Carter, Jimmy

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Jimmy Carter

Richard S. Kirkendall

JIMMY CARTER was an unlucky president. He came to power shortly after the American failure in Vietnam and the Watergate scandals. Since the late 1960s, a "leadership crisis," characterized by widespread, deep, and serious lack of confidence in the leaders the system supplied, had been a major feature of American politics. Also before he became president, an "energy crisis" and other economic troubles had emerged, raising doubts about the future of American power and prosperity. Carter was highly sensitive to these developments and shared the skepticism about "Washington" contained in them. Yet, he had confidence that his own personal qualities could end the leadership crisis. That confidence, coupled with a sense of the limits of power, dominated his approach to the presidency. But, faced with an unusually tough situation, he did not end the crisis. In fact, the American people, many of them convinced that he was weak and lacked direction, gave him only one term to reestablish confidence.

James Earl Carter, Jr., rose to office from a background that, though somewhat varied, was, compared with that of most presidents, quite narrow. The most obvious limitation was lack of previous experience in Washington.

Carter was a southerner, the first one since before the Civil War who had come to the presidency by election. He came from the small-town Southfrom Plains, Georgia, where he was born on 1 October 1924the first of four children of Earl and Lillian Carter. A native southerner, Earl was a successful farmer-businessman active in public affairs.

Prior to the presidency, the United States Navy gave Carter his only extended experience outside the South. Following graduation from the segregated public school in Plains and two years at Georgia Southwestern and Georgia Tech, he entered the United States Naval Academy in 1943, an institution that stressed discipline and engineering. A strong student, he graduated in 1946 in the top 10 percent of his class. After marrying Rosalynn Smith of Plains on 7 July, he served as a naval officer until October 1953, mostly in the submarine service, including the nuclear program headed by Hyman Rickover, a man Carter admired greatly.

Following his father's death, Carter returned home to look after the family farm and business, which specialized in peanuts. The business prospered but did not dominate his attention. He became active in public affairs, serving, for example, on the Sumter County Board of Education from 1956 to 1962. In the last year, he was elected to the state senate, where he served successfully for four years, devoting much attention to education. Civil rights was the most prominent issue at the time, but he continued to support segregation and largely avoided the controversy.

In 1966, Carter suffered his first serious failure, and it affected him significantly. He failed in a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Depressed, he turned to religion for comfort. Raised a Baptist, he now became much more intense, convinced that he had been "born again."

In 1970, in his second bid for the governorship, Carter succeeded, and for the next four years, he presided over the state's affairs. He embraced a quite eclectic philosophy with a strong conservative bent, especially on fiscal matters, though he liked to present himself as a populist, the representative of the common people against the establishment and the special interests. Proposing a large agenda of welfare reform, educational advance, budget reform, and other matters, he emphasized government reorganization in hopes of making government operate more efficiently and effectively, and he achieved some success. Also eager to promote economic growth, he cooperated with business leaders. And he demonstrated a new, though cautious, interest in reforming race relations.

Campaign for the Presidency

Ambitious and self-confident, Carter decided well before his term as governor ended to run for the presidency in 1976. To strengthen himself for the race, he became better informed on international affairs and better acquainted with certain elites and joined the prestigious Trilateral Commission. He also broke with George Wallace and in other ways improved his image on race relations.

Not a man of national prominence and power, the Georgian surprised the nation by gaining the nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention in New York. Behind this victory lay strenuous and successful participation in the now numerous primaries throughout the nation. His campaign, which began early in 1975, stressed Washington's defects and his own virtues, not specific issues or a clearly defined ideology. He sensed a widespread yearning for change in leadership and great distrust of and skepticism about established leaders. He tried to persuade the disenchanted that he had the personality and values the situation demanded. He was moral and intelligent, tough yet compassionate. Carter defeated George Wallace in southern primaries, suggesting that the Georgian could solve what had become a major problem for his party, the breakup of the once-solid South. Other candidates had crowded the field, including Senator Henry Jackson of Washington, Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona, and Governor Jerry Brown of California, but one by one they had dropped out as Carter established himself as a winner who could reestablish Democratic control of the White House.

In midsummer, Carter and his vice presidential candidate, Walter Mondale of Minnesota, seemed likely to win the election by a wide margin, but President Gerald Ford gained ground rapidly. He took advantage of his incumbency, spending much of the campaign period in the White House "being president." He attacked his foe as inexperienced, inconsistent, unclear, misguided, and liberal, and charged that the big-spending Democratic Congress was the major source of inflation. He pointed with pride to his record, arguing that no Americans were fighting a war, tension between the United States and the Soviet Union had been reduced, employment was increasing, and inflation was declining. Several blunders, including a statement that the Soviet Union did not dominate Eastern Europe, and Ronald Reagan's less than full support, however, hampered Ford's progress.

Against Ford, Carter did not function as effectively as he had against his Democratic foes. He stressed government reorganization, the reduction of unemployment, the continuation and expansion of government services, tax reform, and fiscal responsibility. He would, he suggested, be both compassionate and frugal. He made much of Ford's shortcomings as a leader. Above all, he emphasized his own virtues and his freedom from the sins of the past, and promised moral regeneration. Although he did not work closely with the Democratic party, he benefited from its strengths and the weakness of the Republicans in the post-Nixon era. Economic troubles also helped him. But doubts about him as a southerner and a born-again Baptist hurt him, especially among liberals, Catholics, and Jews. And his own blunders, especially an unfortunate interview with Playboy magazine and the harshness of his attack on Ford, did some damage, raising doubts that he was as good as he suggested. The interview hurt him because of the reputation of the magazine and the nature of the matters discussed, including an appraisal of Lyndon Johnson as a person who had lied, cheated, and distorted the truth and Carter's own opinions about religion and sex. In expressing them, Carter used the terms "shacks up" and "screws" and admitted that he had "committed adultery in my heart many times." Mixed in their views of Ford as a person and as a leader, many voters found Carter puzzlingeven contradictoryand untested.

Carter only squeaked through to victory, with a popular vote of 40.8 million to Ford's 39.1 million and an electoral vote of 297 to 240. On election day, the liberals preferred him to Ford, and his fellow southerners gave him more than half of their votes, sharply reversing the southern trend away from Democratic presidential candidates that had been evident for several years. (Many southerners, he has since suggested, yearned for "political redemption.") Catholics and organized labor gave him more support than they had given George McGovern four years before; most Jews stayed with the Democratic party; and more than 90 percent of black voters, including the large number in the South, supported Carter, offsetting the white majority for Ford. Carter carried nearly every southern state and several large northern and midwestern states, pulling back many Democrats who had deserted McGovern but not demonstrating as much strength as pre-McGovern Democrats had shown. Much more successful in the congressional elections, his party maintained control of Congress by wide margins.

At the outset of his administration, Carter's position was not substantially stronger than Ford's had been. He had been elected rather than appointed to office and did not have to contend with a Congress controlled by the opposition party, but he had won by only a narrow margin, 50.1 percent to 48 percent, and turnout had been low, with only 54 percent of the eligible voters going to the polls.

The Outsider in Washington

Early on, Carter devoted much of his energy to building popular support. He made great efforts to demonstrate that he was a "people's president," not an "imperial" one. He preached against the sin of pride and spoke of his own limitations. As one commentator observed, he sought in a variety of ways to dramatize "the qualities of morality, frugality, simplicity, candor and compassion for which the voters had been searching." He hoped to restore confidence in government as well as to establish confidence in himself; he cultivated "the people" rather than "the interests," suggesting that the former were good, the latter bad. He relied heavily on both television and direct contacts to accomplish these objectives. And he seemed quite successful.

At the same time and although Carter had campaigned as an "outsider," a critic of America's leadership of the recent past, he drew into his administration people with experience, including experience in Washington. Cyrus Vance became secretary of state; Harold Brown, secretary of defense; James Schlesinger, presidential assistant for energy; and Joseph Califano, secretary of health, education, and welfare. The president also courted business executives, appointing W. Michael Blumenthal as secretary of the treasury. Corporate law, as usual, was also well represented, this time by Vance, Califano, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Roberts Harris, and Attorney General Griffin Bell; academia supplied Brown, Harris, Secretary of Commerce Juanita Kreps, Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser. Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams and Secretary of Agriculture Bob Berglund were former congressmen; Secretary of Interior Cecil Andrus had been governor of Idaho. Most had served previously in the national capital. The many roles played by Robert Strauss, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, symbolized the importance of established people in the administration. Obviously, Carter's hopes of building support with the establishment outweighed any desire to enlarge his image as an outsider.

Some outsiders did hold important positions in the administration. In particular, the White House staff was dominated by Georgians, including Hamilton Jordan, Jody Powell, and Stuart Eizenstat, who had worked with Carter at home but had never served in Washington. Carter recognized their lack of experience there but had great confidence in them.

The president was quite sensitive to and supportive of the demands of politically active blacks and women. There were now more than forty-three hundred blacks in elected office, more than four times as many as a decade earlier, and they were sufficiently numerous in Congress to have their own caucus. Blacks had moved forward at an especially rapid pace in southern politics, where the number of black voters doubled in the thirteen years following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And blacks, including Juanita Kreps and Patricia Harris, had some influence in the Carter administration. Wade H. Mc-Cree served as solicitor general, Clifford L. Alexander was the first black secretary of the army, Mary Berry was the top official in Washington on educational matters prior to the establishment of the Department of Education, Eleanor Holmes Norton chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Franklin Delano Raines served on the White House staff.

Andrew Young, as United States ambassador to the United Nations, was the most prominent representative of the political advance of southern blacks. He, in fact, was quite conscious of what he represented. "We were protest and now we are it," he proclaimed to a largely black audience in 1977. A clergyman and one of Martin Luther King's aides, Young, in 1972, had become the first black elected to Congress from Georgia since Reconstruction. By 1976 he had allied with Carter, helping him move to victory. After the latter moved into the White House, Young became ambassador to the United Nations and emerged quickly as an outspoken and controversial member of the administration, criticizing racism, advocating majority (black) rule in southern Africa, and proclaiming that the American civil rights movement contained lessons of value for black Africans. Eventually, in 1979, Young would become too controversial and would be forced to resign, but Carter would replace him with another black, Donald F. McHenry.

Although Carter refused to endorse all features of the women's movement, he did give it considerable support. He objected to child care centers and abortion, and Congress, supported by the president, Secretary Califano, and the Supreme Court, restricted the use of public funds for abortions, making it difficult for poor women to obtain them. On the other hand, Carter put women in important positions and appointed two, Kreps and Harris, to his original cabinet and a third, Shirley Hufstedler, secretary of education, when that post was created in 1979. Another woman, Patricia Derrian, played a leading role in the human rights campaign, and still others, including Margaret ("Midge") Costanza, Anne Wexler, and Mary Berry, as well as the president's wife, served significantly. Rosalynn Carter, for example, campaigned for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Even more important, she was a close adviser to her husband.

At the same time that he appointed both newcomers and veterans of the Washington scene, Carter hoped to improve the performance of government. He wanted to raise its ethical level and relied heavily on rhetoric for this purpose. He wished also to make it more efficient and effective, and thus, as he had in Georgia, he pushed for government reorganization, eventually enjoying some victories in this area.

