have hoped. Carter had won his must-win states in the Northeast of New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont. Reagan’s path to the White House was narrowing.

Wirthlin had little to say that wasn’t being explained on television. Turnout was low across the board. Voters who decided in the last week broke for Carter. Maybe because he was the only one campaigning, he’d thought to himself with a quick glance at the candidate’s wife. By 10:00pm, Carter was sitting at 205 electoral votes and Reagan had 137. Two of his biggest electoral vote prizes — California (45) and Texas (26) — remained uncalled. He’d prevailed in Florida, but most of the states they’d hoped to take did not break his way. Pennsylvania for Carter. Michigan for Carter. Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi all for Carter.

When Reagan won Texas about twelve minutes later, cheers echoed through the halls. No Democrat had ever been elected President of the United States without winning Texas since it became a state in 1845. “We’ve got him!” Bill Casey exclaimed. Nancy Reagan was now more upbeat as well. She’d stopped her pacing and took a seat next to the candidate.

Next came Tennessee, and its 10 electoral votes, for Carter. The South had failed to deliver for Reagan. Nancy Reagan shook her head in disbelief. She also knew that Reagan still had a way to victory. California, and its 45 electoral votes, remained uncalled. North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri were all too close to call. It would be close, but she was sure that Reagan could win.

The candidate was nervous, his leg bouncing gently up and down as he waited for answers from his team. More bad news came moments later when ABC and NBC called North Carolina and its 13 electoral votes for Carter. The president was now at 228. Nevada and its three went to Reagan.

Minnesota and Wisconsin pushed Carter to 249 electoral votes, but quickly a series of calls put Reagan in contention. First came Iowa (8), followed by Montana (4), Arizona (8), and California and its 45. If he could win Illinois, Missouri, and Alaska, Reagan would become the 40th President of the United States.

At the White House, Pat Caddell stood a few feet behind the Carters, hugging (and gnawing on) his notepad. He was confident about Illinois. Why were the networks taking so long to call it? If they just got it over with, the whole thing could be over. Stop taking so long. It’s over. We won. We did it. Carter glanced back at Caddell, trying to discern what he thought. It had been Caddell who inspired the Crisis of Confidence speech and put Carter on the path to his second term. Now, it was slipping through their fingertips.

Around 10:38pm, Frank Reynolds interrupted Barbara Walters to make an important call. ABC News projected that Jimmy Carter would win Illinois and its 26 electoral votes, giving the president 275 electoral votes and four more years as president. He would end the night with Missouri, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, too, putting him at 306 electoral votes. He’d beaten Reagan by a more comfortable margin than he had toppled Jerry Ford.

The president kissed his wife and hugged his children. He was eager to get to the Sheraton and address his supporters, but first, he needed a phone call. As they waited, he walked over to Caddell and put his arm around the wonder kid. “Good work,” he said to Caddell. “Thank you.”

He said the same to the other staff in the room who now cheered the victory. Jordan and Eizenstat. Powell and Rafshoon. Hertzberg and Matthews.

For four years, Jimmy Carter provided over one of the nation’s most precarious stretches in history. Americans waited in long lines to fill their cars. Cultural debates over gay rights and women’s liberation divided the nation along new lines. The Evangelical Christians who had helped Carter win over Ford in 1976 had conspired to bring about his downfall in 1980. He had done important work — historic work. The Camp David Accords. The Panama Canal Treaties. Deregulation of the airline industry. Established the Department of Energy. More women, more Black Americans, and more Hispanic Americans had been appointed judges than in all previous administrations combined. But those victories had faced setbacks — inflation, Americans taken hostage abroad. But Carter had risen to the moment. His patience and leadership had brought all of the hostages home safely, and in that feat, he’d earned the respect and admiration of the American public.

The economy remained precarious, but in the last three months of the campaign, Americans had come to trust Jimmy Carter. They’d celebrated with him when the hostages came home. They’d prayed for him while he went under the knife after a would-be assassin’s bullet pierced his chest. For all of his attacks on Reagan, the insinuation that Jimmy Carter was mean failed to stick. Jimmy Carter had been reelected.

It was impossible for Carter to not think of his father in this moment. His mother was there, and he was grateful to have her. But he thought of those morning horseback rides with his father — Earl the farmer. Earl the local politician. Well, now Earl Carter’s Hot just couldn’t help but think of what his dad would think of Jimmy the President.

On the other side of the country, a sullen Ronald Reagan asked for the phone. He was about to concede defeat. He hated it. The peace he’d experienced earlier in the evening gave way to disbelief and anger. John Sears’ initial strategy had done him in from the beginning. He had been too confident. If he had just wrapped the nomination up earlier, he would’ve been focused on Carter the whole time. Instead, he let it get away from him. He’d forgotten his Scripture. Pride goeth before the fall.

Meese handed him the phone, and he waited for Carter to be connected.

“Please hold for the president.” A final insult.

“Hello?” It was Jimmy Carter.

“Mr. President, let me be among the first to say congratulations on your victory tonight.”

“Thank you.”

“Nancy and I will be praying for you,” Reagan continued. It was awkward and infuriating, but he didn’t want Carter to be able to say that Reagan had called briefly and then hung up.

“Thank you.”

“Well, I’m going to head out and make my speech, and then I suppose you’ll be able to make yours. Congratulations again, Mr. President.”

“Thank you again for calling. Goodnight.”

When they hung up the phone, Reagan turned to the others in the room. “A prick right up until the end,” he said, and then he asked for his speech. “Let’s get this over with.”

He was greeted in the ballroom by chants of “We Want Reagan!” Nancy and the Reagan children stood behind him. Patti and Ron Jr. might’ve been the only ones in the room smiling. Their father put on his best face — he’d acted before — and plowed through the remarks quickly. He thanked his family and the voters, and he wished Carter the best of luck on his second term. And then, without much more pomp or circumstance, Ronald Reagan — thrice defeated in his efforts to attain the White House — walked off stage and out of the American political conversation. He’d risen to prominence sixteen years earlier in a speech for Barry Goldwater, another failed conservative candidate. Now, he had just finished his final speech as a politician.

• • •​

The energy in the Sheraton Hotel in Washington was much different. The Democrats broke into chants of “Four more years!” as Carter walked on stage. He looked out and saw only a sea of green “Carter-Mondale” placards.

“Thank you, everybody!” he began. “Thank you!”

“A short while ago, Governor Reagan called me and conceded —” The crowd interrupted him with their applause and Carter couldn’t help but smile. It felt good to say the words.

“— and I thanked him for his grace, and now I join all of you in looking forward, eyes bright with the possibility that these next four years represent.

