It is always surprising, and a bit sad when one sees another supposedly decent, mature, and thoughtful human being do something out of character beneath his standing. Usually, he or she, ends up besmirching themselves rather than the object of their metaphorical knifing they scorn.
Such is the case with Stu Eizenstat, President Jimmy Carter’s brilliant domestic policy advisor. In the waning days of the Ford Administration
during the transition to the incoming Carterites, Eizenstat was a strong advocate for federal protection of Hells Canyon.
He has just published an excellent book focused primarily on the two years he spent on the Carter campaign and his four years in the White House. To his credit he does not sugar-coat anything — gives credit where credit is due (he could have more generously shared credit), admits both his mistakes and the President’s.
It was disappointing then to see him take an unfair, undeserved shot at the late great Idaho Senator Frank Church. The item came out when Eizenstat was helping Charles Kirbo, a Carter consiglieri, vet potential Carter running mates.
It was common knowledge that Carter’s list was down to three: Church, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale. According to Eizenstat, Church was standing around with a group of Georgians “bragging” about an extended family connection with a southerner: Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, the man who split Georgia in half and burned Atlanta to the ground. He is still one of the most reviled figures in Georgia history.
The group took Church seriously and that was it. Rather than realize that it was possibly a poor effort at a bit of humor that went awry, they put the worst possible spin on it.
Anyone who knew Frank Church, knows he knew all there is to know about the Civil War. Furthermore, while Verda Barnes was around as the Senator’s chief of staff there were damn few mistakes made.
When asked about the alleged instance, Garry Wenske, executive director of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State, instantly denied it: “Not true, it never happened,” Winske stated.
Another Church staffer disputed several other facts put forth by Eizenstat. According to him the interview took place at the 1976 Democratic Convention in New York, not in Plains, and the interview was a courtesy gesture to the senior Idaho senator which he saw through right away. Given Church’s entry into the Ohio primary, which some pundits candidly viewed as a not so subtle bid to be Carter’s running mate, if true there was obviously no quid pro quo.
Despite his disappointment in being passed over, Church, unlike Eizenstat, held no grudge. At the cost of his own career, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, he guided to a one-vote victory Carter’s Panama Treaty revisions.
For several years after the pre-ordained interview was a bomb, the joke around the Senator’s office was that chief of staff Mike Wetherell blew the Senator’s chances when he stepped on Roslyn Carter’s feet while maneuvering for a photo prior to the interview starting.
So what was Church’s real sin in Stu’s eyes? It was this: Frank Church dared to run against and defeat a couple of times Jimmy Carter during his relentless march to the presidency.
As another Georgian explained to me: Anyone who knew Jimmy Carter knew that anyone on the list who had run against Carter had a snowball’s chance in hell of being selected.
Be honest, Stu, was it really necessary 42 years later to stick it to Frank Church? Even if true what did you or President Carter gain by dredging this one up?