I couldn’t decide whether to call this Mind of the Peanut or the Devil is In the Details. Either way, here’s an interesting glimpse of the cranial gears of our worst ex-President: George C. Edwards III, “Exclusive Interview: President Jimmy Carter,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 1.GE:…You are known for your mastery of complex policy, and you are interested in the details of policy as a good policy analyst. Other presidents have been less interested in details. So let me ask you into how much detail should a president delve in making a decision?…
PRESIDENT CARTER: …Regarding the details, I am still an engineer by thought. You know, when I run my farm or when I run the Carter Center, I want to know what is going on. When I took on the personal responsibility, say for the Mideast peace process, I really believed that when we went to Camp David I knew more about the details than anybody there. I had mastered the psychological and historical analysis of Begin and Sadat. I knew everything they had done since they were born that was recorded, how they had reacted to crisis, how they dealt with pressure, who their allies were, and what their obligations were. So when we got to Camp David, I knew them, and I knew the map of the West Bank and Gaza.
…I did basically the same thing with the Alaska Lands bill. I knew the map of Alaska in great detail.
I read a lot. I would say I read an average of 300 pages a day. That is just something that I quantified years ago, so I am just not talking casually. I took a speed-reading course. I did, and about fifty other people did, from Evelyn Wood in the Cabinet Room within the first two months of my term. So I could read a lot….
GE: Another aspect of decision making, and another challenge for a president, is to get his advisors to tell him what he needs to hear as opposed to what they think he wants to hear. …How did you make sure that you heard the full range of options?…
PRESIDENT CARTER: …we had regular cabinet meetings…. We would go around the entire table, and I would encourage each secretary to tell me the most important things that affected their departments that we needed to discuss. …If the issue was complex and they required more than two or three minutes of exposition, I encouraged them to put it in writing and submit it to me. Those papers always came to me, and I relished the concise nature of their presentation. It required them to get their thoughts in order, and I was very much a stickler for not splitting infinitives and so forth.
And all those papers are in the presidential library now. I think the scholars that have been over to the presidential library to look at my notes have been impressed, I started to say overwhelmed, with the meticulous detail with which I would answer sometimes each paragraph in a complex proposal — I approve this, I do not approve this, see me about this, or explain this, and so forth.