“Four years ago, I promised you a government as good as its people. We delivered, and we will continue to deliver for the next four years.”

The president rattled off a list of accomplishments and then echoed his address to the National Convention.

“The responsibility ahead of us is great. Children born this year will come of age in the 21st century, and the time to shape the world of the next millennium is now. Over the next four years, we will chart a course for this nation. We can move in the direction of peace. We can move in the direction of a balanced budget, of a responsible government. We can move in the direction of caring for the environment.

“Ultimately, we are called upon to offer a future of justice — good jobs, decent healthcare, a quality public education, and the full and equal opportunity for all people regardless of their color, their language, or their religion. We are called upon to deliver that just future for all people — men and women, rich and poor, young and old.

“That is our task. That is our responsibility. With your help, and with God’s blessing, we will meet this task. Thank you, goodnight, and God bless America.” [1]

November 6, 1980
The White House — Washington, DC

Cy Vance stood near his chair talking with Harold Brown.

“All in all, a fair night for the Party,” Vance remarked. Brown nodded in agreement. “It was nice to see Holtzman pull through in New York, though it was a bit closer than I would’ve liked.”

Brown agreed but noted Javits’ third party presence.

The two men were among the most prominent members of Carter’s cabinet. It had been Vance’s adamance about finding an alternative solution to the proposed military rescue that had compelled the president to mine the harbors of the Iranian ports, giving the State Department the leverage needed to bring the hostages home. Brown as an able colleague. They did not engage in the almost ritualistic rivalry between the State and Defense Departments. Brown was a proponent of the Camp David Accords and the SALT II treaty. He believed in leading with the power of diplomacy. He was not, as some of his predecessors had been, the Secretary of War. He was the Secretary of Defense — nothing in his title conveyed a calling for pre-emptive or adversarial conflicts.

The door across from them swung open and they hastened to find their seats as President Carter, followed by Ham Jordan, Stu Eizenstat, Alonzo McDonald, and Jody Powell, entered the room. “Take your seats,” he said hurriedly.

“Well,” he said, looking around the room, “we have four more years. Thank you for your service to our nation. I would like if you would all prepare a memorandum on priorities for your Department in the second term and for you all to prepare a letter of resignation so that we may consider the make-up of the cabinet.”

The secretaries looked around the room nervously. Is he firing all of us?

“I do not intend to accept each resignation, but I would like the ability for us to speak honestly about the priorities that this administration should make for the next four years. It is important for us to be united in our pursuits. Any questions?”

Nobody had a single one.

“Very well, let’s get on with the meeting.”

It was the very action Carter and his men had considered in the wake of the Crisis of Confidence speech, but now Carter felt compelled to clean house. He’d won his last election. It was time to surround himself with the right people. The staff debated whether or not it would worry voters, but Carter was uninterested. “I don’t have to worry about that anymore,” he reminded Powell. “It’ll send the message we’re starting fresh, and that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Carter went on to accept several of the resignations. The first, and initially the most prominent, was Attorney General Ben Civiletti. There was no real ire between Carter and Civiletti, but Republicans had started to make a habit of questioning his actions as Attorney General, and the Billygate scandal had left the president desiring a more friendly person in the role. Carter also hoped that the Justice Department might lead the way in a new approach to federal drug policy, and Civiletti, as an institutionalist at Justice, was not well-suited for the task.

Despite some political pressure, Carter was adamant that Cecil Andrus stay in his role as Secretary of the Interior. It was important to Carter that he have a friend and able leader at the department as he pursued an expansive and rigorous environmental protection agenda. Andrus antagonized Republicans, particularly Ted Stevens, for his emphasis on preserving Alaska’s natural resources. Carter paid it no worry.

The president then replaced two more cabinet Secretaries. The first was Ray Marshall as Secretary of Labor. Marshall expressed a desire to return home to Texas and resume teaching, and the Carter administration, which felt a continuous strain with the labor movement, complied. Carter and his team considered a number of people, but ultimately the president decided to ask back Juanita Kreps, whom he had considered for the Federal Reserve appointment. Kreps obliged, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

The other came as a surprise to the administration. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, exhausted from the first four years in office, told the president that he hoped to leave his post. He tried to avoid sharing his ideological concerns, but Carter compelled him to share them. The way Vance saw it, Carter was becoming increasingly beholden to the Brzezinski worldview. Carter pushed back, and told Vance that if he had concerns about Carter’s foreign policy he should remain in the cabinet. Vance insisted he was tired and wanted to leave the scene.

Carter considered a number of potential replacements, including Zbigniew Brzezinski himself, but he ultimately named Warren Christopher to the post.

Perhaps the most consequential decisions concerned the White House staff. During the campaign, Jack Watson, who previously headed Carter’s transition team, stepped in to replace Jordan as Chief of Staff. Eizenstat and others on the staff voiced their support for keeping Watson in the role, and the president himself noticed that his office ran much smoother with Watson at the helm. There were internal politics to consider, however, and while Carter may have been fond ignoring the external pressures from time to time, he could not escape the own internal conflicts within his White House.

Since the transition, Ham Jordan and Jack Watson had not gotten along. While Jordan and the campaign team sewed up a Carter victory (though some may have privately questioned if they shouldn’t have cobbled together a more divisive win), Watson was tasked with organizing the planning process for the first term, and he eventually headed Carter’s presidential transition. Jordan believed Watson’s policy recommendations were divorced from the political realities of the country and the campaign in which Carter had just participated.

Keeping Watson as Chief of Staff would mean inevitable turmoil and turf wars between him and Jordan. Carter did not feel he had any other choice, however. The legislative operation worked better under Watson, something even Jordan admitted. Jordan himself had no particular desire to return to the Chief of Staff job, and so Watson stayed on in that tile and Jordan became Counselor to the President, and he’d report directly to Carter.

Watson was not pleased with the set-up, but he also knew there was no way he could devise a structure in which Jordan reported directly to him instead of Carter — both because Jordan would never agree and because Carter’s preferred style was to hear directly from various advisors, even moreso when they contradicted one another.

Coming off the excitement of the campaign, most of the White House staff — and nearly all of Carter’s inner circle — was willing to stay on in their roles. Rafhsoon stayed as Communications Director, Powell stayed as Press Secretary, Stu Eizenstat remained the guy for domestic policy, and Hertzberg decided to remain as the head of the speechwriting team. William Simpson, a Deputy Chief of staff, left to become a lobbyist, and Carter replaced him by promoting Anne Wexler, who previously served as the Director of the Office of Public Liaison.

