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Five years later . . . another view of Carter

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``Having seen a different president with a different philosophy wrestle with the same problems, people may have a better understanding of the things Jimmy Carter faced,'' comments Jody Powell, White House press spokesman during the Carter administration. ``And people who were upset with Carter in 1980 because he was too conservative have now seen what the hard right looks like.''

The press, which tended to be sharply critical of Mr. Carter while he was in office, is also doing some reappraising. A spate of articles has appeared this past year in various periodicals, including Time magazine.

Frye Gaillard, who wrote a five-part series on the Carter presidency for the Charlotte Observer, recalls how he came to undertake the project. He went to cover a speech given by Carter at Wingate College. The small Baptist institution is on the edge of Monroe, N.C., the hometown of ultraconservative Republican Sen. Jesse Helms and, as he relates, ``hardly a bastion of liberalism.''

It was a cold night in February, says Mr. Gaillard. Yet the auditorium, which seats 2,000, was filled to overflowing. The reception for Carter was so warm that the reporter felt prompted to check if this was happening elsewhere in the country. He found it was -- at colleges in Connecticut, Dallas, and Minnesota, according to newspaper accounts.

``So a case can be made that a reassessment is going on in the hinterlands,'' Gaillard says.

Academic research on the Carter presidency is also providing new insights. The White Burkett Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has concluded a 3,000-page oral study of the Carter White House based on interviews with some 60 people. Three scholars are writing monographs about Carter based on this valuable raw material.

``What emerges from the oral history is that [White House] actions that seemed to reflect disorder and confusion at the time now seem to have a more rational basis,'' says Kenneth W. Thompson, director of the center.

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