At first, Carter's methods seemed to enhance his popularity. By March, over 70 percent of the people, according to the pollsters, approved of his performance. When the battles over policy became hotter, he slipped some, but in July, more than 60 percent of the people still approved. By fall, however, less than 50 percent approved, and by May 1978, the figure was below 40 percent. Carter, it seemed obvious, had not ended the leadership crisis.

The Lance Affair

The turning point had come in late summer 1977 and had been produced by the troubles of another Georgian, Bert Lance, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. During August and September, journalists and government investigators subjected his earlier career as a banker to careful scrutiny and discovered that it contained many questionable practices. Journalists and politicians called for his resignation, as did most people who wrote to the White House or talked to pollsters. Carter continued to express great admiration for, and confidence in, his friend. But the situation became intolerable when a Senate hearing supported the work of government investigators. Before the end of September, Lance resigned, encouraged to do so by Carter because of the damage the controversy was doing, though the president retained confidence in Lance's integrity and believed he was being persecuted. To others, the episode challenged Carter's claim that he demanded a higher code of ethics than his predecessors had. In 1981, however, Lanceand also Carterwould feel vindicated when a jury acquitted the former budget officer of nine charges of bank fraud and the Justice Department dropped the other charges.

Human Rights

As his popularity rose and fell, Carter pushed forward along several lines of policy. Foreign affairs commanded much of his time, and though he had grown up in the 1930s and early 1940s and had served in the navy during World War II and during the years that saw the establishment of the Truman policy of the containment of Communism, he had been affected by the mood of withdrawal from world affairs that had been gaining strength in the United States for a decade. In addition, even though they had served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and had supported their policies in Vietnam, many of the men Carter appointed to the top spots in international and military affairs had been influenced by the American failure in Vietnam and by détente. Secretary Brown indicated just before taking office that he had learned from Vietnam that "we must become more cautious about . . . interventions." Carter, according to observers, had by then "made it abundantly clear that the United States ought not to go plunging militarily into under-developed countries." Soon after taking office, he praised the nation for having overcome its "inordinate fear of Communism," and Andrew Young suggested that the administration rejected "military activism."

Carter did embark upon an international campaign for human rights. In part, he did so to distinguish himself from Nixon, Ford, and Kissinger, although the campaign made use of the 1975 Helsinki treaty that the Ford administration had helped to develop. In addition to affirming the boundaries established after World War II in Eastern Europe, the treaty contained promises to respect human rights. Carter hoped the campaign would enable the United States to "regain the moral stature we once had." He explained, "We've been through some sordid and embarrassing years recently, and I felt like it was time for our country to hold a beacon light . . . that would rally our citizens to a cause." But was this policy a response to criticism of past practices as much as it was a basis for renewed activism? "In a nation supposedly instructed in its limitations by its recent failures," a critic charged, "Jimmy Carter . . . has demonstrated how little America has learned"; Carter expressed "that traditional American delusion that, if only America can devise the right . . . formula, then the world will stop being what it is, and become what we wish it to be."

In any event, Carter had difficulty maintaining a firm course on human rights. He regarded this crusade as the centerpiecethe "fundamental tenet"of his foreign policy. He criticized many countries, not just the Soviet Union, for violating human rights. But many peopleinside as well as outside the United States, State Department officials as well as journalists, allies as well as opponentscharged that the campaign was meddling, harmful to international relations, destructive of détente, and a return to the Cold War. The administration often retreated under pressure.

The campaign had mixed results. To the distress of European leaders, it infuriated the Soviet Union, contributing to the emergence of what some called a New Cold War. On the other hand, it pressured authoritarian regimes in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa and encouraged democratic forces in those parts of the world.

Panama Canal

Carter encountered great difficulties on an issue for which groundwork had been laid by the Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations. Foes of two treaties dealing with the Panama Canal forced him to battle for months and nearly defeated him. The key feature of the treaties was to give Panama control of the canal by the year 2000. Opponents in both parties, including Ronald Reagan, actively campaigned against the treaties, charging that the documents would surrender American property that was vital to national security. To these people, the treaties seemed to symbolize American decline.

To the defenders, who denied that the United States owned or had sovereignty over the canal, the treaties represented the proper way for a great nation to behave. Moreover, they insisted, the terms would permit the United States to prevent hostile powers from gaining control of the canal and would enable the United States to use it when necessary. Furthermore, they maintained, the canal was losing its strategic and economic importance. The massive debate, with Carter as an active participant, raged for nearly eight months and ended in victories for the president in March and April 1978. But, in spite of help from Ford and Kissinger, the treaties won by the narrowest of margins. And success in the Senate did not end things, for it was followed by a long battle in the House, lasting until June 1979, over implementation.


Picking up where Kissinger left off, Carter also worked for a new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union but did not enjoy even a narrow victory. Knowledgeable about nuclear weapons because of his naval service, he feared the destructive power already in existence and hoped to halt the spread of such weapons to other nations and to check the arms race. He pressed the Soviets to agree to cuts in the nuclear arsenals, but Soviet leaders rejected his first proposal. Carter pressed forward, aided by Vance and special arms negotiator Paul Warnke. Negotiations did not break down, and signs of progress emerged from time to time. Yet, foes of a new treaty, such as Senator Henry Jackson, fearful that it would weaken American security, posed the possibility that no treaty acceptable to the Soviets would be ratified by the Senate. The negotiators did not finish work until 1979, and then Republican and Democratic foes in the Senate argued that the Soviets had triumphed in the negotiations, brushing aside the administration's contention that the agreed-upon limits on strategic forces would make the world a less dangerous place and insisting that the United States must increase military spending substantially. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan weakened prospects still more, persuading Carter in January 1980 to call upon the senators to postpone debate. He continued to favor eventual ratification of SALT II but no longer pressed for it.

The Middle East and Camp David

Worried about the possibilities of Soviet-American confrontation and a new embargo on Middle Eastern oil, Carter sought a "comprehensive" settlement in the Middle East but again ran into tough problems. Apparently seeing Israel's behavior as the key, he pressed Israel to participate in multinational negotiations that would include the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to agree to withdraw to "defensible borders" close to those it had had before the 1967 war, and to accept a homeland for the Palestinian Arabs in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist and conduct normal relations. Carter, Vance, and others met frequently with Middle Eastern leaders, and the president also attempted to draw the Soviet Union into the negotiating process.

Although Arab leaders welcomed Carter's efforts, they alarmed Israel and its friends in the United States. The Arabs hoped that American pressures would succeed, but Menachem Begin, the new Israeli prime minister, was a Polish Jew haunted by memories of the Holocaust, influenced by visions of the boundaries of biblical times, and the leader of a hard-line party. Thus, he tried to persuade American leaders that few concessions could be made. Israel's friends in the United States, and they were numerous and influential, were convinced of the strategic importance of Israel, as well as its moral significance. They believed that Carter did not support it as firmly as his predecessors had and reminded him that the PLO was committed to the destruction of the country. They also expressed alarm about the proposals on boundaries and pointed to dangers in efforts to draw the Soviet Union into the negotiating process. Some charged that oil explained the direction that American policies were taking. These pressures forced Carter to insist that he supported Israel, would not harm it, and would not impose a settlement, but he did regard Begin as too inflexible.

A surprise move by Anwar as-Sadat, the president of Egypt, changed the Middle East situation. In November 1977 he visited Israel to initiate face-to-face negotiations between the Egyptians and the Israelis. His country's severe economic problems, the need for peace, and concern about some features of the American peace efforts, including encouragement of Soviet participation, influenced the move. It divided the Arabs, since most refused to talk with a nation whose right to exist they denied, and produced fresh conflict between Egypt and the Soviet Union. But, coupled with Begin's refusal to make major concessions and an Israeli raid into Lebanon, the move gained new admirers for Sadat in the United States and somewhat greater sympathy for the Arab cause.

Carter did what he could to assist the Egyptian president, but after a promising beginning, negotiations ground to a halt as the two sides learned how far apart they were on key issues. Carter then persuaded the two leaders to meet with him at Camp David, Maryland. There, the three men talked for thirteen days in September 1978 and the president achieved a great success: a "framework for peace" in the Middle East and a draft of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. To promote the signing of the treaty, Carter traveled to the Middle East. The treaty was soon approved and then signed in Washington on 26 March 1979, and the old enemies established full diplomatic relations. Israel had agreed to withdraw from the Sinai, but big issues continued to divide the Middle East and generate violence there and problems for the American president.

Earlier in 1978, the Carter administration had announced an arms deal, hoping that it would strengthen Arab moderates and American influence. The deal would send the nation's best fighter plane, the F-15, not only to Israel, as had been expected, but also to Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich country controlled by antiradical and anti-Soviet leaders, and to Egypt. Israel and many of its American friends opposed the deal, doubting that the Saudis could be counted on to restrain Israel's enemies and avoid hostile acts against Israel. To critics, the deal indicated that Carter and his top adviser on foreign affairs, Brzezinski, were insensitive to Israel's security needs and were tilting toward Saudi Arabia. The debate was hot, but the president won when Congress agreed to the arrangement.

China and Taiwan

The administration improved relations with China but paid a price for doing so. Both Vance and Brzezinski visited the People's Republic, eager to break the diplomatic stalemate that had prevailed since 1972 and to normalize relations between the two countries. The Chinese, flanked by the Soviet Union and Soviet-influenced Vietnam, viewed the Soviets as aggressive and worried about what appeared to be an American retreat from containment. Brzezinski, who saw the mounting tension between the Communist giants as opening an opportunity for the United States, assured the Chinese that the United States would remain strong in Asia and would check the Soviets. Taiwan appeared to be a stumbling block. Seeking a formula that would enable the United States to abandon the regime there and recognize Beijing without suffering severe political damage at home and abroad, the Carter administration experienced frequent frustrations. Finally, on 1 January 1979, it recognized the People's Republic as the sole government of China and reestablished normal diplomatic relations with it, breaking its official ties with Taiwan to reach this objective. Taiwan, its friends in the United States, and the Soviets denounced the settlement, but the outcome pleased the president.

The International Economy

The problems Carter confronted abroad were economic as well as political. They included the opening up of a trade deficit as Americans bought more from other countries, especially manufactured goods from Japan and Germany and oil from the Middle East, than those countries purchased in the United States. In addition to working for the reduction of oil imports, the administration pressed its allies, which now had strong economies, to buy more American products, but, to the especially great distress of the American automobile industry, the efforts failed to close the trade gap, and the failure gave a boost to protectionist sentiment in the United States. The administration also struggled unsuccessfully with a weakening of the dollar.

Military Policy

Carter had inherited a wide variety of tough problems in international affairs, and in dealing with them, he was hampered by confusion and uncertainty in Congress and the nation concerning the role the nation should play in the world. A similar state of mind prevailed in the closely related area of military policy, and that state of mind affected the administration. At the beginning of his presidency, Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft evaders and announced that American troops would be withdrawn from South Korea. He also decided against construction of the B-1 bomber as a replacement for the aging B-52, regarding the proposed airplane as costly and obsolete, and also decided to cut back on the navy's shipbuilding program. Champions of military power protested, charging that he was not sufficiently sensitive to the threat of the Soviet Union.