November 22, 1980
Moral Majority Offices — Lynchburg, VA

Pat Robertson had been duped. Back in ’76, when it was Carter and Ford and Reagan had been relegated to the sidelines because he threw away his conservative base in a ridiculous effort to appease the Establishment (as if they’d ever be with him), Robertson had been so discouraged, so disheartened by the lies of Watergate that he backed Jimmy Carter. The Peanut Farmer was a born-again Christian with a holy roller sister. Then Playboy happened.

Not a voter in America didn’t remember the Playboy article. The stupidest October Surprise American politics had ever known — and would ever know. History’s greatest unforced error. It had halted the Carter momentum overnight, and it nearly cost him the presidency. He’d been asked if he ever committed adultery, and Carter gave in to his predisposition towards honesty (and oversharing) and told the truth: He’d not slept with another woman, no, but he’d seen other women before and looked at them with lust. And Jimmy Carter looked right in the interviewer’s eyes and he told him he’d “committed adultery in my heart many times.”

It was weird. Nobody wanted to imagine their president as a sexual being. Well, maybe some thought of Kennedy that way, but not Robertson. Robertson didn’t want to think of his president as a sexual being. But he had to give it to Carter. The man had been honest. Robertson had fallen so heavily for Nixon’s promise to follow God — and been so betrayed when Nixon had listened to the darker spirits in his conscience — that he just had to sit back and appreciate Jimmy’s honesty.

He knew Jimmy sounded soft on the homosexuals. Maybe even winked at them a little. Not in That Way but, in that way — the kind of way you needed if you were going to get their votes and become President of the United States. How else are you going you to carry San Francisco if you didn’t have homosexuals on your side? It’s not like Jimmy Carter was going to get elected and then support homosexuals. Hire ‘em. Say they had rights. Anything like that. Not Jimmy Carter, Robertson believed. No. He was a born-again. And born-agains didn’t think that way.

By 1980, Pat Robertson knew he’d been wrong about Jimmy Carter — wrong about nearly all of it. Wrong about supporting homosexuals, yes, but that wasn’t really what it was for Robertson. Or for Falwell. Or Weyrich. Or any of the organizers on the Religious Right (which was very nearly the Religious Left). No, it wasn’t even the homosexual thing for Robertson or the others. It was the School Thing.

When Jimmy Carter got elected he said that their schools — their religious schools — shouldn’t be tax exempt. Well, that was a problem for a few reasons. First, their schools couldn’t afford to not be tax exempt. That tax exemption kept their doors open, kept the lights on. Second, if those schools closed, well — well, Hell, little white boys and little white girls would be in the same classrooms as little Black boys and little Black girls — might even join hands with little Black boys and little Black girls. And that was a bridge too far. Jimmy Carter had betrayed them — and he’d duped Pat Robertson.

And that’s why Pat Robertson wasn’t invited to Lynchburg, Virginia, where Jerry Falwell convened the leaders of the Moral Majority after the disastrous 1980 election. Jerry Falwell was never duped. Jerry Falwell had never fallen for Carter’s born-again-bullshit. As far as he was concerned, Jerry Falwell was right all along. Except — and this was the reason for the meeting — when it came to Ronald Reagan.

Pat Robertson had been with John Connally during the primary campaign. He’d learned his lesson from 1976. He wasn’t going to fall for another true believer. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me — fool me, well, you can’t let yourself get fooled again. Whatever the Heck it was. And that’s why — while Falwell and even Pat’s good friend Paul Weyrich who’d been with Carter right alongside him held out for Reagan, Pat Robertson went with John Connally: The Man Who Would Owe Them. The man who wanted the power so desperately — and wanted so desperately to keep it — that he’d never turn on the people who brought him to the dance. Pat Robertson had looked deep into Connally’s soul during the primary campaign, and he saw the most desperate, most needy, most power-hungry politician he’d seen since Richard Nixon. And he knew that was the kind of guy they had to elect. Someone who would owe them.

And that was why Pat Robertson wasn’t at the meeting.

Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich got the Moral Majority together to debrief what had happened in the last election. How had it all gone so wrong? How did the country choose four more years of Jimmy Carter?

A certain shorthand developed among those who didn’t want to admit that the distrust of Reagan’s foreign policy or the questions over his tax plan or the framing of him as a right-wing zealot had cost the Republicans the election. “John Hinckley.” It was easy enough. Carter had won a close race. Hinckley’s bullet had to be worth a point-or-two in those close states. States like Illinois. But Hinckley’s bullet wasn’t a good enough explanation for Jerry Fawell.

The way Falwell saw it, the election should never have been close enough for a bullet to swing it, and even if somehow it were that close, it should’ve been the numbers of the Moral Majority that swung it, not some deranged would-be assassin’s bullet. So Falwell wanted to know: What went wrong?

Lou Harris had come by to break down the numbers for the Moral Majority. In another universe, Lou Harris might have been on track to become a household name, or at the very least a well-paid DC consultant, while Pat Caddell was out on his ass searching to redeem himself, scouring every corner for a new candidate to whom he could sell his Message of Malaise. But now that the votes had been counted, Pat Caddell was going back to work for the President of the United States, and Lou Harris was wondering how he’d been so wrong. How he’d assured Falwell, Weyrich, and even Stu Spencer that Ronald Reagan was on track for a big win.

“In 1976,” Harris began his presentation, “2/3rds of the Evangelical vote went to Jimmy Carter.” He continued, “In 1980, Reagan won 54% of these voters. By any measure, that should have been enough for him to win the White House. So what happened?”

Falwell didn’t need to hear the next sentence. He could do the math. He understood the politics. If there was that dramatic of a swing from Carter-to-Reagan among Evangelical voters, it could only mean one thing: Evangelical voters didn’t vote.

“Evangelical voters didn’t vote,” Harris confirmed. “Turnout among Evangelical voters took a dramatic decline compared to 1976. So let’s look at why that is.

“Since the election — and I admit I haven’t had that long — I’ve conducted focus groups in three states Reagan hoped to flip from Carter-to-Reagan: Arkansas, South Carolina, and Mississippi. I’ll tell you right now, Arkansas is a bit of an outlier case. The Cuban refugees there, the governor’s increases in car fees, and the negative reception of the governor’s wife played an unusually large role in the way Arkansans looked at their ballot. Carter won, but not by as much as he should have, and Clinton, the governor, still lost by some 3,500 votes. So let’s look at the responses from South Carolina and Mississippi.”

Some were starting to nod off, but Falwell and Weyrich were focused. They had four years to figure it out and try again. And they couldn’t afford to be wrong in ’84.

“In both states, I did a focus group with Evangelical voters and with Evangelical non-voters. The non-voters participated in the 1976 election, and many of them voted for Carter, but they sat out in the 1980 election. Does anyone want to guess why?”

