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Former President Jimmy Carter

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He's the author of a number of books including a memoir about his boyhood, An Hour Before Daylight His latest is a memoir, Christmas in Plains (Simon & Schuster). Carter and his family has spent the last 48 Christmases in Plains, through out his Navy career, his stint as Governor and his tenure as President. The only exception was 1979 when American hostages were being held in Iran.


Other segments from the episode on December 5, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 5, 2001: Interview with Jimmy Carter; Interview with James Jeffords; Review of books for the holidays.


DATE December 5, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Former President Jimmy Carter discusses the war against
terrorism, the violence in the Middle East and his new memoir,
"Christmas in Plains"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The Christmas season has been affected by the threat of terrorism. The
is on alert. The White House is closed to tourists. My guest, Jimmy
spent two somber Christmases in the White House, in 1979 and 1980, when
Americans were held hostage in Iran. In his new memoir, Carter writes about
those Christmases, as well as those he spent in Plains, Georgia, as a child,
father and grandfather. His new book is called "Christmas in Plains."

Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the United States in 1977. He and
his wife, Rosalynn, now run the Carter Center, which works to prevent and
resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health around
the world.

I spoke with Jimmy Carter about the war against terrorism, the latest
in the Middle East and his new memoir. I asked him first, which was the
important part of Christmas when he was a child, the religious celebration
the gifts.

Former President JIMMY CARTER: Well, when I was a little boy, I have to
that the baby Jesus was not really involved in my negotiation between myself
and Santa Claus. I was mainly just concerned about gifts and just one kind
gift, and that was what came to me. And it was only as I began to mature as
teen-ager, I guess, that I began to think more about what I would give that
would bring pleasure to my sisters and my mother and father. And then
when I began to get interested in girls, I wanted my gift to be the best
that my potential sweetheart got, better than what all the other boys gave
her. So I think I changed from just wanting gifts of my own to gifts for
other folks.

And I have to say that the religious aspect of Christmas, although it was
of pounded into us in school and also in our churches, was not the

GROSS: When did the actual religious aspects of Christmas start entering
your life? When did you start taking that part seriously?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I started entering into it, you know, as a little child,
because I went to Sunday school and church from the time I was two, three

years old, and when we were in school for 11 years at Plains High School,
the way from the six-year-old to when I left to go off to the Navy. But I
have to say that, although that introduction to Christian faith was quite
persistent at this season from my earliest years, it didn't really have, you
know, a major impact on my life and my consciousness until I got old enough
realize that, although everybody has to accommodate changing times and
changing circumstances of existence, our own, and pleasure and success and
failure and fear and happiness and so forth, there are some things that
change, and I began to treasure my religious faith a lot more.

GROSS: President Bush decided not to allow Christmas tourists at the White
House this year because of terrorism, because of all the alerts. Now I
your last two Christmases in the White House were during the Iranian hostage
crisis. What did you want the public face of the White House to be at
Christmas during the hostage crisis?

Mr. CARTER: One of hope and unity. I think a lot of people may have
forgotten the ordeal through which our country went during those two
Christmases in 1979 and 1980. I would say that our nation was just as
obsessed with the hostages being held by the Iranians as they are now about
the terrorism that has affected our country. So we wanted to show that our
country was unified, that we were courageous in facing whatever came in the
future, but also that there was a special aspect of Christmas.

So one of the most dramatic things that happened to me when I was in the
House, I think the most popular thing that I ever did when I was in the
House, was when we were lighting the enormous tree on the oval between the
White House and the Washington Monument that year. And I guess millions of
people on television were watching as my daughter, Amy, threw the switch to
light the thousands of little lights on a tree. When she threw the switch,
there was a kind of gasp of astonishment, because not a single light was
illuminated except the Star of Hope, the Lord's star, on top of the tree.

So we left the mass of the tree dark, except for the top of the tree, where
the Star of Hope shown very brightly. And all the hostages' families had
assembled there and they were very grateful that this was a signal to our
country that we hadn't forgot about those hostages being held in prison in a
foreign country.