In recent years, the Soviets had strengthened their forces and influence, expanding the army, developing a large navy, and increasing their arms and technicians in the Third World. As Carter's concern about these developments mounted, he alarmed critics of military spending by calling for a significant increase in the military budget for fiscal 1979, a substantial strengthening of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, and the development and deployment of a new weapon, the neutron bomb. Next, he dismayed advocates of greater military strength by first deciding that the bomb would not be built and then announcing that production would be postponed while the nation waited to see how the Soviets behaved.

In both diplomatic and military matters, the president often found it difficult to stick with his original intentions. He made concessions to demands for more military spending and more activity in Africa and became less critical of American arms sales. He both responded to criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and sought to restore its effectiveness, regarding it as an essential instrument that had been misused.

Critics, including Henry Kissinger, Henry Jackson, and many Republican senators, found him weak and ineffective, confusing and confused. They suggested that his administration had "seen that its neat theories about the world do not fit the difficult realities" and that "it must now come to grips with the world as it is." One close observer, Meg Greenfield of Newsweek magazine, wrote in 1978 that while "many of our politicians, more traumatized than instructed by that miserable war [Vietnam], tend to see Vietnams everywhere," more and more congressmen "seem . . . to be getting bored with their own post-Vietnam bemusement," and "under great provocation from abroad, Carter himself is beginning to move."

Domestic Affairs

At the same time that Carter struggled to come to grips with international problems, he also had to grapple with domestic ones, passed on to him by Ford. Unemployment, inflation, and the energy crisis topped the list. At first, slow economic growth and substantial unemployment seemed especially pressing, for 7.3 percent of the workforce did not have jobs when he took office, and the percentage jumped to 7.5 as a result of a severe winter that over-taxed the supplies of natural gas and oil. To stimulate the economy and supply more jobs, Carter proposed a $23 billion to $30 billion program for the next eighteen months. Although the program would increase spending on job-creating programs, it emphasized tax cuts in order to encourage businessmen to increase capital investments. Congress passed much of this economic stimulus package.

Before Congress acted and as economic growth accelerated and unemployment declined, Carter dropped a major feature of his economic program, a tax rebate; shifted his attention to inflation, which hovered around 7 percent; and strengthened his resistance to costly federal job programs and a higher level of spending on welfare. Rejecting price and wage controls, he made several anti-inflation proposals and promised to balance the budget by the end of his term. Yet, when the economy slowed, his concern about unemployment mounted, and he returned to plans for tax cuts. But inflation escalated in 1978, approaching the 1974 level, and Carter soon defined it as the nation's major problem, scaled down his tax-cut proposal, and tried to get prices under control by resisting proposals for increased government spending, promising a balanced budget sometime soon, and using verbal pressure"jawboning"to force corporations and unions to exercise restraint in price increases and wage demands. Although he relied heavily on the tested skills of Robert Strauss in the anti-inflation campaign, success eluded him. Spurred by sharp increases in the price of Middle Eastern oil, inflation soared well above 10 percent in 1979 and 1980, and Carter's new chair of the Federal Reserve Board, Paul Volcker, moved quickly to raise interest rates and reduce the money supply.

Carter's somewhat confusing course, influenced by difficulties in deciding whether unemployment or inflation was the greater problem, failed to satisfy the many groups in American life. Businessmen quickly lost confidence in his administration, troubled by divisions within it and by its proposals for tax reform and for higher taxes to protect Social Security. Corporate leaders also insisted that they did not have as much responsibility for inflation as jawboning implied; and conservatives, in and out of corporate ranks, insisted that government spending and deficits were responsible. Reflective of the decline in business confidence, the stock market dropped sharply several times.

Groups that had given Carter his victory in 1976 also grew unhappy with his performance. Union leaders, insistent that big business caused inflation and that workers were its victims, not its cause, lost some of their earlier confidence in the president when he endorsed a bill to facilitate organizing efforts but did not prevent a filibuster in the Senate from blocking passage. Furthermore, labor leaders joined liberals, most notably, Senator Edward Kennedy, in complaining that the administration was not doing enough to reduce unemployment, solve the problems of the poor, or establish national health insurance, and they demanded more government spending. To many of them, Carter seemed little more than a southern Ford. Farmers, dissatisfied with the prices they received for their products, protested against administration farm policies and forced Carter to accept higher price supports than he favored. Still further, many westerners in Congress rose up in anger when, in an effort to cut spending, Carter opposed water projects they favored, and they compelled the president to compromise on the issue.

Although black leaders had reasons to be pleased with Carter, including his support for affirmative action in the Bakke case, they objected to some features of his performance. Believing they deserved more influence in the White House, some reminded him that he would not be president if blacks had not voted for him in such large numbers, and charged that he was not paying enough attention to the problems of black Americans, especially the poorer ones. They joined with white liberals in insisting that everyone had a right to a job and that government must do more to increase the number available. To blacks, at least those who had not entered the middle class, unemployment rather than inflation was the most worrisome problem.

Energy Policy

As he grappled with international and economic problems, Carter attempted to build support for an energy program. Energy was, in fact, one of his biggest concerns. In April 1977 he introduced his solutions, employing dramatic terms in doing so. His proposals emphasized conservation and envisioned a smooth transition to an era of scarce and high-priced oil; they relied heavily on the taxing power to encourage people to shift from large automobiles to small ones, to cut back on the miles they drove, to insulate their homes and workplaces, and to shift from natural gas and oil to coal, nuclear power, and solar energy. Warning of a bleak future, praising conservation, appealing to patriotism, and criticizing the "special interests," the president, others in the administration, and the Democratic National Committee waged a massive campaign to build support.

At first, although he had not developed his proposals in cooperation with congressional leaders, Carter seemed likely to succeed. Congress endorsed his proposal for creation of the Department of Energy and his selection of James Schlesinger to head it, and the Housewith Speaker Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill of Massachusetts cooperating with the administration and providing effective leadershipquickly passed energy legislation that conformed with the administration's proposals.

In the Senate, however, the energy package ran into powerful opposition. A temporary surplus of oil, dislike for the tax features, and demands for deregulation of newly discovered natural gas contributed to the resistance. Republicans and southern Democrats, with Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, head of the Senate Finance Committee, playing an especially large role, combined to revise the package, incorporating the ideas of producers, who assured the people that freeing the industry would lead to solutions. Liberal Democrats and administration representatives battled against them. But lacking support from consumer groups and environmentalists, they lost on key issues, encouraging Carter to denounce the giant oil companies in October. When Senate and House conferees engaged in lengthy negotiations to iron out their differences, the administration embarked on a new, large-scale campaign on behalf of its proposals, with Carter postponing a foreign trip so as to concentrate on building support. But dominated by other concerns, the public was not moved by the campaign, and the administration felt compelled to make concessions.

In spite of Carter's avowed populism, his proposals did not have enough support from the people to overcome opposition from the interests. In fact, most people opposed his energy package. By emphasizing conservation rather than the development of new resources, the program seemed to call upon Americans to change their lifestyle, and most did not want to do that. Furthermore, most people did not believe the energy problem was as serious as the president suggested. With confidence in Carter declining, his ability to shape public opinion on this issue suffered, and he could not rally public support with his attacks on the big oil companies. In addition, the program's heavy reliance on taxes ran head-on into a growing revolt against taxes. Thus, the people did not rise up and help Carter by putting pressure on Congress. Consequently the legislation that finally passed in October 1978, although not unimportant, fell far short of his desires.

As the president struggled with the politics of energy, a coal strike erupted. Lasting 110 days in the winter of 19771978, it added to Carter's difficulties. Coal had taken on renewed importance because of the nation's energy problems, and it figured prominently in Carter's solutions. As the strike continued, he resisted pressure to invoke an injunction, hoping that the normal negotiating process would produce a satisfactory outcome. Yet he and others in the administration applied whatever pressure seemed appropriate to them. The miners rebuffed the president, turning down a contract the administration endorsed, thereby persuading Carter to resort to the injunction, a move that further angered organized labor and did not return many miners to work. Before it ended, the strike had forced many industries and schools to curtail their operations or close down completely. The episode increased awareness of the importance of coal and added to criticism of Carter as a weak president.

The energy situation worsened in 1979. A revolution in Iran reduced oil supplies, and the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised oil prices sharply. At the same time, an alarming accident at a nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, enlarged doubts about nuclear energy. After holding a "domestic summit conference" at Camp David, Carter gave a major speech on energy, calling for effective action to reduce dependence on foreign supplies. Following another legislative battle, in which some Democratic legislators opposed the president, he achieved some success in 1980. Although Congress had not given him all he requested, what he had achieved in 1978 and 1980 encouraged him to point with pride to lower consumption of oil, lower imports, and more coal production.

The Hostage Crisis

The consequences for the United States of the Iranian revolution were not limited to higher oil prices. Since 1945, the United States had expressed strong interest in this oil-rich country, opposing Soviet efforts to gain a position there in 19451946 and opposing also the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 19511953. After contributing to the overthrow of Mossadegh and obtaining access to Iranian oil for American companies, the American government supplied large amounts of aid to the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and to his efforts to westernize the country and make it a military power. Those efforts aroused the ire of the Muslim clergy, and the oppressiveness of the shah's regime generated opposition from others. Revolts erupted and gained strength during 1978, forcing the shah to flee early the following year and leading to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran under the leadership of a Shiite Muslim leader, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, who was determined that Islam, not Western influences, should reign in Iran. On 4 November 1979, shortly after the shah entered a New York hospital for treatment of cancer, several thousand Iranian youths seized the American embassy in Teheran and took most members of the staff hostage, demanding that the United States return the shah.

Carter faced another enormously difficult problem. He tried to free the hostages without taking military action, relying chiefly on diplomatic and economic pressures, including the freezing of Iranian assets in the United States. He obtained help from others, such as United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Thirteen female and black staff members were released shortly after they had been seized, but the others remained captive. In April 1980 a frustrated president broke with past policy and (over the opposition of Secretary Vance) authorized a military rescue operation. It had to be aborted, however, when three of the eight helicopters involved developed mechanical problems, and, in pulling out, one of the helicopters collided with a transport plane, killing eight men and injuring others. The captors released an ill hostage in July, and the Iranian government, now suffering an invasion from Iraq, soon announced conditions for the release of the remaining fiftytwo, but more weeks would pass before they were free.


In the meantime, in December 1979, the Soviets mounted a large-scale invasion of Afghanistan to protect its Marxist regime. Washington interpreted this as an extension of their ambitions and a threat to American interests in the Persian Gulf area and responded with various forms of pressure, including a grain embargo, a boycott of the Moscow Olympics, reestablishment of registration for the military draft, warnings against any efforts to gain control of the Persian Gulf area, and a sizable military buildup. Carter had embraced Brzezinski's very negative view of the Soviet Union, but the pressures did not persuade the Soviets to withdraw, and the episode doomed SALT II.


To further complicate matters for Carter, his younger brother, Billy, came under attack in the summer of 1980. A jovial fellow with a drinking problem, he had already embarrassed his more earnest brother on several occasions. Now, critics filed charges concerning his connections with Libya, a country ruled by the dictator Mu'ammar al-Gadhafi, a financial backer of international terrorism. The complaints included the charge that the president had used American intelligence information to assist Billy. The latter had made a deal with an American oil company to buy Libyan crude oil, had obtained a $220,000 "loan" from the Libyans, and had made various efforts to promote Libyan and Arab interests in the United States. Senate investigators concluded that Libya had cultivated Billy's friendship in hope of gaining influence in Washington and that by responding to these overtures he had acted contrary to the interests of the United States and merited severe criticism. The senators also concluded that Billy had no influence but that the president and some of his aides deserved criticism for ill-advised use of Billy to enlist Libyan aid in the hostage crisis and for possibly giving Libyan officials a false impression that he had influence in Washington. But the investigators found no evidence that anyone had done anything illegal or seriously improper to help the president's brother. The episode damaged the president for only a short time.