If you say Jack Kemp—

Before anyone could raise a hand or verbally respond, Harris plowed through to the next page on the easel: “Jack Kemp. Evangelical voters didn’t trust him. They — well, they thought he engaged in homosexual activities back when he worked for Reagan.”

“They all stayed home because they thought Jack Kemp was a homosexual?”

“A lot of them did, yes,” Harris answered. “But there was another issue, too. A lot of these voters didn’t know what to make of the teachers controversy.”

This was what Falwell wanted to hear. He needed this in writing — needed to go back to Stu Spencer and all the rest of them and show them the raw data — that Reagan should’ve just come out and said he didn’t want homosexuals sitting in the same classroom as little boys. That’s all he had to do. Kemp had teed him up for it — Falwell couldn’t be bothered to think of the appropriate football analogy — and yet, Reagan avoided it. Tied himself in knots.

“These are voters who feel that Washington isn’t listening to them. A lot of them voted for Jimmy Carter and then watched him defund their children’s schools, stick up for abortionists and the homosexuals. And then they believed in Reagan. And then Reagan seemed to be faking them out, too — promising them he wasn’t Carter but also not going far enough on the homosexual teacher issue.

“These voters want to be heard. They want to be taken seriously. And they feel like no political party is speaking to them. And when they saw Reagan saying whatever he needed to say to disassociate himself from them, they got scared. And when they got scared…”

They stayed home.

“They stayed home.”

It was exactly like Falwell had said — yelled. You had to give these people a reason to show up. He’d told them. He’d said it. It’s bad enough they think Jack Kemp switches from a quarterback to a wide receiver on Saturday nights, but damnit, Stu, the guy’s given you the chance to come back and give these people a reason to vote for Reagan. But Stu kept talking about the “swing voters” — whoever the fuck they were — and he’d ignored the reality. Elections were about turnout. People who liked you voted, or they didn’t. And we didn’t vote.

Well, 1984 wasn’t that far away, and Jerry Falwell didn’t plan to make the same mistake twice.

December 8, 1980
The Dakota — New York, NY

John Lennon lay naked on the floor, in the fetal position, his left leg draped over Yoko Ono, his left arm cradling her head. Annie Leibovitz captured the moment that afternoon for the cover of Rolling Stone. It felt like any other day. When the shoot was done, Leibovitz left, and Lennon settled in for an interview with DJ Dave Sholin and Laurie Kaye that would be broadcast by RKO Radio Network.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Lennon began. He was smiling, making jokes and putting everyone in the room at ease.

He talked about the strain of being in The Beatles. “Paul and I turned out a lot of songs in those days,” he said. One could hear how laborious the life had become for him in his voice. The process — the creation of art — had become rote, Lennon explained, “and I felt like I’d lost myself.” He kept going: “It took something away from what I wanted to do.”

The interview lasted nearly two hours. At one point, Lennon reflected on life itself. “We’re either going to live, or we’re going to die. I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried — and I hope that’s a long time.”

Then, John and Yoko made their way down the elevator and left for The Record Factory to record ‘Walking on Thin Ice.’ On their way out of The Dakota, Mark David Chapman, a longtime fan of The Beatles, asked Lennon for his autograph. The singer obliged, signing a copy of Double Fantasy. He gave it back to Chapman who smiled at him, saying his thanks.

Chapman walked around the corner and took a seat on the sidewalk, where he opened his dog-eared copy of The Catcher in the Rye and began to read.

The tone of the American classic resonated with Chapman. Caulfield was his muse. Jaded. Angry at the world. Misunderstood. Chapman felt it all as he read through the pages, taking a bite from his apple after every few turns. Until he was interrupted.

Down the street walked an unsuspecting couple. The man failed to see Chapman, sitting with his legs crossed on the ground, and tripped over him. He dropped his coffee, spilling it all over Chapman and his copy of Salinger. Immediately, Chapman let out an aggravated yell and jumped to his feet, screaming at the man before chasing after him.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” He yelled until he caught up to the man, whom he shoved to the ground and began punching in the face. He only landed two or three punches before someone nearby pulled him off, and Chapman sat for several minutes until the sound of the sirens grew from a dull echo to a piercing screech.

A few days later, he agreed to plea guilty to simple assault. He’d spend a year-and-a-half in prison. Back at The Dakota, a .38 special revolver sat abandoned on the sidewalk until a dishonest New Yorker happened upon it and decided to pocket it. That night, John and Yoko returned home to their apartment — unaware of the ending they had escaped.

December 10, 1980
The White House — Washington, DC

Bill Clinton paced outside the Oval Office waiting for his meeting with the president. He had something important to tell Jimmy Carter. He’d thought about it, and he wanted to be the next Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He was sure it was the right move for him politically.

Despite the fact that Jimmy Carter carried Arkansas over Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton still went down to a close defeat. Carter’s resettlement of Cuban refugees in Arkansas hurt him as well as Clinton, but Clinton had other issues weighing him down. He’d increased the car tags fee in the state, which amounted to a tax hike for most Arkansans. He’d wrapped the proposal in clear reasoning: Every dollar would go into road repair. Didn’t matter. Voters didn’t want to pay more for their car tags.

There was also Hillary. Hillary. He loved his wife. He’d known all along that she was the only woman for him. She was brilliant and charming. She was driven, like he was. She was ready to go where he led. Few women would have been. Together, they saw their future. He’d always wanted her to maintain her independence. He’d never thought his ambition to become President of the United States — to sit in the office just on the other side of this door — should interfere with her own career — to practice law, or to keep her maiden name. But Arkansans didn’t agree. They couldn’t trust a woman who spent so much time talking about education policy. She was supposed to be the governor’s wife, not the governor. And why didn’t she have the same name, they’d wondered. Couldn’t trust her. Didn’t trust her.

So, for his own reasons, Bill Clinton lost on Election Night 1980. But he was still going to become president. And it would happen after he became DNC Chairman.

He couldn’t deny he blamed Carter some for his loss. The Cuban issue had hurt him. Hurt him bad. Without it, he probably could’ve still won. But Carter had proven that winning was possible even with that albatross around his neck. So, really, there was only so much blame Clinton could offload from his shoulders and place on Carter’s.

The president welcomed him in with a smile. He was sad when he learned Clinton’s loss. He prayed for his victory all through the recount, but it didn’t come. Bill Clinton. Defeated. Carter thought about their time at Camp David. Some of Clinton’s insights during that sojourn to the mountaintop had been the most insightful. Clinton was bright. He had a future, and that’s what Carter wanted to talk to him about. He knew what Clinton was going to ask, but Carter was going to say no. The president had something else in mind for Clinton.