GROSS: The day after Christmas, I think this was in 1979, the Soviets moved
planeloads of troops into Afghanistan. Was this the very beginning of the

Mr. CARTER: It was the beginning. There were over 200 flights for troop
carriers that we monitored going into Kabul area. And this was when the
Soviets thought that they could go into Afghanistan, subdue those people,
establish a base in Afghanistan and then move down either through Iran or
Pakistan into the warm waters off the Indian Ocean eventually. And that had
been a dream of the Soviets for many years, even the Russians before the
Soviet Union was established. So this was a very serious threat to the
security of our country, not only to cut off oil supplies if they did take
those countries, but also because the Soviets would subdue these people.

So one of the decisions I had to make instantly was whether we should
the Afghanistan people actively or permit the Soviets to succeed. And I
immediately authorized the provision of weapons to go to the Freedom
in Afghanistan, and also announced to the Soviets and to the world that we
considered this a direct threat to the security of our country, and that we
would use all means, including nuclear weapons if necessary, to prevent the
Soviets from prevailing.

And, of course, it was the courage and the determination of a united Afghan
people then in opposing the Soviet invasion that made it possible for the
Soviets eventually to be forced out.

GROSS: You had criticized President Bush before September 11th. In July,
said that you'd been disappointed in almost everything he's done and that
thought he would be a moderate leader, but that he'd been strictly
to some of the more conservative members of his administration. My
is that you would hold back any criticisms now. Is that right? And why
you want to hold them back, if so?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I have not criticized President Bush, obviously, since
September 11th and I think that's a stance that all former presidents have
taken, not just me, and regardless of party. When a country is in conflict
and the president sheds his cloak of civilian administrator, basically, and
assumes a cloak of commander in chief, I think that requires full unanimity
among leaders, not just presidents, but governors and others, who put aside
concerns about the environment, who put aside concerns about other domestic
matters, so that we don't weaken with the negative comments the authority
the popular support of the people toward our commander in chief.

There are some things that concern me very much. For instance, I believe
the so-called military tribunal proposal, the holding of almost 1,000 people
without legal counsel and without charge or without visitation by their
families or even without identification--these are the kind of things that
challenge the basic principles of America, and they are of concern to me and
of many very conservative Republicans and a very many Democrats.

So I don't think we should just refrain completely from expressing our views
if we feel that constitutional principles are endangered by Attorney General
Ashcroft and the president. But as far as our military action is concerned,
think it's very important for us to express full support.

GROSS: Do you expect that the next step might be attacking Iraq? And is
something that you think would be wise?

Mr. CARTER: I don't know. As I say, I'm not being briefed. I don't know
what's going on in the administration. But I've seen a lot of news stories
about it. My own personal belief is that we would be making a serious
to launch attacks on other countries. We have held together a fragile,
cohesive group of world supporters for the very narrowly defined effort in
Afghanistan, although the Afghan leaders, the warlords and others, have said
they don't want American or British or Russian troops there on any sort of
permanent basis.

But I think if we should spread our military actions to include other
countries, Iraq or Iran or others, I think this would eliminate a lot of the
support that we have, even countries like Great Britain or France or
on whom we can rely in almost every circumstance. So I think it would be a
very serious mistake for us to attack Iraq.

GROSS: My guest is former President Jimmy Carter. He's written a new
It's called "Christmas in Plains." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Jimmy Carter is my guest. He has a new book. It's called
in Plains."

One of your greatest accomplishments in the White House was the Camp David
accords, which led to the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. And after this
weekend's suicide bombings, Israelis have retaliated in a series of actions,
including bombing symbols of Arafat's power. Actions have escalated. The
severity of the actions have escalated. What way out do you see of this
endless cycle?

Mr. CARTER: Well, when I went into office, the circumstances had been much
worse than they are now. Obviously, it's horrible to have 25 people killed,
as there were this past weekend, but we had had four wars in 25 years
primarily between Israel and Egypt in which thousands of people were killed
both sides. And luckily then, when I became president, I was able to bring
two very courageous and wise leaders together who were incompatible with
other, but they trusted me, Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat.

