Jimmy Carter wasn’t known for his great oratory, and he wasn’t well loved by his speechwriters, one of whom wrote soon after leaving the Carter White House that Carter “fails to project a vision larger than the problem he is tackling at the moment.” And Carter delivered one of the most maligned presidential speeches in history—the 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech, from the Oval Office.
But one Saturday afternoon in 1974 in Georgia, he did help talk his way into the presidency, with the delivery of what Hunter S. Thompson would come to call “king-hell bastard of a speech,” to a crowd of hostile lawyers.
The speech convinced Thompson to profile the Georgia governor for a Rolling Stone cover—thus helping put Carter on the map in the 1976 campaign.
Here’s the tale, which I’ve shared with audiences of many a speechwriting talk on the electrifying effects a speech can have.
Postscript: Another appreciation of the best of Jimmy Carter is the excellent documentary, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, which details the great extent to which Carter made use of popular music to bring soul to his campaign, and culture to his tenure in the White House. The documentary contains Carter’s chuckling recollection, “When Willie Nelson wrote his autobiography, he confessed that he smoked pot in the White House. And he says that his companion was one of the servants at the White House. It actually was one of my sons.”