“Mr. President, thank you for making time for me,” Clinton said.

“Of course. Sit down. I’m sorry about the results,” Carter said. Left unsaid went whether or not Carter’s actions had contributed to the defeat. As far as the president was concerned, he’d carried Arkansas. If he won and Clinton lost, well — that was on Clinton.

“Thank you, I appreciate that.”

Carter asked about Hillary and Chelsea, and Clinton asked about Rosalynn and Amy. And then they got down to business.

“Mr. President, I’ve done a lot of thinking, and I am considering throwing my hat into the ring for DNC Chairman. I was hoping you might consider supporting me.”

Carter nodded. “Have you considered what this means for your own electoral future? You wouldn’t be able to run for governor in 1982, probably not in 1984 either.”

Clinton said he had, and he thought he had a lot to offer the party as Chairman.

“Bill, I’ll be honest,” he said. “I’m leaning towards asking the party to make Moon Landrieu the Chairman.”


“I haven’t made up my mind entirely yet, but that’s where I’m leaning.” He leaned back in his chair and let it sit for just a moment before continuing. “Bill, what do you think about being my Attorney General?”

That threw Bill Clinton for a loop. It was a big job. Head of the Justice Department. Top lawyer. That was a big role indeed. One might even call it a stepping stone. It came with a lot of earned media — the kind money couldn’t buy, or, if it could, was too expensive to buy. It meant being in cabinet meetings and supervising the nation’s law enforcement. It guaranteed a national profile. It set him up to be on the ticket in ’84 with Mondale. Hell, Clinton thought, I could even run in ’84 myself if I wanted. And if ’84 didn’t work out, he’d be able to run for Senate if Bumpers retired or go back to Arkansas and be governor.

It came with disadvantages, though. He’d be beholden to Carter, but in other ways the Attorney General was the most independent member of the cabinet. He needed time to think. And to talk. Talk with Hillary. He needed to know what Hillary thought about it all. And that’s what he told the president.

Carter understood, and asked Clinton to get back to him after a day or two.

So, Clinton called Hillary right away. “Hillary,” he said, “listen to this: He asked me to be Attorney General.”

Hillary couldn’t believe it. Here it was, a path back for him and a path out of Washington for her. But she stopped herself. Is this what’s best? Does this get us closer to the White House?

She thought about it some more. Sometimes Attorneys General had to handle dicey issues. But look at Elliot Richardson — he’d been considered for Vice President three times after taking the AG job. If he’d wanted it bad enough — wanted it like Bill wanted it, he could’ve gotten it. She started running through names. She would need to look it up. How many Attorneys General went on to become president? The answer was zero, but she wasn’t sure at the time. One almost did, she knew that. Robert Kennedy. RFK. Brother of the man who furthered her husband’s own feelings about reaching the presidency.

They talked it over some more. It was a risky decision, but what were his options? Carter wanted Landrieu at the DNC. Voters were made at him — they’d just sent him packing. Why would they be over it in just two years? Then there was Anne Wexler, their former mentor on the McGovern campaign, at the helm of the White House Staff. The second term would be smoother than the first. They could move to DC — Hillary could get out of Arkansas — and Bill would have a platform to become a household name.

And so Bill Clinton said yes and became Jimmy Carter’s third Attorney General. Moon Landrieu became the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and that was where Clinton made his first move to become less like a traditional Attorney General and more like Robert Kennedy had been — the man in the room, the confidant, and — one day — the natural successor.

Carter was considering Dianne Feinstein, the Mayor of San Francisco, to replace Landrieu at HUD, but Clinton said he had another idea. He had a friend (a best friend, really). Vernon Jordan. Jordan was the CEO of the Urban League. He could join the cabinet, too, at HUD. Carter knew Jordan well. When Jordan was shot in Indiana, the president was right there to visit him. It was the first story CNN had covered. He loved Jordan. Smart man, Carter thought. And so he asked Clinton if the Attorney General in waiting wouldn’t mind reaching out and seeing if Jordan would be interested.

Jordan could’ve said no and made a lot more money, but Clinton said he wanted a friend in the cabinet room with him. Told Jordan he could make more of a difference there than he could in the private sector. Jordan needed to make a living, he said, but Clinton waved that off. “Think about how much you’ll make after you’ve been a cabinet secretary,” he told Jordan. And Jordan said yes. It was true. He could make a difference here. Bill was right about that.

And that’s when Jimmy Carter knew he’d made a good pick. He hadn’t just chosen an Attorney General, he’d chosen a closer.

January 20, 1981
The Capitol Building — Washington, DC

Sometimes he would let them morph into a blur, but he tried not to. He tried to look out and see the faces. See the people. The eyes gleaming with excitement. The noses reddening in the cold air. The lips spread open to cheer — or jeer. Sometimes they jeered. Jimmy Carter was blessed to be president, and he couldn’t wait to walk from the Capitol Building to the White House, just like they did the first time. How could he go back and ride in the limousine after that? It would send the wrong message. It would say Washington had changed him. Tip O’Neill knew the truth. Ted Kennedy knew the truth. Washington hadn’t changed him. It pained him to think he hadn’t yet changed Washington, but when he left in four years, that’s what they’d be saying. That Jimmy Carter had changed Washington.

He remembered that first walk. And he laughed.

“What is it?” Rosalynn asked.

“I was just remembering when we did this four years ago. What Mama said to Jody.”

Rosie laughed, too. She remembered. Her laugh was a bit of a giggle — like a shy school girl. She was making a mighty difference as First Lady, but she was quiet and reserved. This wasn’t the life she’d have chosen for them. She’d never imagined it.

“You remember?” Jimmy asked.

“Oh, yes,” Rosie said.

Jimmy kept going, as if Rosie hadn’t just told him she remembered the story he was about to tell. Using the voice he used when he quoted Miss Lillian, he repeated her words from four years ago, “‘Jody, you can go to hell. You might tell Jimmy what to do, but not the rest of us.’” Jody had just asked the family not to speak to the reporters as they arrived at the White House. Carter had been president for less than half-a-day. They’d only just finished the Inaugural Parade.

But Miss Lillian didn’t care much for Jody Powell’s advice, and she walked right up to the reporters and the cameras pointed her way.

“Miss Lillian,” one of the reporters started, “aren’t you proud of your son?”

She looked back and asked, “Which one?”

Oh, Jimmy and Rosie laughed about that, and he squeezed her hand just a bit tighter. Four more years. He took a break from gazing out the window and looked down at the blue folder on his lap. It was emblazoned with the Presidential Seal, and it held The Speech.