And so we worked out an agreement at Camp David that did a number of things.
One was we concluded a treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which
has been violated now in more than 22 years. And the second things was to
establish a framework for permanent peace between Israel and the
and Jordan and so forth.

GROSS: The two parts of the peace treaty that you mentioned, Israel pulling
out of West Bank and Gaza and the Palestinians recognizing Israel's right to
exist and ending violence--both of those terms have not been fulfilled.
Neither side has really fulfilled those terms. And Israelis will say they
can't pull out of the West Bank and Gaza because of the suicide bombings.
Palestinians will say, `Well, the suicide bombings are because Israel has
built more settlements, and they've continued to occupy the West Bank and
Gaza.' So each side is continuing to point the finger to the other side as
being responsible for the escalation in violence.

As somebody who has tried to negotiate many peaces, how do you get out of a
situation like that, where both sides are confident it's the other side's
fault, and meanwhile, the violence and the strikes just escalate?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I've written a book pretty much based on my personal goal
as a mediator or negotiator. The book is called "Talking Peace." It was
written primarily for college students and others who study mediation or
negotiation. We have to remember that the basic principles of a dispute or
violence or conflict are the same, whether they exist between a husband and
wife or between parents and children or among students on a college campus
between two nations at war. And the principles by which you resolve or
prevent a conflict are also the same, whether it's inside a family or
two countries. And those involve the realization by both sides, first of
that they cannot prevail with violence, and that might take a long time to
come. Once it does reach a point where both antagonists say, `I cannot
prevail on the battlefield. I cannot prevail through violence. What can we
do about it?' then they can turn to a trusted negotiator or mediator who has
to be trusted by both sides.

Then in the negotiating process, every time either side makes a concession,
they have to be convinced that what they concede is less than the benefit
they're going to get. And you do it step by step, with full honesty toward
both sides. And then at the end, if you are successful, both sides have to
feel that they have won--in other words, a win-win solution. Unless that
happens, any sort of agreement, for instance as was worked out in Oslo in
1993, will be temporary. And the global community can play a major role,
either taking a solution, an agreement directly to the United Nations
Council so that if either country violates that agreement, they'll be
stigmatized and maybe punished or awarded if they do comply.

I think in this case now we'll have to just wait until both sides have
who have the trust of their people and who come to the realization, as I've
just described maybe in too many words, that the violence is not going to
prevail, and...

GROSS: Are you saying that there's never going to be a peace agreement
Sharon and Arafat are in power?

Mr. CARTER: Well, Sharon and Arafat could change their attitude of
because I think that Menachem Begin had been known as a terrorist by people
his earlier days--he headed an organization called Irgun. And I remember
his group set off a bomb in the King David Hotel that killed 96 people,
innocent people. But he came to the conviction that he would accurately
represent the Israeli people's will and desires by making some concessions
by agreeing with Anwar Sadat. And although the Egyptians had attacked
in effect, four times, as I said earlier, in 25 years, he came to the
conviction that it was best for Egypt to get along with Israel, at least to
stop the war.

So people can change, and that comes at a time when the leaders and their
people trust each other, and they become convinced that peace, even with
concessions and with admissions that you may have made a mistake in the
is worth an honest pursuit.

GROSS: I would like to wish you a merry Christmas, but it strikes me not
exactly as a merry period, and I'm wondering what language you're using when
you're sending your best sentiments about Christmas this year. Are you
the word `merry'?

Mr. CARTER: Well, we're sending a message of a peaceful Christmas, a
Christmas filled with love, wishing for harmony among people and families
have different faiths. So I think this year it's more of a wish for peace
love than it is for happiness or merriment.

One of the things that I have described in "Christmas in Plains" is how we
have to accommodate those times of sadness or distress or sometimes maybe
fear or sorrow when we've lost a loved one right before Christmas. We can't
be expecting happiness or merriment or celebration, except the celebration
things, as I said earlier in the program, that never change that are
to us.