Disaffection of the Public

Well before the troubles in Iran and Afghanistan, political commentators had begun to predict that Carter would serve for only one term. To many commentators, he seemed to be a failure and responsible for his own difficulties. Although he was intelligent, worked hard, and was honest, sincere, and emotionally secure, he seemed to suffer from inexperience in dealing in Washington and from heavy reliance on inexperienced advisers. He tried to do too much himself and did not have a chief of staff coordinating work in the White House and its relations with others. He appeared to be indecisive, made too many proposals at a time, did not define his priorities clearly, and did not have a carefully articulated philosophy to help him make such a definition. He seemed to have contempt for the realities of the Washington scene and to be uninterested in working closely with organized groups, congressmen, and his party. He frequently denounced Congressa Congress controlled by his own partyas dominated by special interests like the oil companies. And he seemed weak in his dealings with people, retreated too readily under pressure, and needed to be much more forceful.

Carter, realizing that many of these criticisms were justified, made changes in 1978. He added some experienced people to the White House staff and conferred more authority on Jordan for the management of it. He made greater efforts to cultivate congressmen and other people in the capital, and at the same time, he went out among the people, beyond Washington. He supplied a definition of his priorities and tried to deal more forcefully with members of his administration, congressmen, and others.

Such efforts did not give Carter a long-lasting boost. Approval of his performance jumped to nearly 60 percent following the Camp David accords, but by the spring of 1979, the rating was below 40 percent again. Many people now saw him as an ineffective president, incapable of moving the nation forward. All of this depressed the president. In July, after meeting at Camp David with a wide range of prominent people, he tried to revive confidence with a major speech that defined a "crisis of spirit" as the country's major problem and called for "confidence and a sense of community." Promising once again to supply the kind of leadership required, he also tried to strengthen his administration by making changes in his cabinet and took another journey of contact with the people. But his approval rating dropped below 25 percent.

The president was trying to provide leadership, but he occupied an office, and presided over a system, that had been discredited for many people by past performances. To one observer from the left, it seemed that "the widespread loss of confidence in our political institutions and leaders, the lack of respect for authority, the alienation from the official values of the society, even the revulsion from politics [were] sensible responses to the debacle accomplished by those in authority."

Many Americans believed that their governments had shown themselves to be immoral, inefficient, and ineffective. They seemed to be very active but to be accomplishing very little; they seemed too big to work. To many people, the tax system seemed unfair, in that it favored the wealthy. To many others, it merely seemed too burdensome for the benefits governments conferred. In California in 1978, the antitax feeling reached a new high with the passage of Proposition 13, which slashed property taxes and threatened funds for schools and other services. Such moves reflected deep unhappiness with what governments were doing and with government officials, as well as with the size of tax bills.

People on the right as well as the left expressed the spirit of discontent. Many intellectuals on the right and left were united in their belief that American realities were sordid. American leaders did not deserve confidence. It would be only a matter of time, according to this scenario, before the nation discovered that Carter was as corrupt as the men who had gone before him. Such skepticism was not restricted to intellectuals and people influenced by them. White-collar workers, blue-collar workers, and middle-class Americans of various occupations also felt like strangers in a nation controlled by a liberal establishment hostile to their values. Country music, popular throughout the nation with working-class, rural, and small-town people, sang of the superiority of the rural South, a surviving symbol of a vanished America, and expressed profound discontent with the now dominant style of life. Although seemingly filled with love of country, the music contained resentment and hostility toward the people in the big cities, who seemed responsible for the rise of the new way of life. Carter, as a small-town southerner, had some appeal for country music fans, but he quickly lost much of it when he became, and behaved like, a man of power.

Evangelical Christianity, a reviving and fast-growing movement of 30 million to 40 million people, also reflected deep discontent with what America, and especially American leaders, had become. "Americans are undergoing a crisis of meaning and self-confidence," one observer noted, "and large numbers of them are turning or returning to religion, usually of the pietistic and evangelical kind." Those in the Southern Baptist contingent especially had had high hopes for Carter's presidency, since they considered him one of them, but he could not satisfy their yearnings for the redemption of government through the election of honest, moral, and simple leaders. Although Carter's Baptist faith continued to influence him and to offend some big-city Americans, he came to seem to many evangelicals as just another politician. Some evangelicals had doubted his religious commitment from the outset, and many of those caught up in what has been labeled "a third Great Awakening" were uninterested in public life and contemporary issues.

Carter also had to contend with a skeptical, often hostile press that had been deeply affected by the traumas of the recent past. Strengthened by the development of television, the press was animated by a new spirit. Often resentful of the efforts of past presidents to manipulate them, media people now frequently expressed mistrust of the presidency and were much more likely to criticize a president than to be used by him. They often aimed their fire at Carter. He, in turn, resented press criticism and frequently expressed a low opinion of newspeople.

In addition, Carter had to deal with an active and critical Congress. Embarrassed by charges of past subservience to the White House, Congress had become more assertivemore determined not to be a rubber stamp. Many new members, shaped by recent experiences, especially Vietnam and Watergate, no longer deferred to senior members, insisted upon a new code of ethics, and demanded that the president avoid the "excesses" of the past at home and abroad. Senior members, possessed of a strong sense of pride and independence, were quick to press views that diverged from those of the president, even when he was a member of their own party. Furthermore, all members of Congress had staffs that were much larger and more professional than they had been only a few years earlier. To many people on Capitol Hill, including many Democrats, it seemed that Carter was not sufficiently respectful of them and their ways, did not consult with them in a timely and consistent fashion, and asked them for too much. Thus, relations between Carter and Congress were seldom smooth and frequently hostile, even after his efforts at improvement in 1978.

Furthermore, the president had, to a significant degree, lost the presidency's strongest allies and defenders, the liberals. Since the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, they had advocated a strong White House, seeing it as the most effective promoter of broad and desirable national interests. But recent events had changed them; they, too, distrusted that office and offered new support for a Congress and press corps that checked, rather than cooperated with, the president. In fact, these new liberals were well represented in the press, Congress, congressional staffs, the bureaucracy, and the public-interest pressure groups.

Carter suffered from still another problem. He could not rally the public by making promises similar to those made by leaders in the past. He could not easily promise victories abroad, continuous growth, and ever higher standards of living. The American defeat in Vietnam, the new complexities of the international situation, and the energy crisis mocked such promises.

Carter understood the difficulties he faced and was, in a sense, a representative of them. Aware of the public's disenchantment with government, he had run against Washington in 1976. Although he frequently turned to government, rather than the private sector, to deal with problems, such as energy, and thought more of making big government more efficient through reorganization than of scaling it down, he often indicated that he did not expect as much from government as some of his predecessors had and many of his liberal contemporaries still did.

Although an active president, he carefully stayed within lines that some of his predecessors had crossed. Although he was active abroad, he worried about the dangers that world affairs contained. He was also sensitive to the implications of the energy crisis, much more so than most Americans. Carter often expressed a sense of the limits on things. He talked of the limits of his own powers and those of the government and the nation. He urged people not to expect too much. Few people derived inspiration from such rhetoric. In addition to his troubles at home, Carter suffered from criticism from his Western allies. Leaders in Western Europe had low opinions of his leadership and his policies.

Not surprisingly, Carter was a one-term president and even had to struggle to obtain renomination by his own party. In the 1980 primaries, Senator Edward Kennedy challenged him, arguing that Carter had betrayed the liberal principles of his party. The president refused to campaign until May, maintaining that the difficulties in Iran and Afghanistan forced him to stay in the White House; and Kennedy, while winning several primaries, did fail to defeat him, in part because Carter used all of the devices at a president's disposal, in part because people for a time rallied behind their president in the Iran and Afghanistan crises, and in part because of concern about Kennedy's moral character. Against Kennedy, a militant liberal, Carter appeared to use quite effectively the argument that people should recognize the great difficulties he faced and not expect too much.

The victories in the primaries did not lead to a smashing success at the Democratic National Convention. The Republicans met first; by the time they did so, Reagan, their leading contender, was ahead of the president in the polls, and during their convention, Reagan moved far ahead of Carter. By August, only about 22 percent of the people, according to the polls, approved of Carter, a new low for presidents, even lower than Nixon in 1974 and Truman in 1951. Fearing that the president would lead the entire ticket to defeat, some Democrats tried to dump him, but they could not come up with a strong contender. "There are no heroes anymore," one explained. So the party nominated Carter without enthusiasm or optimism and remained divided, with Kennedy supplying little support for the ticket.

Election of 1980

In the general election, Carter faced two opponents, Reagan and an independent, Congressman John Anderson of Illinois. Although the economy was plagued by problems, including high levels of inflation and unemployment, each candidate insisted that it had not gone into permanent decline. Carter talked of economic renewal and promised to achieve this by carefully selected spending programs and tax cuts. At the same time, he championed environmental reforms, continued to emphasize conservation as the solution to the energy crisis, and criticized Reagan for proposing surrender to the "merchants of oil." Anderson, too, stressed conservation as the way to guarantee continued growth and proposed a huge increase in the gas tax as one way to encourage conservation.

Critical of some of the conservation measures, Reagan seemed confident that the economy could grow indefinitely. In fact, he proposed a "strategy of growth." To accomplish that, he would cut both income taxes and government regulation of business. He and his platform emphasized energy production, not conservation. He insisted that the nation could get all the oil it needed if the oil industry's opportunities for profit were enlarged and a nuisance, the Department of Energy, were abolished. Along a similar line, he attacked the environmental movement and the government regulations it had successfully promoted.

The candidates said less about race, and none called for major changes in this area. In fact, the chief issue appeared to be the survival of the changes that had taken place in recent years. As a consistent supporter of civil rights legislation, Anderson had no trouble with his record, but as a conservative spokesman since the early 1960s and an opponent of the civil rights legislation of 1964, Reagan had some trouble with his. As a Georgian, so did Carter, although somewhat less; his identification with right-wing southerners in the 1960s was offset by his closeness to Andrew Young and other blacks in the 1970s.

Reagan implied rather vaguely that Carter had some relations with the Ku Klux Klan, and Carter implied more clearly that Reagan was a racist. Although Carter rather quickly denied that he had made such a charge, his words were part of a larger effort to suggest that Reagan would, if elected, set the clock back in this area. The effort took advantage of Reagan's opposition to the 1964 act and his endorsement by the Klan, an endorsement he repudiated. Reagan also said that he no longer opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, explaining that it had not worked as he had feared but instead had worked quite well. He called attention to his appointment of many blacks to office while serving as governor of California, and he paid more attention to blacks during the campaign than his party had in its convention. He and his party did continue to oppose the busing of school-children to achieve racial balance.