Jimmy Carter had rejected a variety of drafts of his Inaugural address. Some were too braggadocios about his first four years. Some focused too little on his early successes. Some lacked a coherent theme while others were too fluffy. One section, written by Chris Matthews, dwelled too much on the domestic. An early Hertzberg draft was weighed down by foreign affairs. Frustrations were reaching a crescendo when Hendrik “Rick” Hertzberg, the chief speechwriter, scheduled a sit-down with the president to figure out what exactly he wanted to say.

“I think your second term deserves a thematic focus,” he explained. “I’ve hinted at this in your convention speech and in your Election Night remarks, but I would like you to take a look again at the Global 2000 study from July. If you could just read it over again, I think you’ll find that it raises the stakes of your second term, and it can really center your domestic and foreign policies around a singular goal.”

Carter agreed to review it, and about a week before the Inauguration he found himself convinced of the path for the Inaugural address and the second term. It was like he’d read the Caddell memo all over again. Here it was, in black-and-white: The challenges facing the nation. He wanted to be forward-thinking, a visionary. There was also a follow-up report specifically on environmental quality that Carter devoured that night as well. It was nine o’clock in the evening when he called Hertzberg back to the White House to work on the address.

As far as the president was concerned, these issues were all related. The concern for the environment required a more sustainable energy policy, which promised innovation that could spur the economy. A healthier planet would require nations to work together, through diplomacy instead of in conflict, and reducer the risk of nuclear war. It was implied that Carter’s North Star would be, as always, a respect for human rights at home and around the globe. Heltzberg was thrilled that the president saw the same opportunity that he had.

If the Carter presidency is a tale of two speeches, it is this: The Crisis of Confidence speech, which set Carter on the course to win reelection, diagnosed the problem. His 1981 Inaugural address would try and provide the antidote.

Heltzberg called Matthews, Achsah Nesmith, and Gordon Stewart in to help with writing the draft. They took notes as the president riffed his ideas about human rights and nuclear disarmament.

It was Matthews who spoke up and offered a healthy dose of reality. “What about Congress?”

Carter paused, waiting for Matthews to say more.

“I just mean, Mr. President, where is the part of this speech that brings them into this? We just came through a contested election, the Democratic majorities are smaller, and you’ll need Republicans and Democrats on board with this agenda. We saw the far-right factions take over the Republican Party. You defeated the most extreme nominee since Barry Goldwater. I think you should talk about that — help us move on from it and reset the political narrative.”

The president thought about it before agreeing with Matthews. “We have this problem in both parties,” he said. “If I’m going to get my agenda passed, I can’t have any Congressional leaders focused on special interests or single-issue groups. We rejected them in November, and we should come together and get the job done now.” Matthews nodded as he rewrote the president’s sentiment.

The next few days, Carter and the speechwriters spent hours together perfecting every line. The president practiced the speech for hours, perfecting his cadence and delivery. He hadn’t practiced a speech since the Crisis of Confidence address.

In some ways, it was a fitting speech for the moment. For the first time, the Inauguration would take place on the West side of the Capitol Building, overlooking the expansive National Mall. The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial would sit in the president’s line of vision as he looked out onto the crowd of Americans and the television cameras and spoke of the Year 2000 and the future that they could create.

Carter gently reached to hold Rosalynn’s hand as the limousine neared the Capitol Building. They looked into each other’s eyes and once more, at least subconsciously, the thoughts of their winding path hear flashed through their minds. Carter had first seen Rosalynn when she was a newborn in a crib. They’d moved around the country so Carter could pursue his Naval career and then back to Plains, in a decision that had nearly broken their marriage. Now, for the next four years, they would be in the most famous home in America.

“Let’s pray,” Carter said, almost in a whisper. Together, they closed their eyes and bowed their heads. God, give Rosalynn and me the strength to do your work here on Earth, the strength to bear that which you put on our shoulders. Help our country find our way and give our people the tools to preserve our planet, protect our children, and spread peace to every inch of our world. Amen.

A Secret Service agent opened the car door a moment later, and the president and his wife entered the Capitol Building. It was time for Jimmy Carter to once again take the Oath of Office.

The festivities included the typical parade of Congressional leaders — Byrd and Cranston, Baker and Stevens, O’Neill and Wright, Michel and Lott, the newest member who had chaired Reagan’s Mississippi campaign and was at least partly to blame for the State Fair speech where Reagan preached a return of states’ rights. There was no stream of former presidents as just one was in attendance: Gerald Ford. He and Betty took seats near the front. Notably absent was Ronald Reagan, who was watching on television from Rancho del Cielo.

All the attendees rose for the President of the United States as he walked joyously onto the reviewing stand. The sight before him was magnificent to behold. The sun peaked through the clouds providing a fair amount of warmth to the day. He could not help but be proud of the fact he had four more years to steer the ship of state.

At noon, Chief Justice Warren Burger, whom Carter hoped he might have the chance to replace on the Bench, summoned the president and Mrs. Carter for the swearing-in, and once again the president recited the Oath of Office: I, James Earl Carter, Jr, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.

Cheers rang out from the thousands gathered on the National Mall and the hundreds behind him. Carter smiled, waiting patiently for his chance to address the nation.

“My fellow Americans:

“I want to thank you once again for the honor of serving as your president. These may be uncertain times, but they are times for hope and of opportunity.

“Four years ago, when we last gathered here for this important ceremony, we knew we would face great challenges together. Today, once more, we know that future problems will also be difficult. But I’m now more convinced than ever that the United States, better than any other country, can meet successfully whatever the future might bring. These last four years have made me more certain than ever of the inner strength of our country, the unchanging value of our principles and ideals, the stability of our political system, the ingenuity and the decency of our people.”

There was light applause, and Carter turned now to the point he and Matthews had discussed — about the current state of political affairs in the nation. “I recognize that today, as people have become ever more doubtful fo the ability of the Government to deal with our problems, we are increasingly drawn to single-issue groups and special interest organizations to ensure that whatever else happens, our own personal views and our own private interests are protected. This is a disturbing factor in American political life, and it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that we do not retreat to our factions. This trend distorts our purpose, because the national interest is not always the sum of all our single or special interests. We are all Americans together, and we must not forget that the common good is our common interest and our individual responsibility.

“And for those on this podium with me today, I encourage you to look carefully at the verdict the American people have just imparted. The American people have asked us to focus not on the extremes but on where we can find common ground. That is where most Americans are.

