The year after the 1980 presidential election, Kenneth Kline, a political buff from Mogadore, Ohio, took it upon himself to send two hundred notables of the day a questionnaire asking why Jimmy Carter had lost so overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan. Kline's cover letter observed that only four years earlier, Carter had seemed the perfect elixir for the political ills afflicting the nation during the 1970s, when Americans, wounds still raw from the trauma of Vietnam, sat transfixed by their television sets watching the Nixon administration unravel.1 By 1976, America's bicentennial year, a nation disheartened by political corruption capped by a presidential pardon wanted to believe in Jimmy Carter, a devout Evangelical Christian who promised “to make government as good as its people.” Goodness, apparently, was not enough.

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Carter's personal probity, religiosity, and good intentions by themselves were not tantamount...

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