Wisely perhaps, the candidates tried to ignore the hot issue of relations between men and women. The candidates seemed satisfied to leave it to political participants who were not running for office, including the evangelicals who were campaigning against homosexual rights, sex education in the schools, and other issues of this kind. Anderson associated himself with some of the proposals for change, including liberalization of laws on abortion and protection for the rights of homosexuals. Reagan was quite clearly on the other side of the fence. His platform called for a constitutional amendment banning abortions and for curbs on the use of public funds for them, and he agreed. The platform also ended national Republican support for the Equal Rights Amendment, which he opposed while insisting that he favored equality for women. His positions on these issues were part of his advocacy of traditional values, a major Reagan theme. The platform favored prayer in the schools, and he advocated teaching the biblical theory of creation along with the scientific theory of evolution in the schools, a position championed by critics of evolution.

Carter's positions were somewhere between Reagan's and Anderson's. The Democratic platform contained a strong plank on the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion, reflecting the growing strength of women in the party. The president's own stand on these issues did not fully satisfy feminists.

The candidates spoke much more frequently and also more clearly on the issue of America's role in the world, and none championed a small role. Anderson did oppose some of the military spending proposals, but even he promised to enlarge the main instrument of a large American role, the armed forces.

Reagan was most clearly the advocate of a large role, relying heavily on military power. The party platform spoke of the "Soviet Union's global ambitions" as the "premier challenge" facing the United States, called for "military superiority" through increased spending, a new class of bomber; new ships, planes, missiles, and air defense systems; and higher pay for the armed forces. It opposed arms control that fixed the United States "into a position of military inferiority" and accused the Democrats of weakening the nation.

Reagan, holding to the militant anti-Communism he had embraced in the late 1940s and had expressed in politics since the early 1960s, continued to see the Soviet Union as a real threat and the Cold War as a persistent reality. He expressed the World War II generation's view of the dangers of military weakness and indecision, opposed SALT II, favored a large-scale military buildup, and criticized Carter for weakness and for permitting the United States to fall behind. The challenger also rejected the negative view of the shah of Iran, blaming his fall on Carter's weaknesses rather than the shah's own. Reagan also rejected the negative view of American involvement in Vietnam, a prop of the "little America" point of view, arguing that weak policies were responsible for America's failure there. He also criticized Carter's treatment of Israel and Taiwan.

Although portraying himself as much safer than Reagan, Carter did not advocate a small American role in the world. He represented Reagan as certain to produce a runaway arms race and likely to provoke a war because of his tendency to think of military solutions to crises. The Democratic platform included proposals for strengthening the armed forces through better pay for the military and improvements in the nuclear deterrent and called for resistance to aggression in the Persian Gulf and support for Israel as well as normalization of relations with China and ratification of SALT II. In response to criticism, Carter claimed that he had strengthened the United States and that it was "still the most powerful" nation in the world.

During the campaign, Carter gained ground rapidly. He did so chiefly because of Reagan's ability to generate alarm and to blunder. Seeking to rally Democrats, Carter exploited the widespread doubts about, and fears of, the former movie actor and militant champion of a tougher foreign policy and made use of the advantages that control of the White House supplied, including its ability to distribute federal grants to places in which they could influence votes. Most Kennedy people rallied behind Carter; the economy even improved some. what and soon the gap separating him from Reagan in the polls became insignificant.

If Carter failed, Anderson seemed likely to be a contributing factor. His candidacy rested on the assumption that there was a widespread lack of confidence in both of the leading candidates. "People talk about a spoiler," he remarked in defense of his role. "What's to spoil?" Fearing that Anderson would take votes away from him and detract from his efforts to focus attention on Reagan, the president refused to join in a television debate that included Anderson.

By early October, it appeared that many people believed they had been given an unattractive set of alternatives. It seemed that only about 50 percent of the voters would go to the polls and the winner would obtain fewer than 50 percent of the total and triumph by only a narrow margin. The Republican party seemed likely to make gains, largely because of economic conditions, but it did not seem capable of becoming the nation's majority party once again.

Late in the campaign, two factors gave Reagan a boost. One was a television debate a week before election day that was limited to the two major-party candidates. Reagan was especially effective in his closing statement in which he suggested that there were two basic questions: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" "Is America as respected throughout the world?" His relaxed and friendly performance helped to dispel fears about him as a warmonger and doubts that he was smart enough for the presidency, while Carter failed to persuade the undecided that he recognized his mistakes, had learned from them, and would govern better in a second term. Another last-minute factor was the frustration of Carter's efforts to obtain an agreement before election day for release of the hostages in Iran. For many people, that failure drove home the theme about Carter's weaknesses. By election day, it competed effectively against his theme that Reagan threatened valuable domestic programs and peace.

Benefiting from a late surge among previously undecided voters and a low turnout among several Democratic groups, Reagan won by a surprisingly large margin, with a popular vote of 43.9 million to Carter's 35.5 million and an electoral vote of 489 to 49. The voter turnout was unusually low, only 52 percent, a phenomenon that seriously damaged the president. Reagan had the support of more than 51

percent of those who voted to 41 percent for Carter and 7 percent for Anderson. The Democrats maintained control of the House of Representatives but by a narrower margin, and they lost control of the Senate, doing so for the first time since 1952.

After this great failure, Carter achieved three victories before leaving office. Congress accepted two of his proposals for action on the environment, and the United States and Iran agreed on a settlement of the hostage crisis. But they completed their work two days before he left office, and the hostages did not obtain their freedom until 20 January 1981, just as Carter was leaving office, and did not reach American soil until after Reagan had become president. During the presidential campaign, Republicans had feared that the administration would work out a deal just before election day, and later, a former member of the Carter administration, Gary Sick, charged that Republicans themselves worked out a deal to delay the release, a charge that remains unproved.

Although consoled somewhat by his perception of the great difficulties he had faced, Carter left office disappointed and unhappy, the first elected president since Herbert Hoover to fail in a bid for reelection. He recognized that he had not accomplished many of his goals. Above all, he knew he had not ended the leadership crisis.

The task that Carter faced had been enormous. To provide effective leadership in his time, a person needed a compelling vision and political skill of an unusually high order, including great talent in communication. He needed to communicate not only attractive goals but also a sense of realities and of what could be accomplished within them. Perhaps none of the available candidates could have supplied effective leadership in the Carter period.

Out of office and free of the political pressures that had limited his accomplishments as president, Carter became an unusually active and widely admired former president. He found new ways of expressing his humanitarianism: monitoring elections in other countries, mediating international disputes, bringing experts together to develop solutions to pressing problems, and building low-priced housing with the Habitat for Humanity organization.


In the early 1980s, when the first edition of this book was written, Carter had been out of office only a short time, and the number of books on him remained rather slim. Much of what had been written was by journalists, such as Haynes Johnson, In the Absence of Power: Governing America (New York, 1980). A few memoirs had appeared, including Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (New York, 1982). Only a few scholarly works were available. Good examples of these are Gary M. Fink, Prelude to the Presidency: The Political Character and Legislative Leadership Style of Governor Jimmy Carter (Westport, Conn., 1980), and Betty Glad, Jimmy Carter: In Search of the Great White House (New York, 1980).

In the decade following the publication of this work's first edition, both memoirs and scholarly writing developed rapidly. For guidance to this literature and the conclusions that are yet emerging, see Burton I. Kaufman, The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. (Lawrence, Kans., 1993). The fault line in this literature lies between those who emphasize Carter's shortcomings and those who stress the difficult situation he confronted. Kaufman leans toward the former interpretation, finding it "hard to avoid the conclusion that his was a mediocre presidency and that much of the reason for this was his own doing." For an excellent summary of "Carter revisionism," see Douglas Brinkley, "The Rising Stock of Jimmy Carter: The 'Hands On' Legacy of Our Thirty-ninth President," in Diplomatic History 20 (fall 1996): 505529.

Carter's account of his political ascendance amid the volatile politics of the 1960s is told in fascinating detail in Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age (New York, 1992). Mrs. Carter's memoir, a warmer and more revealing report than the president's, is Rosalynn Carter, First Lady from Plains (Boston, 1984). Carter's rise from obscurity is reported on in Martin Schram, Running for President, 1976: The Carter Campaign (New York, 1977). On Carter's defeat for reelection, see Hamilton Jordan, Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency (New York, 1982), the account by Carter's chief of staff. It should be read in conjunction with Richard Harwood, ed., The Pursuit of the Presidency, 1980 (New York, 1980).

An admiring examination of the Carter years is in Man of the House: The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill, with William Novak (New York, 1987). John Dumbrell, The Carter Presidency: A Reevaluation, 2d ed. (Manchester, Eng., and New York, 1995), is a laudatory but incisive analysis by a foreigner.

A comprehensive study of the president's conduct of foreign relations is Gaddis Smith, Morality, Reason, and Power: American Diplomacy in the Carter Years (New York, 1986). It should be used in conjunction with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser, 19771981 (New York, 1983; rev. ed. 1985); Cyrus Vance, Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy (New York, 1983); and Stansfield Turner, Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition (Boston, 1985). To supplement these memoirs see the oral interviews in Kenneth W. Thompson, ed., The Carter Presidency: Fourteen Intimate Perspectives of Jimmy Carter (Lanham, Md., 1990). On the hostage crisis, specifically, consult James A. Bill, The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations (New Haven, Conn., 1988), and Gary Sick, All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter with Iran (New York, 1985). On nuclear diplomacy, turn to Strobe Talbott, Endgame: The Inside Story of SALT II (New York, 1979).

Recent works include Douglas Brinkley, The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House (New York, 1998), which examines Carter's life following his term in office. See also Jimmy Carter, Living Faith (New York, 1996) and An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (New York, 2001), and Hamilton Jordan, No Such Thing As a Bad Day: A Memoir (Atlanta, Ga., 2000).

Carter, Jimmy

views updated May 21 2018

Jimmy Carter

Born October 1, 1924
Plains, Georgia

U.S. president, governor,
humanitarian, and farmer

I naugurated as the thirty-ninth U.S. president in January 1977, Jimmy Carter came to the White House with little experience in foreign affairs. Yet Carter's presidency coincided with an important period of the Cold War, the longstanding economic and political rivalry between the communist Soviet Union and the democratic United States. After two-and-a-half years of often rocky negotiations, Carter signed a new arms control agreement with the Soviets, SALT II. He granted formal diplomatic recognition to communist China. In response to a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter punished the Soviets by boycotting the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980; U.S. athletes were not allowed to participate in the Games.

Carter's brightest success in foreign policy was the peace agreement he helped negotiate between Egypt and Israel. The most difficult situation he faced as president was the American hostage crisis in Iran that began in November 1979 and did not end until the very day he left office. Carter's greatest accomplishment, overshadowing all else in his presidency, was the promotion of human rights on a global scale.

Young Jimmy

James Earl Carter Jr. was born in Plains, Georgia. His parents—James Earl Sr., or "Earl" for short, and Lillian Gordy Carter—were middle-income landowners who farmed peanuts and cotton and operated a warehouse and store. When Jimmy was four years old, they moved to their new home in a small community known as Archery, four miles from Plains along U.S. Route 280. Jimmy's father was a highly efficient farmer, a businessman, and a civic leader. At his death in 1953, he was a member of the state legislature. Jimmy's most memorable moments were the times his father took him on trips around their farmlands, all of which were within a few miles of Plains. Earl instilled the business ethic in Jimmy early in life. As a five-year-old, Jimmy pulled peanut plants, boiled the peanuts, and took them into Plains in his wagon to sell.

