'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?'
Jimmy Carter, America's 'Malaise,' and the Speech That Should Have Changed the Co
By Kevin Mattson
(Bloomsbury USA, Paperback, 9781608192069, 288pp.)
Publication Date: August 3, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
At a critical moment in Jimmy Carter's presidency, when morale was low and his ratings were even lower, Carter gave a speech that should have changed the country—instead, it led to his downfall. Kevin Mattson takes us behind the scenes of the Carter White House in the weeks leading up to the fateful speech, and examines the moral crisis that ushered in a new, conservative America.
Kevin Mattson is the Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University. He's the author of Rebels All!, When America Was Great, Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century, and Intellectuals in Action. He writes for the American Prospect, Dissent, the Nation, the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and many others.
“Kevin Mattson lays out the events of that summer [in 1979] like a big, rolling banquet … the historical ingredients are fascinating and first-rate … Mr. Mattson writes well about Mr. Carter’s staff and the intense jockeying that led up to the malaise speech.”—New York Times
“Despite a brief bump in the president’s approval ratings, the address became forever disparaged as the ‘malaise’ speech, and it doomed Carter’s reelection chances. That speech, history has concluded, was a huge mistake. Ohio University historian Kevin Mattson challenges that conclusion in his feisty new book … Chronicling the mood inside the White House and across the nation in the months surrounding the speech … Mattson offers a radically different reading [of the speech].”— Washington Post
“Mattson’s book describes how Carter came to deliver this sermon to an agitated population and how the speech became the turning point, or perhaps the crumbling point, of Carter’s presidency … Mattson has crafted an interesting story, in part simply because it is a window into an unforgettably embarrassing time in the national history.”—Roll Call
“Excellent… a cautionary tale and a great read … Those of us who were around back in the day will be ruefully reminded of those bygone times. And those who weren’t will be scratching their heads in disbelief at this fascinating and frequently improbable history.”—Wall Street Journal
“Mattson, a professor of contemporary history, reveals the behind-the-scenes machinations at the White House that led to the unprecedented summit Carter held at Camp David with ordinary citizens and leaders… Mattson makes a cogent argument that the speech’s words represented ‘some of the best that Carter offered the nation.’”—Booklist
“Mattson makes Carter’s maligned speech a touchstone for a rich retrospective and backhanded appreciation of the soul-searching ’70s.”—Publishers Weekly
“Mattson fully renders the motley array of Carter’s “Georgia Mafia,” along with countless details of this turbulent era in American history. A galloping history full of interesting characters and significant moments.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In ‘What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?’ Kevin Mattson revisits Jimmy Carter's speech delivered to a national audience on July 15, 1979. That address came to be known as the ‘malaise’ speech, though Carter never used the word. The President did mention ‘paralysis and stagnation and drift,’ but he also spoke of ‘strength’ and ‘a rebirth of the American spirit.’ Mattson offers a deep reading of the speech, placing it in the cultural and political contexts of the late 1970s. The result is an eye-opening inquiry into the power of words at a pivotal moment in history.”—Louis P. Masur, author of The Soiling of Old Glory
“Boldly and with great style, Kevin Mattson captures the political, social, and cultural events that shaped Jimmy Carter’s ‘Malaise’ speech of July 15, 1979. He reveals how events abroad and at home—in the White House, at gas stations, on TV, and in learned books—shaped an opportunity to confront the energy problem, which the nation avoided at its own peril.”—Daniel Horowitz, professor of American Studies at Smith College and author of The Anxieties of Affluence