But one of the things that Rosa and do nowadays, since we've got, I think,
members in our family, is to try to bring together all the members of our
family at least once a year. So over a period of years, as a I describe in
the book, we've carved out for ourselves the week after Christmas. So on
27th of December each year, we gather our whole family together and we go
somewhere that's attractive enough to bring the grandkids along with us.
And our children and our grandchildren who have jobs save up their vacation
time for those few days, and we all to some interesting place. Rosa and I
generally try to pay all the bills. We save up our frequent-flier miles to
pay the transportation. And we just get reacquainted. So I think in that
respect, no matter what the outside world is doing, the Carter Center still
preserves the essence of Christmas.

GROSS: Boy, I bet you get a lot of frequent-flier miles through your work
with the Carter Center, traveling around the world.

Mr. CARTER: You'd be amazed at how many frequent-flier miles...

GROSS: You're a member of all the VIP clubs.

Mr. CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: Do you fly first class with the miles most of the time?

Mr. CARTER: Well, we actually buy tickets tourist class, but Delta Airlines
is nice enough to me and Rosa so that when they have a vacancy, two vacant
seats--they don't have first class, they have business class--they most of
time elevate us to a higher status.

But one of the things that I have done ever since I left the White House is
every time I get on a plane to travel anywhere, a commercial plane--as you
know, I don't have Air Force One anymore--I go back and shake hands with
everybody on the plane before we take off. And it's a very pleasant thing
me, and I meet a lot of old friends there and people that share experiences
with me.

And the flights that I took immediately after the September 11th tragedy,
I did this, there were four rounds of applause that I did it. At first,
I told Rosalynn about it, she said--I thought that they were just glad to
me. And she said, `Jimmy, what they were glad to see was the Secret Service
on the plane with you.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARTER: But I enjoy doing that, and I think that kind of brings out
just something of the spirit of Christmas.

GROSS: I wish you a good Christmas and, like you, hopes for peace this
So thank you very, very much for talking with us.

Mr. CARTER: Well, I've always enjoyed being on your program. It's a great

GROSS: Oh, thank you so much. And good luck with everything, all the work
you do.

Mr. CARTER: Thanks.

GROSS: Thank you.

Jimmy Carter has written a new memoir. It's called "Christmas in Plains."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont explains why he defected
from the Republican Party last spring, depriving the party of control of the
Senate. That decision is the subject of Jeffords' new memoir.

And book critic Maureen Corrigan recommends some books for holiday gifts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Jim Jeffords discusses why he decided to switch
political parties, changing the party leadership of the Senate

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

SINGING SENATORS: (Singing) God bless America, land that I love. Stand
beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above. From
the mountains...

GROSS: That's the former Singing Senators--John Ashcroft, Larry Craig,
Lott and my guest Jim Jeffords. They're not in harmony anymore. Last May,
Jim Jeffords defected from the Republican Party, saying that he found
in increasing disagreement with his party and that it had become a struggle
for its leaders to deal with him and for him to deal with them. When he
became an Independent, he took control of the Senate away from the
Republicans. He explains himself in his new memoir, "My Declaration of

Jeffords first went to Washington as one of the few new Republican
elected to the House after Watergate. He served 12 years in the Senate as a
Republican. Jeffords strongly disagrees with President Bush on tax and
spending issues. He says that when he left the party, he opposed the
president's plan to cut taxes by $1.6 trillion and refused to vote for it
unless $200 billion was set aside for special education. I asked Senator
Jeffords if he could describe the moment when he said to himself, `I can't
a Republican anymore.'

Senator JIM JEFFORDS (Independent, Vermont): The level of funding for
education had been increased by $450 billion in the budget--that's the
budget--and we were excited about that. And we had worked hard and the
moderates had grouped together and been able to forge that huge increase in
educational funding. But then when it left the Senate and they held a
conference, which normally you think a conference you get--well, the present
education conference has about 40 members, I think, in it--you think they're
going to sit down and deliberate and reach some compromises. But when they
come back, they had zeroed it out, all $450 billion was gone. And I said,
`Well, let's see. How did this happen?'