Jimmy's mother, known as "Miz" Lillian, was a trained nurse. She broke the color barrier in their segregated community by caring for black families as well as whites. (Segregate means to separate or set apart; segregated communities were places where there were separate hospitals, schools, and other public facilities for blacks and whites.) Miz Lillian was an avid reader and encouraged her children to read. The Carters had four children: Jimmy, the oldest, and Gloria, Ruth, and Billy.

As a boy, Carter worked with black farmhands on the land or tended his dad's store, where townspeople bought supplies. Many neighbors were black tenant farmers, that is, black farmers who did not own their land but instead worked the land for the landholders. Carter observed firsthand how careful with money the tenant farmers were, always buying the least expensive food and supplies. In his book An Hour Before Daylight (2001), Carter writes, "More than anyone else in my family, perhaps even including my father, I could understand the plight [difficult situation] of the black families because I lived so much among them."

Carter grew up in the 1930s during the Great Depression (1929–41), when up to 25 percent of Americans lost their jobs and many rural folk lost their farms and livelihood. Carter witnessed how his mother never turned anyone away who came to their door for food or a drink of water. These early experiences shaped Carter's attitudes, making him sensitive to the suffering of others and helping him understand the value of all human beings. This was the beginning of Carter's development as a great promoter of human rights.

By the time Carter was in high school, he knew the farming operation well. He could perform all the chores on the farm, knew the animals and the machinery, and had acquired skills in carpentry and blacksmithing. However, Carter was destined to move beyond Plains. Miz Lillian's brother, Tom Watson Gordy, had joined the navy at a young age. He traveled the world and sent letters to his nephew Jimmy about the exotic places where his ships docked. Because of his Uncle Tom's influence, Carter dreamed of attending the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and becoming a naval officer. As Carter's high school graduation date neared, Earl Carter set about helping his son request an appointment to Annapolis through their local congressman Stephen Pace (1891–1970).

A naval officer

Jimmy graduated from Plains High School in the spring of 1941; he was class valedictorian, the student with the highest grade point average. In September, he enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College in Americus, where he took courses recommended by the Annapolis guidebook. For his second year, Jimmy moved to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to study engineering. At the completion of his second year of college, Jimmy received his appointment to Annapolis. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 in the top 10 percent of his class. He returned to Plains that summer to marry Rosalynn Smith on July 7. They would have four children: John William, known as Jack; James Earl III, known as Chip; Donnel Jeffrey, known as Jeff; and Amy Lynn.

Carter began his naval career in 1946 and two years later volunteered for submarine duty. Graduating third out of a class of fifty-two in submarine training school, he received his first sub assignment on the USS Pomfret, then later, the USS K-1. In 1952, Carter served as an officer on the nuclear-powered submarine Sea Wolf. Carter served under navy captain Hyman G. Rickover (1900–1986), who headed the development program for the nation's first nuclear-powered submarines. Carter later said that except for his parents, no one had a greater impact on his conduct in life than Rickover, who demanded excellence and then gave as much as or more than he demanded of others. With his early success in the navy, Carter seemed on track to become an admiral, the navy's highest rank. Then a call from Plains came.

Return to Plains

Carter's father was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 1953. This affliction would also take the lives of all of Jimmy's siblings while they were in their fifties. Carter took a week's leave to be with his dad. During their last time together, Carter realized even more fully the accomplishments of his father and how important his father had been to his rural Georgia community. Much to his wife Rosalynn's dismay, Carter soon resigned from the navy and returned to Plains to take over for his father on the family farm.

By 1960, the farm was prospering, and Carter was also immersed in civic duties. He was a member of the Sumter County Board of Education from 1955 to 1962, served on the local hospital and library boards, and taught Sunday school at the Plains Baptist Church. When the church voted on whether to admit black families, the Carter family and one other church member cast the only favorable votes. Similarly, when a chapter of the segregationist organization White Citizens' Council came to Plains, Carter was the only white male in the community who refused to join.

In 1962, Carter was elected to the Georgia state senate. He was reelected in 1964, then won the Georgia governorship in 1970. In his inaugural address, Carter attracted national attention by declaring that it was time for racial discrimination to end. Carter increased job opportunities for blacks in the state government and began to hang portraits of prominent black leaders in the state capitol. He increased the efficiency of state government by reorganizing about three hundred state agencies into approximately thirty agencies. Carter also became involved in the national political scene. In 1972, he headed the Democratic Governors' Campaign Committee and in 1974 served as chairman of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. As early as 1973, Carter had decided to make a run for the U.S. presidency in 1976.

In Georgia, no one can serve two consecutive terms as governor. So when Carter left office in January 1975, he began campaigning for the presidency nationwide. He attracted little attention, but he continued tirelessly and won the early Iowa caucus, where a group of people gather to select candidates. By the August 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City, Carter had gained enough support to win the nomination. He chose U.S. senator Walter F. Mondale (1928–) of Minnesota as his vice presidential running mate. Carter and Mondale defeated their Republican opponents, President Gerald Ford (1913–) and his running mate, U.S. senator Robert Dole (1923–) of Kansas.

Carter's appeal stemmed from the fact that he was an outsider, not part of the Washington, D.C., political scene. In the minds of the American public, Ford was permanently tied to his predecessor, Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74; see entry), who had resigned from the presidency in disgrace following the Watergate scandal, which involved administration officials participating in the burglary of a Democratic National Committee office and a subsequent cover-up. In one of his first acts as president, Ford pardoned Nixon, a very unpopular move among many citizens. Carter promised to take America toward different goals than Ford and Nixon had pursued. However, concerning relations with the Soviet Union, Carter hoped to continue the policy of détente (decreasing international tensions) that Nixon and Ford had established.

The White House years

Carter appointed Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928–) as his national security advisor and Cyrus Vance (1917–2002) as secretary of state. Brzezinski and Vance held opposing views on how to deal with the Soviets. Vance strongly supported diplomacy (talking out problems), whereas Brzezinski favored military responses to any Soviet activities that were carried out with the goal of expanding communism. Carter at first favored Vance's approach. In January 1977, Carter sent a warm letter to Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982; see entry), general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. In the letter, Carter expressed his desire to improve relations with the Soviet Union and to end the nuclear weapons arms race. With this letter, Carter also intended to establish friendlier relations with the Soviets so the United States could focus more on leading the world in promoting human rights rather than being so consumed with the Cold War rivalry.

Carter's human rights campaign

Carter, a devout Christian, believed in promoting human rights on a global scale. The term human rights refers to certain rights that all people, simply by being human, deserve. Examples of human rights include economic opportunities, political freedoms, and an existence free from oppression, unlawful imprisonment, and torture. In March 1977, Carter increased funding for Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and Voice of America, radio stations that beamed programs about basic human freedoms into the Soviet Union and into Eastern Europe, which was under tight communist control. Andrey Sakharov (1921–1989; see entry), a Soviet nuclear physicist-turned-dissident, or an individual who disagrees with the ideas of those in power, encouraged Carter to pursue his human rights campaign.

In November 1977, at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States accused the Soviets and Eastern European countries of violating their citizens' human rights. Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders charged the United States with interfering in Soviet domestic affairs. In response, through the late 1970s, Brezhnev jailed hundreds of dissidents—anyone in the Soviet Union critical of communist rule. Brezhnev also increased oppression of Soviet Jews who were critical of communist rule. Soon détente was pushed aside, and U.S.-Soviet relations became frosty and hostile. Carter changed course in his foreign policy approach and favored U.S. national security advisor Brzezinski's hard-line attitude toward the Soviets.

Latin America

Carter also focused his human rights campaign on Latin American countries and South Korea. Latin America includes all countries in the Western Hemisphere south of the United States. Carter believed the Soviet Union was no longer a strong threat to Latin American countries, so he halted the U.S. policy of supporting oppressive dictatorships just because they were anticommunist. Argentina, Brazil, and Chile were countries known to suffer from human rights abuses. In an attempt to influence government leaders there, Carter blocked U.S. loans to these countries. He also halted other economic assistance and ended arms deals. Carter's policies resulted in chilled relations with Latin American countries that had previously been friendly to the United States.

Domestic policies

Carter's first action on the home scene was to pardon all those who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War (1954–75). The draft was a process in which all eighteen-yearold U.S. men had to register to enter the military. Some illegally avoided being drafted by packing up and moving to Canada, where they stayed for many years. Carter's pardon of draft evaders was a popular move with some Americans, but it was very unpopular with many war veterans.

During his term, Carter won congressional approval of two new cabinet-level executive departments: the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy would regulate energy suppliers and fund research into additional energy sources. Some of Carter's energy policy successes helped reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. By the time Carter left office in 1981, his energy programs had reduced U.S. dependence on foreign oil from 48 percent to 40 percent. The United States had also stored large amounts of oil and a surplus of natural gas; domestic production of oil and gas had increased substantially. By the mid-1980s, Carter's policies would lead to reduced prices for energy products. However, in the short term, during the late 1970s, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nearly tripled its oil prices from $13 a barrel to above $34 per barrel. Inflation (the rise in the cost of goods and services) soared to above 15 percent, and Carter's popularity plummeted. Carter worsened his public image by giving what became known as his "malaise speech," in which he expressed concern over the American people's malaise (though he never actually used that word in his speech), or lack of confidence and purpose, in the future of the United States. To the public, to the media, and to Congress, Carter seemed distant and arrogant. His chances for reelection grew smaller and smaller.

Successes in foreign affairs

While domestic economic troubles plagued his administration, Carter found success abroad—in relations with China, an arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union, and a peace treaty that he helped negotiate between Egypt and Israel. Carter also succeeded in negotiating treaties to return control of the Panama Canal to the country of Panama, effective December 31, 1999; the United States had constructed the canal and controlled it since the early 1900s. The Panama Canal treaties were in keeping with Carter's policy of scaling back U.S. involvement in other countries.

The Carter administration continued the efforts of Presidents Nixon and Ford by strengthening U.S. ties with communist China. The countries granted each other full diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. Communists interested in China's economic growth replaced many hard-line communists in China. The United States began importing finished consumer goods from China and exporting lumber and food products to China.

After six years of talks during the terms of three U.S. presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Carter), the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) was completed. President Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT II on June 18,1979. SALT II put a ceiling on the number of nuclear delivery vehicles each country could possess and on the number of ballistic missiles the two countries could have in their offensive weapons systems. It did not require the countries to reduce their stockpiles of weapons. On the night of June 18, 1979, Carter addressed a joint session of Congress. In the address, as noted in the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United

States: Jimmy Carter, 1979, Book I, Carter stated, "SALT II is very important, but it's more than a single arms control agreement. It is part of a long, historical process of gradually reducing the danger of nuclear war—a process that we in this room must not undermine.… And, of course, SALT II is the absolutely indispensable precondition for moving on to much deeper and more significant cuts under SALT III."

Unfortunately for U.S.-Soviet relations, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979 and early 1980 to support an unpopular communist government there. U.S.-Soviet relations nose-dived. Carter refused to allow U.S. athletes to go to the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. He also withdrew SALT II from the Senate ratification process. Nevertheless, Brezhnev and Carter and, later, President Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89; see entry), agreed to abide by the provisions of the treaty.

