I believe Jay Nordlinger was too generous in his assessment of Stuart Eizenstat’s book President Carter: The White House Years (“Carter from the Inside,” May 14). Not only does this book perpetuate a number of myths about Reagan, it continues a good many of them about Carter, some of which have become popular talking points in Democratic folklore.
One that Mr. Nordlinger touches on is that the ultimate credit for “taming” inflation lies with Carter’s appointment of Paul Volcker as Federal Reserve chairman. Eizenstat’s book says that Carter gave Volcker “free rein” and that Carter threw in “his lot with Volcker” to beat inflation. The actual story is a bit more complicated. For one thing, Carter began to criticize the Fed late in his 1980 campaign. In a stop in October, Carter said that the “strictly monetary approach to the Fed’s decision on the discount rate and other banking policies is ill advised.” Reagan, on the other hand, as noted by Volcker himself in PBS’s Commanding Heights, “never criticized me directly in public.” Volcker even credited Reagan’s busting of the air-traffic controllers’ trade union as a “watershed” moment in the fight against inflation. To me, it has always been questionable that a second-term Carter would have stood by, ignoring the complaints of organized labor, as Volcker continued to tighten the screws over the next few years.
Mr. Nordlinger also brought up Carter’s “new emphasis” on human rights. Indeed there was one, but where the rubber met the road the Carter administration wound up having to make some of the same moves that the Reagan administration later did, e.g., supporting the junta in El Salvador, vetoing sanctions against South Africa at the U.N., and supporting the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Ironically enough, these were actions for which many Democrats criticized Reagan (and still do).
A Classy Movie
Kyle Smith’s “A Culture of Enmity” (May 14) — a finely written and mostly perceptive treatment of the main currents of our cultural decadence — disappoints in one important respect: his choice of James Cameron’s 1998 movie Titanic as “a glorious, unifying moment in our culture.”
While this movie did offer some of the most stunningly beautiful and most fully realized images ever seen onscreen, as well as some very fine acting, the writing — the main dish, so to speak — provided little more than a facile study in class warfare of a kind that might bring a blush to the most ardent Marxian. The first-class passengers were almost universally characterized as condescending, snarky brutes in fine clothes, while the real people — those in steerage — were all paragons of virtue. Moreover, in the film’s superfluously attenuated catastrophe, two contrasting characterizations are instructive. Jack, Rose’s low-class love interest, is depicted as a resourceful, decisive hero, while John Jacob Astor (once regarded as a hero because he was said to have enjoined the men of first class to don their evening clothes in the wee hours of their doom so that they might face death as gentlemen) is treated as a clueless, stumbling moron. In short, the engineers of capitalism are seen as cruel buffoons, while their “victims,” the proles, are the true exemplars of humanity.
I for one did not feel so unified after watching this movie. It was pretty to look at, but the main dish was unadulterated smarm.
Henry E. Blackwell
Fleming Island, Fla.