Well, I took a look at what had happened, and discovered that there were
six members on the conference committee, and because the Republicans had
control of the House and Senate, they had four of their members and there
just two Democrats. So they just sat down and said, `To heck with this
moderate stuff. We'll just wipe it out and send it back.' And so when we
that back, all $450 billion was gone. Well, then I said, `Wait a minute. I
mean, that's brutal. We can't allow that to happen.'

And I analyzed what the situation was and found out that because a very
unusual situation had occurred in our country--first of all, for the first
time since the 1880s, we had an even balance in the Senate, and that also
the Republicans had control both of the House and Senate for the first time
since the '50s during the Eisenhower days, and this gave them total control.

And then I also analyzed it and said, `Well, that's true. That's because
50-50, but that gives the power to any one senator to change that balance of
power one way or the other by just walking across the aisle. In fact, I
that statement and it got picked up, which I wished I'd delayed it perhaps.
So that indicated to me that, `You ought to seriously consider whether or
you should switch parties, because right now the moderates are dead. They
were shot dead by this conference committee. They might just as well have
stayed home.' And I felt that it was important to change that balance.

But just as importantly, I also understood that if I didn't do it, if you
power to do something and then you analyze it and say, `I've got the power,'
and then you say, `I'm not going to do it. I don't want to do it. I don't
have the courage to do it,' whatever, then you're responsible for everything
follows from that. And under the circumstances we have today with things
missile defense systems and all going forward--and it was billions of
and all those things--then the thought of improving funding for education
all would be gone. And so I just said, `Well, there's only one thing I can
do. It's got to be changed. I can change it and I will change it.'

GROSS: Are you usually given to that kind of grand gesture?

Sen. JEFFORDS: Well, I am when it's necessary. I have entered public life
not to be a public servant but to get things done and to take opportunities
when they're available to change things, to put my design and hopefully
would agree with me to make things better in this nation. And the top
I have from the years I've been here is education.

GROSS: Of course, the Republicans wanted to prevent you from switching
What did Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott try to do to keep you from

Sen. JEFFORDS: Well, they had a hard time trying to figure out just what to
do. They just tried to play it tough and indicate that I would pay dearly
I did such a thing. And, of course, it was kind of counterintuitive,
if they didn't have me in there, they'd have a little tough time doing
anything to me. But the pressure was very severe as to, `How you could
possibly do this. One person, do you think you can accept the
of changing parties and change the whole government?' This would be the
time ever that, outside of an election, the power of a nation was changed.
And, you know, that's a pretty solemn thing to look at and to decide to do.
Well, so were not the consequences of the failure to do it. And I weighed
consequences of failing to change parties and to change the balance of power
much more vital for this nation, and I took the responsibility, and
fortunately the large percentage of this nation agreed with me.

GROSS: What were some of the carrots and the sticks the Republicans tried
use to keep you a Republican?

Sen. JEFFORDS: I don't think there was anything really offered to me early
enough to make any difference. Right towards the end, when a number of the
moderates--this was the most trying part of the whole thing--was when John
Warner and other moderates came to me and asked me if I would sit down with
them, and they tried to influence me into not to change parties. And one of
the suggestions, or one thing they would agree to do, and that was to make
part of the power structure in the sense of sitting down and deciding on
to do by putting a moderate in sort of the kitchen cabinet. But that was
far gone by that point and that wouldn't have made the difference either.
They talked about giving me, you know, the chairmanship, extending my
chairmanship, because under the rules of the Republicans at that time, you
it just for six years, and then you'd have to move on, and I was in my sixth
year. And then Trent knew that my son--well, of course, my Leonard had been
with us Singing Senators and all and knew that Leonard was a good
conservative. And he called Leonard to see if he could put any pressure on
me. And those are the kind of things that happened, but nothing draconian

GROSS: How did your son react to the attempt to get him to pressure you?