Carter's greatest foreign policy success came with the so-called Camp David Accords. Camp David is the presidential retreat outside Washington, D.C., in the hills of Maryland. Carter invited Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin (1913–1992), and Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat (1918–1981), to Camp David to negotiate a peace treaty. Between September 4 and September 17, 1978, Carter effectively mediated between the two bitter enemies until a peace agreement was worked out. The agreement was formally signed in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 1979. Begin and Sadat received the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

Iranian crisis

In 1979, the shah, or ruler, of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), was forced to flee Iran when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (c. 1900–1989), the leader of the Shiites, a radical Muslim group, took control. Exiled, the shah journeyed to Panama in December 1979. Suffering from cancer, he asked for permission to enter the United States for treatment. President Carter agreed to the shah's request. Greatly angered by this action, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran's capital city, and took sixty-six Americans hostage, fourteen of whom were soon released. The Iranians demanded that the shah be returned to Iran for trial on charges of crimes against the Iranian people before the hostages would be released. All negotiations failed, and Carter ordered a military rescue in April 1980. A desert sand-storm downed several of the American rescue helicopters. One helicopter crashed into a transport plane, killing eight. Finally, on the very day Carter left office, January 20, 1981, the fifty-two hostages were released. The Republican candidate, former California governor Ronald Reagan, had easily defeated Carter in the presidential race by charging that Carter had been ineffective in his handling of the hostage crisis and was equally ineffective in reducing inflation and unemployment at home.

Second return to Georgia

Jimmy Carter returned to Plains in January 1981 and immediately began to write his memoirs, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President, first published in 1982. (An engaging author, Carter has written many other books in his postpresidential years; see side-bar.) In his postpresidential life, Carter became a model for future ex-presidents by maintaining a substantial involvement in worthwhile causes, particularly human rights issues. Considering Carter's accomplishments after 1980, it seems the U.S. presidency was not the pinnacle of his career, but a stepping-stone on a path to further greatness.

In October 1984, construction began on the Jimmy Carter Library. The library is located on a 35-acre campus near downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Completed in October 1986, the facility includes the presidential library, the Carter Museum, privately maintained offices for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and the staff of foundations supported by the Carters, and the Carter Center. The Carter Center operates in partnership with Emory University and is governed by an independent board of trustees chaired by the former president. According to the Center's Web site, its mission "is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering; it seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health."

Through the Carter Center Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have been involved in many dispute resolution activities, especially in civil war situations in Third World countries. They have also monitored elections in countries where open and honest elections are difficult to carry out and given advice to government officials on a variety of issues. Jimmy Carter has served as an unofficial ambassador for several administrations. President George Bush (1924–; served 1989–93; see entry), Reagan's successor, sent Carter to Panama in 1989 to oversee presidential elections there. Then in 1990, Carter led a team that monitored presidential elections in Nicaragua. President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001) sent Carter to North Korea in 1994 to defuse a nuclear weapons dispute. For all his efforts, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

For More Information


Carter, Jimmy. An Hour before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Carter, Rosalynn. First Lady from Plains. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Morris, Kenneth E. Jimmy Carter: American Moralist. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, 1979, Book I. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980.

Richardson, Don, ed. Conversations with Carter. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

Wade, Linda R. James Carter: Thirty-Ninth President of the United States. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1989.

Web Sites

The Carter Center. (accessed on August 24, 2003).

Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. (accessed on August 24, 2003).

Books by Jimmy Carter

Why Not the Best? Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1975.

"I'll Never Lie to You": Jimmy Carter in His Own Words. New York: Ballantine, 1976.

A Government as Good as Its People. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. New York: Bantam, 1982.

Negotiation, the Alternative to Hostility. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984.

The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (with Rosalynn Carter). New York: Random House, 1987.

An Outdoor Journal: Adventures and Reflections. New York: Bantam Press, 1988.

Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age. New York: Times Books, 1992.

Talking Peace. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1995.

Living Faith. New York: Times Books, 1996.

An Hour before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Carter, Jimmy

views updated May 29 2018

Carter, Jimmy 1924-


James Earl Carter, a U.S. naval officer, farmer, Georgia state senator and governor, and the thirty-ninth president of the United States, was the most inexperienced politician to serve as president in the latter half of the twentieth century. This inexperience contributed to President Carters mixed legacy in foreign and domestic policies, despite having the largest majority of Democrats in the U.S. Congress since the Lyndon Baines Johnson (19081973) administration, as well as initial support from the American people to chart a new course in presidential politics.

Elected the first southern president since before the Civil War (18611865), Carter campaigned against corruption and dishonesty in Washington, maintaining that he would never lie to the American people. His honest character and an anti-Washington environment, including lingering public resentment over Gerald Fords pardon of Richard Nixon (19131994), undoubtedly helped Carter build an early and commanding thirty-point lead in polls. But Carter needed the help of Fords own gaffe in the second presidential debate, during which Ford stated that the Soviet Union did not dominate Eastern Europe, to narrowly defeat the incumbent and former vice president by only fifty-seven electoral votes. Carter would later understand the impact that the media could have on his presidency when they focused more on his cardigan sweaters (style) than his policy message about the oil shortage (substance) during his short-lived fireside chats.

In foreign policy, President Carter achieved significant victories and stunning defeats. Just as Nixon was the first U.S. president to visit China, Carter was the first to normalize relations with the Communist country. Carter also helped broker the Camp David Accords, which brought peace between Egypt and Israel in March 1979. He had earlier won a hard-fought victory in the Senate (however unpopular) when it ratified the Panama Canal Treaty in April 1978, turning control of the canal over to the Panamanian government partially in October 1979 and completely on December 31, 1999.

Despite receiving a bump in his job-approval ratings (from 31 to 52%, according to the Gallup Poll) following the seizure of hostages in Iran, Carter was criticized for his decision to admit the ailing shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment. This action precipitated the taking of more than sixty American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. This crisis plagued the Carter presidency until his successor, Ronald Reagan (19112004), took the oath of office on January 20, 1981, when all the hostages were released. Previous diplomatic, economic, and military efforts to secure the release of the hostages had failed. Most politically damaging to the president and his reputation as chief diplomat and commander in chief was a failed rescue mission on April 24, 1980, in which three malfunctioning helicopters forced the operation to be aborted. Carters inability to secure the hostages release defined his presidency as a failure in foreign policy, despite its numerous diplomatic successes.

The relationship of the United States with the Soviet Union also proved mixed during the Carter presidency. Carter signed the SALT II arms control treaty with Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev (19061982) in June 1979, but the U.S. Senate did not ratify it. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 all but ended the administrations hope for ratification. The invasion also precipitated a U.S. grain embargo of the Soviet Union (ended by Reagan in 1981), a United Nations resolution calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow by the United States and sixty-three other nations. It also led to the Carter Doctrine, outlined in Carters last State of the Union address in January 1980, which established that any attempt by the USSR to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States.

Carter is often blamed for failing to deliver what all presidents must deliver to be politically successful and ensure their own reelection: a strong economy. His difficulties in convincing Congress and the American public to adopt his massive energy program are tantamount to the policy problems he faced. The final energy statute was much weaker than what he had requested, and the American people did not receive well his pleas for sacrifice and conservation, despite the intended benefits. Carter is often viewed as an unskilled legislative leader, in part because he proposed too many major legislative initiatives (Light 1999). Yet, his domestic victories have had a lasting impact on American society. Two major successesfounding the departments of Energy and Educationwithstood calls for abolishment by the Reagan administration and remain influential and indicative of the legacy of the Carter presidency. Other successes, such as deregulation of the airlines (1978), natural gas prices (1978), and the trucking industry (1980) continue to affect American consumers, just as the Alaska Land Act (1980) set aside over 100 million acres of federal land for wilderness areas and national parks.

The failures of the Carter presidency clearly overshadowed his important policy successes. His opponent in the 1980 presidential election, the former Republican governor of California, Ronald Reagan, simplified voters decisions to a retrospective evaluation of the current administrationare you better off now than you were four years ago? Carter lost by 10 percent in the popular vote, but won only six states and the District of Columbiaforty-nine electoral votes or 9 percent of the totalin his failed reelection bid on November 4, 1980.

As a former president, Carter has been involved in numerous humanitarian and diplomatic missions. Well known as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Carter also led a diplomatic convoy to avert a crisis in Haiti (1994), lectured in political science at Emory University, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development (Nobel Committee 2002). Just as when he was president, Carter continued to foster human rights around the world. In these and other ways, Carter has been uniquely more respected and influential after 1980 than he was during his term as president.

SEE ALSO Presidency, The


Carter, Jimmy. 1975. Why Not the Best? The First Fifty Years. Nashville, TN: Broadman.

Carter, Jimmy. 1980. State of the Union Address (January 23).

Carter, Jimmy. 1982. Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. New York: Bantam.

Light, Paul C. 1999. The Presidents Agenda: Domestic Policy Choice from Kennedy to Clinton. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nobel Committee. 2002. Press Release: The Nobel Peace Prize 2002.

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha

James Earl Carter

views updated May 29 2018

James Earl Carter

The first U.S. president to be elected from the deep South in 132 years, James Earl (Jimmy) Carter (born 1924) served one term (1977-1981). In 1980 he lost his bid for re-election to Republican candidate Ronald Reagan but went on to be a much admired worker for peace and human rights at home and abroad.

James Earl Carter was born in the small southern town of Plains, Georgia, on October 1, 1924. He was the first child of farmer and small businessman James Earl Carter and former nurse, Lillian Gordy Carter. When Carter was four, the family moved to a farm in Archery, a rural community a few miles west of Plains. At five, Jimmy was already demonstrating his independence and his talents for business: he began to sell peanuts on the streets of Plains. At the age of nine, Carter invested his earnings in five bales of cotton which he stored for several years, then sold at a profit large enough to enable him to purchase five old houses in Plains.

Following his graduation from high school in 1941, Carter enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College, but in 1942 he received word that a much desired appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis had been approved. Carter entered the academy in 1943, and showed a special talent for electronics and naval tactics, eventually going on to work on the nation's first nuclear powered submarines. During his time in the Navy he also met Rosalynn Smith who he married on July 7, 1947 and had four children with: John, James Earl III, Jeffrey, and a daughter born much later, Amy.

Civic Activist to Politician

Carter had ambitions to become an admiral, but in 1953, following his father's death from cancer, he returned to Plains to manage the family businesses. He took over both the farm and the peanut warehouses his father had established, enlarged the business and, in order to keep up with modern farming techniques, studied at the Agricultural Experimental Station in Tifton, Georgia.

During these years in Plains, Carter began to play an active role in local civic affairs. From 1955 to 1962 he was active in a number of local functions and served on the boards of several civic organizations. In this civic life, Jimmy Carter distinguished himself by his liberal views on racial issues which could be traced back to his mother's disregard for many of the deep South's racist traditions.

As far as Carter's interest in politics goes, this may have come from his father, who had served for a year in the Georgia legislature. In 1962 Carter ran for a seat in the Georgia Senate and defeated his Republican opponent by about 1,000 votes. As a state senator, Carter promised to read every single bill that came up and when it looked as if he wouldn't be able to keep this promise due to the great volume of bills, he took a speed reading course to solve the problem. In government he earned a reputation as one of the most effective legislators and an outspoken moderate liberal. Carter was reelected to the state Senate in 1964.