“No politician today should feel bound to the singular interests of one particularly loud group. Those special interests have proven that they are not as powerful as they purport to be. Instead, we should all be focused on the problems ahead of us, and we should work together to meet those challenges. We can only do that in a spirit of cooperation.” The president smiled as those around him rose to deliver a standing ovation. He nodded in appreciation.

“I read a report recently,” the president continued in his folksy manner, “about what the world will be like in 2000 if we continue on our present course. It occurred to me then that our country must do all we can to ensure that when we enter the new millennium, we do so knowing we have done all we can to preserve our planet and keep our children and our peers safe from nuclear war and violations of human rights.”

He laid out his thoughts on nuclear disarmament before turning to the environment.

“Another major challenge, therefore, is to protect the quality of this world within which we live. The shadows that fall across the future are cast not only by the kinds of weapons we've built, but by the kind of world we will either nourish or neglect. There are real and growing dangers to our simple and our most precious possessions: the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land which sustains us. The rapid depletion of irreplaceable minerals, the erosion of topsoil, the destruction of beauty, the blight of pollution, the demands of increasing billions of people, all combine to create problems which are easy to observe and predict, but difficult to resolve. If we do not act, the world of the year 2000 will be much less able to sustain life than it is now.

“But there is no reason for despair. Acknowledging the physical realities of our planet does not mean a dismal future of endless sacrifice. In fact, acknowledging these realities is the first step in dealing with them. We can meet the resource problems of the world — water, food, minerals, farmlands, forests, overpopulation, pollution if we tackle them with courage and foresight.

“There is opportunity here to improve our economic situation. It is our responsibility as national leaders to keep inflation low, but we can direct our government to invest in the technologies that will help our country preserve our planet, lower the costs of energy, and create jobs. This is our task: To be responsible stewards of the environment and, in doing so, unleash the potential of American ingenuity.”

The president did not continue into a list of specific economic proposals, but he did talk about miners in West Virginia, autoworkers in Michigan, and laborers throughout the 50 states who felt that their paychecks did not go as far as they used to. “For that reason, it is vital for the government to model good behavior,” he said. “We must control our spending habits instead of promising everything on credit. We should balance our budgets,” Carter said in his most specific policy pronouncement of the speech.

He transitioned then to human rights, long his North Star. “The struggle for human rights overrides all differences of color or nation or language. Those who hunger for freedom, who thirst for human dignity, and who suffer for the sake of justice, they are the patriots of this cause.

“I believe with all my heart that America must always stand for these basic human rights at home and abroad. That is both our history and our destiny.

“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it's the other way around. Human rights invented America. Ours was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded explicitly on such an idea. Our social and political progress has been based on one fundamental principle: the value and importance of the individual. The fundamental force that unites us is not kinship or place of origin or religious preference. The love of liberty is the common blood that flows in our American veins.”

And, finally, the president invoked the Declaration of Independence and reminded his fellow citizens that “democracy is always an unfinished creation. Each generation must renew its foundations. Each generation must rediscover the meaning of this hallowed vision in the light of its own modern challenges. For this generation, ours, life is nuclear survival; liberty is human rights; the pursuit of happiness is a planet whose resources are devoted to the physical and spiritual nourishment of its inhabitants.

“I wish to remind all of us, on this occasion — the inauguration of a president — that there is one title in our democracy superior to the one I have just sworn to uphold: that of citizen. So, I ask for your help, your guidance, your investment in this great endeavor, and for your prayers, knowing, as John F. Kennedy said, that ‘here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.’” [2]

The president turned to see a standing ovation from the members of Congress assembled. He embraced his wife and children and turned back to wave at the crowd before him. The work was just beginning.


[1] This is heavily based on Carter’s 1980 Convention speech IOTL.

[2] Much of the president’s inaugural address that I have here is based on his Farewell Address in 1981 from OTL. I added the mentions of the economy as they did not thematically fit with his Farewell Address, but I doubt he’d go the entire Inaugural without invoking the present economic situation which is not completely dreadful but remains far from prosperous.

NB: Thank you to @LivingSteam who reminded me about Jack Watson’s role as Chief of Staff at the tail end of the Carter administration IOTL. He is so scarcely mentioned in accounts of the Carter administration that I have to admit he’d escaped my mind once I got into the writing of the timeline. Watson was widely hailed as an effective Chief of Staff, though, and so it seems natural that he’d stay on ITTL. Of course, the dynamics between him and Ham will get interesting, but I wanted to shoutout @LivingSteam for the reminder.
It is a great honor to have received such recognition. The credit must be given to the poster who made me aware of Jack Watson in the first place, which may have been as far back as 2017. Great chapter. I will have to reread this more before I can add some additional thoughts.
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Carter-led Democrat Centrism combined with a defeated Reaganism is one factor.
Definitely. A lot of pop culture from the 80s was either reinforcing or a backlash to the Reagan phenomenon. Creatives from the time period have been very clear about that in retrospect how much the Reagan Revolution affected culture and the arts.
Definitely. A lot of pop culture from the 80s was either reinforcing or a backlash to the Reagan phenomenon. Creatives from the time period have been very clear about that in retrospect how much the Reagan Revolution affected culture and the arts.
Films like Pretty In Pink are probably more popular in the world of Jimmy Two.
Given the close margins of OTL's 1980 Arkansas Governor's Race, I'm extremely surprised the Clinton managed to not pull it out, especially with Carter's coattails. A lot of the 1980 Senate results were extremely close, and the Dems could "pick up" as many as ten seats based on the margins. I especially wonder if a close Indiana, even it it's a loss, keeps Bayh's political drive going; he would be an excellent guy to have around a Carter government if he lost.
It does make me wonder what John Hughes does with his films in the 80s. A lot of his films in OTL are seen as reflections of the Reagan Era, with Jimmy getting a second term. I wonder what kind of films he makes.

It's likely he does more films in the vein of Pretty In Pink and Ferris Bueller rather than Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Considering that feeling of American Malaise continues rather than ITS MORNING AGAIN IN AMERICA ( coughs. )
Definitely. A lot of pop culture from the 80s was either reinforcing or a backlash to the Reagan phenomenon. Creatives from the time period have been very clear about that in retrospect how much the Reagan Revolution affected culture and the arts.
To say nothing of cartoons either! Looking at that big boom of toy-focused cartoons thanks to Reagan's victory and subsequent reform of advertising rules changes the animation industry forever, for ill or for good.
So what a second Carter term means outside the US? The cold war is already getting worse which is likely to continue, the Carter policy of limiting arms exports to the third world still continues, likely good news for Northrop there. Then within the western camp, Carter may be more palatable than Reagan was for some, worse for others. Frex the coming Papandreou government in Greece is likely to have much better relations than it did with Reagan, Papandreou was a former Democrat himself with ties within the party from his Berkeley days while they did not go at all well with Reagan. Then you have things like the Turkish junta, the coup was in September 1980, Reagan p4etty much supported the junta is Carter as supportive? And a bit further down the road does the Argentine junta the US won't mind or back 5hem in the Falkland with Carter in charge? No Falkland war likely means Thatcher is out in 1983 and this in turn quite possibly the first Liberal government since Loyd George and Asquith in Britain...
Unfortunately, it won’t be. I’ve been vacationing with family and need some more time to edit and get things together…
Understand. Hopefully, the delay won't be too long. There will be some time to think certain events of 1981 through.
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A few years ago, Andrew T did a nice analysis of what Pop Culture could look like a world without a Reagan Presidency:

Now, I want you to just think about how pretty much everything in the 1980s came to be defined either by, or in opposition to, the cultural shift that occurred whereby those conservative principles came to be held by a large plurality of Americans.