Sen. JEFFORDS: Well, he knew enough not to try to do anything, other than
did counsel me that he strongly objected to what I was doing. And then he
jokingly said that they would name their first kid Reagan Nixon. So that
somewhat in jest, but it did send a rather strong message of how important
was to him that I stay where I was.

GROSS: What did President Bush say to you to try to convince you to stay in
the Republican Party?

Sen. JEFFORDS: Well, he just wanted me to understand that--make sure that
knew I understood the ramifications of what I was doing and the importance
was to him and the administration for us all to work together and try to
things out without having to go through the throes of me leaving the party.
But I told him that we were beyond that position. I'd tried everything.
then I did also relate to him what his father had said, and I just very
candidly told him I thought he was on a course of being a one-way--I mean, a
one-term president and that I would hope that he would listen to the
and hopefully save his presidency.

GROSS: My guest is Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. He's written a new
memoir called "My Declaration of Independence" about his decision to leave
Republican Party. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Last May he defected
from the Republican Party, changing the balance of power in the Senate. And
his book about that decision is called "My Declaration of Independence."

Shortly after your defection, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said,
got to leave a bit early today. I've got to go mow Jim Jeffords' lawn.'
the Democrats do anything to entice you to leave the Republican Party?

Sen. JEFFORDS: They listened to me. That's basically what it took. Also I
had an obligation to my staff in that the professional people I had with me
who had come to be with me and dedicated a good portion of their lives to
effect, to make sure that they were taken care of in the sense of given jobs
which they would be able to produce, and to be able to hopefully come along
that the transition would be one which would be smooth. The majority leader
and all were very, very helpful in that regard.

GROSS: Did the closeness of the election last year influence your decision?

Sen. JEFFORDS: Yes, it certainly did. When you had to take a look at the
results and determine whether there was a mandate--and I think that
Bush here made the same mistake that I think Clinton did, too, that you come
in with just a few-vote margin, and all of a sudden you think you have a
mandate to push through a huge agenda and not to expect to have problems
it. It's just illusionary.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you would have made the switch from the Republican
Party after September 11th.

Sen. JEFFORDS: Oh, definitely. September 11th did change things,
in this country and many issues about it didn't change my belief that we had
to have moderation and balance in our political system, especially that's
when you have the dire circumstances on which September 11th gave us.

GROSS: What are the differences for you in day-to-day life in the Senate
between being an Independent and being part of a party?

Sen. JEFFORDS: Not much, because for all practical purposes, I'm a
and under most social situations, in meetings and all that, so there is
no differences, except that they know that I stand there as an Independent
organizational matters. And if for whatever reason the Democrats should
their process, why, I could well vote against them. And I have on occasion
voted against the Democrats on the selection of Cabinet personnel as I
very strongly that the president in power ought to have a Cabinet that as
as they're honest and forthright that will help he or she to be able to get
their work done and to have the people with them that they should have. So
have once and probably will again, twice, upset them by allowing an
to go through that would have failed if I hadn't.

GROSS: During the anthrax scare, when offices were being evacuated and shut
down, how close did it get to your office?

Sen. JEFFORDS: Well, quite close. We were in the Hart Building on the same
floor, but sort of the opposite position diagonally in the building, so we
didn't have the closeness that led to any anthrax being found. But I found
that I had been using an elevator to get to my office, because it was
convenient, and found out that that had, so I had to go on Cipro. And so
danger was there, but not as it was in some other areas.

GROSS: Are you still on the Cipro?


GROSS: Side effects?

Sen. JEFFORDS: No, so far.

GROSS: Good.

Sen. JEFFORDS: I've got an iron stomach, I guess, with all of the things
warn me about, and nothing's happened.

GROSS: Were you afraid to come to work?

Sen. JEFFORDS: No. I'm one of those people that doesn't get scared very
easily, and sometimes stupidly I don't get scared. But maybe that was one
those times, but I didn't have any problems.

GROSS: Now you used to sing with John Ashcroft in the Singing Senators

Sen. JEFFORDS: Yes, that was fun.

GROSS: When did you stop...

Sen. JEFFORDS: I sang...

GROSS: Go ahead.

Sen. JEFFORDS: No, we formed that and, in fact, I sort of the starter of it
way back when we went to a birthday party for Bob Smith, I guess it was.
I just happened to notice that the four of us arrived at the same time--you
know, three of us then. And we all started harmonizing. And I thought that
sounded pretty good. And we had another birthday party. Somebody--I think
publicity man--decided, why not bring in Roll Call? So Roll Call came, took
our pictures singing "Happy Birthday" to Mark Hatfield, and it was in the
front page of Roll Call. And then the next thing we know, we got a call
the Kennedy Center that a group wanted us to come to the Kennedy Center. So
then we went to the Kennedy Center. And then C-SPAN picked it up and ran
and then CNN picked it up and ran it. And then next thing we knew, we were
the "Today" show and we were off. That was a kind of a meteoric beginning.
And it was unfortunately--the travesty that occurred, that when I decided
I wasn't going to support Larry Craig and just wanted to vote for his
opponent, all of a sudden the Singing Senators were no more.

GROSS: Because you were breaking rank.

Sen. JEFFORDS: Yes. That was...

GROSS: And because you were voting against one of the singers.

Sen. JEFFORDS: I was voting against one of the singers, who had an
position, and that was the end of it. I didn't know it at the time. In
I had to chase them around, because we also had grouped with the Oak Ridge
Boys, and that had given us a little bit of momentum and some justification
for singing. And that had proved to be wonderful. We had sang with them
several times, and wonderful times doing that. And then all of a sudden I
heard they were in town at the inauguration, and I was looking around for
them. And my office kept asking about where they were, and we got double
all the time. And finally walked into a reception with my daughter-in-law,
and there they were, three of them, singing with the Oak Ridge Boys. Well,
she told me, `You get down there and you jump right on that stage,' and so I
did, and I went up on the stage, and all the three Oaks came over and
surrounded me, and hugged me and we had a great time singing. And I saw
very forlorn faces in the background not anticipating that I was going to
them. But it was kind of a high point.

GROSS: Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. His new memoir is called "My
Declaration of Independence." Here's more from the Singing Senators.

(Soundbite of song)

SINGING SENATORS: (Singing) This is my country, land of my birth. This is
country, grandest on Earth. I pledge thee my allegiance. America the bold.
For this is my country, to have and to hold. You're a grand old flag,
a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave. You're the emblem of
the land of love, the home of the free and the brave. Every heart beats
for the red, white and blue, where there's never a boast or brag. Should
acquaintance be forgot, keep your eyes on the grand old flag. Every

GROSS: The former Singing Senators. Coming up, some gift ideas for the
holidays from our book critic Maureen Corrigan. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Holiday book list featuring New York

In the wake of September 11th, everyone is saying that this holiday season
will be different, perhaps more reflective and more meaningful, perhaps more
somber. Consequently, book critic Maureen Corrigan suggests a literary gift
list for this particular holiday season that features the cityscape so many
Americans associate with Christmas, which was radically changed this year.


The North Pole excepted, New York City has long reigned as Christmas

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the tree lighting ceremony in
Rockefeller Center are televised nationally. "Miracle on 34th Street" is
probably outranked only by "It's a Wonderful Life" as the most beloved
movie of all time. And the most popular Christmas poem, "The Night Before
Christmas," was written in 1823 by a New Yorker, Clement Clarke Moore.
Because Christmas is fused with New York City and because at this awful
in our history so many Americans find themselves saying, `I love New York,'
with new or rediscovered fervor, I want to suggest a bunch of books about
York for this holiday season's gift list. What they've all got in common is
fascination with the New York City skyline, a skyline that's served as a
projection screen in stone for people's dream and occasional nightmares ever
since it first began to rise.