Here's what's in and what's out:

TV: Obviously, there's no Family Ties, but I think we also lose shows that reveled in ostentatious greed, like the prime-time soaps (Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, etc.). We lose over-the-top Cold War paranoia shows like The Day After. Crime and legal procedurals are probably still popular, but I would expect them to be more socially conscious and message-driven, like L.A. Law and later, Law & Order, rather than the anything-justifies-getting-the-bad-guy mindset of shows like Hunter. Violence on TV is probably more regulated, so you probably miss out on TV wrestling and later shows like American Gladiators. On the other hand, sitcoms are probably largely unaffected, which means you still have Cosby; I think you also still have sitcoms like Diff'rent Strokes and Silver Spoons that play to liberal tropes. Children's TV continues to be regulated, so the next wave of cartoons would look more like Challenge of the Superfriends than OTL's toy-driven shows; you'd still have the Smurfs, but say goodbye to Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man and the like. That probably means that Robotech breaks out even more so than OTL.

Movies: Like TV, only more so. Say goodbye to the do-what-it-takes cop movie (Lethal Weapon and the like); bid a fond farewell to flag-waving Cold War films like Red Dawn, Rambo: First Blood, and Rocky IV. I actually think you'd probably lose the entire Schwarzenegger-Stallone mindless action hero genre -- no Rambo, no Predator, no Cobra, etc. (Sadly, you'd also lose The Running Man, an outstanding satire on the deregulation of television.) Rocky and the Terminatorwould still be hits, but producers would draw very different lessons from their success. Back to the Futurewould be very different (if it exists at all); I doubt that neo-50s-nostalgia would catch on in the Carter-Mondale '80s. Nor would 80s excess films like The Secret of My Success or Wall Street. Of the 50 most popular films of the 80s, I can only imagine a handful surviving in any fashion. What fills the void? It's hard to say; this is going to be a time of peace and prosperity without ostentatiousness and over-the-top-patriotism, more like OTL's 1990s.

Porn: There's no Meese Commission, so there's no crusade to get Playboy out of the local 7-11. The last word from the Justice Department on pornography will be the Johnson Commission, which essentially found that pornography was harmless and that access thereto may even serve as an "outlet" for otherwise would-be sexual predators. I suspect that attitudes towards porn would move more quickly towards where they are now, IOTL.

Cigarettes: Huge. Without Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, cigarettes are never derided in pop culture as being 'low-class'; instead, the classic notion of the 'smoke-filled room' being integral to power continues, and cigarettes continue to occupy a parallel space alongside the martini.

Music: Totally different. Madonna isn't the "Material Girl" without Reagan, nor do we see the socially conscious rock of the 1980s of Genesis, U2, Sting, and (of course) Don Henley. We lose out on the bluegrass-inspired, patriotic-sounding (if not necessarily patriotic, per se) "Born in the USA" album. Even though many Democrats are plenty horrified by heavy metal in the 80s, Tipper Gore never meets up with a powerful clique of mostly Republican wives and forms the PMRC, nor is there a Meese Commission on pornography. So I think you'd start off with a continuation of the trends of the 1970s with guitar-rock and apolitical post-punk acts like Blondie. The guitar-rock scene evolves similarly to Dirty Laundry; rock goes harder, heavy metal is bigger, and so on. The post-punk scene transitions into the poppier New Wave/Britpop stuff while skipping over social-commentary-oriented New Wave acts.
A few years ago, Andrew T did a nice analysis of what Pop Culture could look like a world without a Reagan Presidency:
I think it’s also worth noting that Reaganism isn’t going to go away just because Reagan does. The zeitgeist of the time will no longer be jingoistic, but there will still be a solid core of Americans who are, and who will want that sort of media. I’m imagining a lot of the impulses that went into things like Rambo IOTL being mediated through airport thrillers and direct-to-video movies.

Also worth asking - do we still get media revelling in materialism, just thinly disguised as criticism of it? It’s a time-honored tradition, and the desire to revel in that sort of thing isn’t going to go away just because it’s gauche.


A few years ago, Andrew T did a nice analysis of what Pop Culture could look like a world without a Reagan Presidency:

A lot of these I agree with and expand upon below, but I would note that I don't think cigarettes get a free pass through present day just because we miss out on C. Everett Koop. I also think it's worth noting that some of these people will care about these issues anyway -- taking Tipper Gore for instance -- and it's possible that ATL events manifest in a way that she can still channel that belief of hers even if it manifests slightly differently.

I think it’s also worth noting that Reaganism isn’t going to go away just because Reagan does. The zeitgeist of the time will no longer be jingoistic, but there will still be a solid core of Americans who are, and who will want that sort of media. I’m imagining a lot of the impulses that went into things like Rambo IOTL being mediated through airport thrillers and direct-to-video movies.

Also worth asking - do we still get media revelling in materialism, just thinly disguised as criticism of it? It’s a time-honored tradition, and the desire to revel in that sort of thing isn’t going to go away just because it’s gauche.

Very true. I've done some brain dumping on the Greed is Good concept in American pop culture during the Reagan years. I think you're right that those movies exist but in a way that is more critical of them.

Those who have come to the Villa to get spoilers know that Carter's successor is a Law and Order conservative driven more by drugs, crime, etc. than by abortion and Evangelicalism. To that end, the cultural shift is at the expense of Wall Street traders and to the benefit of cops. This manifests itself in all sorts of ways but is a special boon for Dick Wolf who at this time was bouncing from show to show trying to find someone to take his "Law and Order" pitch seriously.

I think the biggest casualty of no Reagan is the Armageddon Genre as that was rather unique to him being in the Oval Office as opposed to his politics being prevalent.

All in all, the hardest part will be properly showing these changes given the format.