"Manhattan Unfurled" is an elegant illustrated book that came out a few
after September 11th. It consists of two 22-foot-long black and white line
drawings of the East and West Sides of Manhattan by Matteo Pericoli, an
Italian architect and illustrator. When you open "Manhattan Unfurled,"
drawings expand outward, accordion style, so that you experience the skyline
of Manhattan as you never could in actuality--not in segments only as wide
your eye can see, but as an uninterrupted banner of buildings. Beginning in
1998, Pericoli rode the Circle Line boat tour and bicycled up and down
Riverside Park and the Hudson River in New Jersey. He drew the Manhattan
skyline seven blocks at a time on a rolled scroll he carried with him.

The result, says New Yorker/architectural critic Paul Goldberger, who's
written an essay included with the book, is a kind of chorus line. `These
buildings,' Goldberger says, `don't move in unison. This is not a
well-trained chorus line, which would be deadly. But they can't seem to
dancing.' Looked at now, "Manhattan Unfurled" has an unintended Elijahic
quality, given that the World Trade Center towers punctuates both the East
West Side drawings.

Every New York memoir worth its kosher salt has a scene in which the main
character comprehends with awe the New York skyline for the first time. The
most famous New York memoir of all time, the one that set the standard for
skyline writing, is Alfred Kazin's "A Walker in the City," written in 1951.
Emulating his fellow Brooklynite, Walt Whitman, the young Kazin wrote
yearningly of the shining vista of Manhattan beyond, beyond the tenements
pickle stores of his Brownsville neighborhood.

But the memoir that gets my Big Apple award for the most moving skyline
passage is Pete Hamil's 1994 best-seller "A Drinking Life." Hamil, of
is the dean of a dying breed: the up-from-the-streets New York newspaper
poet. In "A Drinking Life," he recalls living in Brooklyn as a kid during
World War II. On the evening of D-Day, he and his neighbors went up to the
roofs of their apartment buildings. Here's what Hamil says happened as

`The skyline disappeared as it did every night during the war. And then,
without warning, the entire skyline of New York erupted into glorious
light--dazzling, glittering, throbbing in triumph. And the crowds on the
rooftops roared. The whole city roaring for light. There it was, gigantic
and brilliant, the way they said it used to be. The skyline of New York
again, on D-Day, at the command of Mayor La Guardia. And it wasn't just the
skyline. Over on the left was the Statue of Liberty, glowing green from
of light beams. The skyline and the statue. In all those years of the war,
in all those years of my life, I had never seen either of them at night. I
stood there in the roar transfixed.'

To read that passage now, to experience that longed-for return of a missing
skyline, well, for a moment, Hamil's words make me imagine what that miracle
would be like.

The book to read to find out how the modern New York skyline, as well as so
much else about the city came to be, is Ann Douglas' 1995 masterpiece
"Terrible Honesty." It specifically talks about the distinctly masculine
skyscraper architecture of the 1920s, along with the unprecedented
of black and white culture during that decade.

Much less ambitious, but also interesting, is a chatty new book called "Down
42nd Street" by Marc Eliot that charts the transformations of the buildings
that street, a street that Eliot dubs the crossroads of the world from the
Revolutionary era to its Disneyfied present.

And thinking of Disney makes me think, of course, of kids, who should always
have the gift of a special book for the holidays. One book about New York
its amazing landscape that appeals to children of various ages is "My New
York" by the folk artist Kathy Jakobsen. The minimal story line is really
just an excuse for Jakobsen's dazzling illustrations. There are the subway
tunnels under Chelsea, the tenements of Chinatown, Central Park, the turrets
of the Plaza Hotel in winter, Fourth of July fireworks over New York Harbor,
and my three-year-old daughter's personal favorite, the pop-up picture of
Empire State Building.

The last time we traveled up to the city was the weekend of September 9th.
were driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and my daughter began
shrieking with excitement when she spotted the vision of Lower Manhattan
the East River. I remember saying to her, as I always have when we've made
that trip, `There's New York. It's the most beautiful sight in the world.'

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. Her
list of books about New York can be found on our Web site,
I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Ella Fizgerald: (Singing) Autumn in New York, why does it seem so
inviting? Autumn in New York, it spells the thrill of first nighting.
Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel. They're making
me feel I'm home. It's autumn in New York...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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