In 1966, after first declaring himself as a candidate for the U.S. Congress, Carter decided to run for the office of governor of Georgia. He was beaten by Lester Maddox in the Democratic primary election though. Disappointed and spiritually bankrupt, Carter then became "born again" and pushed forward. Between 1966 and 1970 he traveled widely through the state, making close to 1,800 speeches, studying the problems of Georgia, and campaigning hard. In the 1970 gubernatorial election, Carter's hard work paid off and he won Georgia's top position.

Governor of Georgia

In his inaugural address Carter announced his intentions to aid all poor and needy Georgians, regardless of race. This speech won Carter his first national attention, for in it he called for an end to racial discrimination and the extension of a right to an education, to a job, and to "simple justice" for the poor. As governor, Carter worked for, and signed into law, a bill which stipulated that the poor and wealthy areas of Georgia would have equal state aid for education. Carter also worked to cut waste in the government, merging 300 state agencies into only 30. The number of African-American appointees on major state boards and agencies increased from three to 53 and the number of African-American state employees rose by 40 percent. During his term, laws were passed to protect historical sites, conserve the environment, and to encourage openness in government.

While governor, Carter became increasingly involved in national Democratic Party politics. In 1972 he headed the Democratic Governors Campaign Committee, and in 1974 was chair of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. That same year Carter officially declared his intention to run for president in the 1976 race. When Carter announced his intentions to seek the presidency, he was still little known outside the state of Georgia. As late as October 1975 a public opinion poll on possible Democratic candidates did not even list his name. Then, in January 1976, Carter's whirlwind rise to national prominence began and by March 1976 he was the top choice among Democrats for the presidential nomination.

The 1976 Election

Carter's success against ten other candidates began with a victory in the New Hampshire primary in February. He was successful in making himself a symbol of a leader without ties to the entrenched interest groups of the nation's capital. Carter convinced voters that without these ties he would be able to act independently and effectively. In his campaign he also vowed to restore moral leadership to the presidency which had been badly shaken in the wake of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Carter easily won 17 of 30 primary contests and was elected on the first ballot at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.

With his running mate, Minnesota liberal Democrat Walter Mondale, Carter made unemployment a central issue of his campaign, urging the creation of jobs through increased federal spending and the expansion of business. Carter also campaigned on promises of pardon for the draft evaders of the Vietnam War period, the reorganization of the federal government bureaucracy, and the development of a national energy policy.

When Carter defeated the incumbent, Gerald Ford, by 1,678,069 popular votes, winning 297 electoral college votes to Ford's 240, he became the first president from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor in 1844. Carter's victory was definitely regional and was definitely based on social and economic class as his winning margin came from African-Americans, those with low incomes, and others who thought that they were being hurt by the policies of the Ford administration. Four out of five African-Americans voted for Carter and he also did well among white southerners, receiving the highest number of votes for a Democratic candidate since Roosevelt, but lost over one-half of Catholic voters and 55 percent of the Italian vote. One of the challenges to Carter was to ease the regional and ethnic splits evident in the election and to create a unified support for his presidency.

His Record as President

The year 1977 began well for the new president with a series of quick victories for Carter-backed programs. These included congressional approval of his plans to eliminate or consolidate federal agencies which duplicated services and of legislation aimed at lowering federal income taxes. In August of 1977 Congress adopted Carter's proposal to establish the Department of Energy as a new executive department. At the same time, Carter used his executive powers to make good on campaign pledges, including the pardoning of Vietnam War draft evaders and ending production of the B-1 bomber, which he felt was wasteful.

The Carter Administration was not without its problems though. In 1977 economic conditions had improved somewhat and unemployment had fallen, but by 1978 inflation had, despite a variety of approaches to stabilize it, continued to rise, reaching 15 percent by mid-1980. Due largely to these economic problems, Carter's approval rating in a July 1980 poll measured only 21 percent, the lowest recorded for any American president.

Carter's term was also marked by mixed success in foreign affairs. In 1977 Carter attracted worldwide attention and praise for his strong support of human rights wherein he limited or banned entirely any United States aid to nations believed to be human rights violators, but mixed reviews came for two 1977 treaties dealing with the Panama Canal. The first of these gave control of the canal to Panama on December 31, 1999 and the second gave the United States the right to defend the neutrality of the canal. Carter was influential in the Camp David Accords as well as in the creation of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and in the negotiation of SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) II with the Soviet Union, although these negotiations were ultimately delayed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Carter's most dramatic moments in foreign policy affairs began in November 1979 when Iranian student militants seized the United States embassy in Teheran and took 52 U.S. citizens hostage. The hostages were to be held, their captors said, until the deposed Shah, who was in the United States for medical treatment, was handed over. Carter responded first by cutting diplomatic relations with Iran and stopping all imports from that country. When these measures failed he, in April 1980, ordered an attempt at armed rescue, which failed and led to the death of eight marines and the resignation of Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance. In the end the crisis lasted for a total of 444 days with the hostages finally being released on January 20, 1981, the last day that Carter held office.

The hostage crisis overseas and economic difficulties at home left Carter vulnerable but still vying for the top spot in the 1980 presidential elections. Running again with Vice President Walter Mondale, Carter was defeated by former California governor and actor Ronald Reagan by a wide margin. He received only 35 million votes to Reagan's 44 million and lost the electoral college vote 489 to 44.

The Right Things to Accomplish Post Presidency

While seen as a somewhat lame-duck immediately following his departure as president in 1981, recent historical revisionism has cast him in a more favorable light, especially in lieu of his successor's later improprieties during the Iran-Contra scandal. Viewed as a basically honest man, not a small commodity in this age of popular mistrust of government, Carter has devoted his post presidential career to an array of peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts.

In 1981 Carter established the Carter Center which, with its sizable budget, has sponsored programs from promoting human rights in third world countries to maintaining databases of immunization for local Atlanta children. The Carter Center has also monitored elections in newly democratized countries, fought such diseases as polio and river blindness, and helped eradicate the harmful African Guinea worm in Pakistan. In addition to these humanitarian efforts, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have volunteered their summers building low-income housing through the Habitat For Humanity organization.

The international relations front has also been no stranger to Carter since his defeat to Ronald Reagan. In 1990 he persuaded Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega to step down and let an elected president, Violeta Chamorro, step in, something that without the relative neutrality of Carter's position probably would not have been possible. Carter has also served as somewhat of a mediator between President Bill Clinton and various leaders of non-democratic nations. In the early 1990s Carter brought messages from Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid to President Clinton which helped avoid a military confrontation and in June 1994 Carter negotiated with North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung to freeze his country's nuclear program and allow inspection of their nuclear facilities. Interestingly enough, sometimes Carter's efforts haven't been completely appreciated. President Clinton was reportedly incensed at Carter going over his head in foreign matters and making statements that he wasn't authorized to make.

One further mixed victory from Carter came when in September 1994, he, with the help of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, negotiated an agreement with Haitian revolutionary leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cédras. Haiti, since the ouster of their first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991, had been a cesspool of violence and poverty since the revolution. Boatloads of Haitians seeking an escape from the myriad human rights abuses were arriving on U.S. shores daily and the situation was pointing towards a military invasion. President Clinton called on Carter to help, which he did with an agreement wherein military leaders relinquished power and handed it over to American forces until democracy could be restored. The downside of the agreement being Cédras and his cronies being given permission to stay in Haiti instead of being exiled which drew much criticism.

Whatever flak Carter has received for his methods of handling foreign affairs they fade from view when compared to the tireless work he has done for humanity since the end of his presidency. No other former president has worked so hard in the public arena while still maintaining personal pursuits which in Carter's case involve hunting, fishing, teaching adult Sunday school, and writing several books including one of his own poetry. As Carter's former speech writer, James Fallows, put it in 1990, "…what becomes … admirable is precisely the idealism of (Carter's) vision, the energy and intelligence and morality he has put into figuring out what is the right thing to accomplish."

Further Reading

There are several books that tell Jimmy Carter's story. Carter himself has written a number of books which include: Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982), The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East (1985), An Outdoor Journal: Adventures and Reflections (1988), Turning Point: A Candidate, A State, and a Nation Come of Age (1993), and his volume of poetry Always a Reckoning (1995). Edna Langford and Linda Cox have done a biography of Carter's wife, Rosalynn, entitled Rosalynn, Friend and First Lady (1980) and Rosalynn tells her own story in First Lady From Plains (1985). Hamilton Jordan's book, Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency (1982) deals largely with the Iranian hostage crisis, while Jack Germond and Jules Witcover's Blue Smoke and Mirrors: How Reagan Won and Why Carter Lost the Election of 1980 (1981) analyzes Carter's defeat in his bid for reelection. Carter's greatest diplomatic success—the 1978-1979 agreement between Israel and Egypt—is detailed in Camp David (1986) by William Quandt, a member of the Carter administration. Other accounts of Carter's life can be found in Peter G. Bourne's Jimmy Carter: A Comprehensive Biography (1997) and Rod Troester's Jimmy Carter as Peacemaker: A Post Presidential Biography (1996). For those inclined to go online, the Carter Center's Web site address is <>. □

Carter, Jimmy

views updated May 29 2018

Jimmy Carter

Born: October 1, 1924
Plains, Georgia

American president, governor, and humanitarian

Jimmy Carter was a state senator, governor, and the first U.S. president to be elected from the deep South in 132 years, serving one term (197781). In 1980 he lost his bid for reelection but continues to be a much admired peacemaker and human rights leader at home and abroad.

Childhood and education

James Earl Carter was born in Plains, Georgia, on October 1, 1924. He was the first child of farmer and small businessman James Earl Carter and former nurse Lillian Gordy Carter. At five, Jimmy already showed a talent for business: he began to sell peanuts on the streets of Plains. At the age of nine, Carter invested his earnings in five bales of cotton, which he stored for several years and then sold at a profit. With this money he was able to purchase five old houses in Plains.

Upon his graduation from high school in 1941, Carter enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College, but in 1942 he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Carter entered the academy in 1943 and showed a special talent for electronics and naval tactics. He would eventually work on the nation's first nuclear-powered submarines. During his time in the navy he also met Rosalynn Smith (1927), whom he married on July 7, 1947. The couple had four children.

Civic activist to politician

Carter wanted to become an admiral (a high-ranking officer in the navy), but in 1953, following his father's death from cancer, he returned to Plains to manage the family-owned farm and peanut warehouses. In order to keep up with modern farming methods, he studied at the Agricultural Experimental Station in Tifton, Georgia. During these years in Plains, Carter was active in a number of civic organizations. He set himself apart from others by showing his concern for members of all races, which could be traced back to his mother's refusal to accept many of the deep South's racist (dislike or disrespect of a person based on the color of his or her skin) traditions.

Carter's interest in politics may have come from his father, who had served in the Georgia legislature. In 1962 he ran for a seat in the Georgia Senate and defeated his Republican opponent by approximately one thousand votes. As a state senator, Carter promised to read every single bill that came up. When it looked as if he would not be able to keep this promise because of the large number of bills, he took a speed reading course to solve the problem. He earned a reputation as an effective legislator and was reelected to the state senate in 1964.

In 1966 Carter decided to run for governor of Georgia. He lost to Lester Maddox (1915) in the Democratic primary election. Although disappointed, Carter pushed forward. Between 1966 and 1970 he traveled throughout the state, making close to eighteen hundred speeches, studying the problems of Georgia, and campaigning. In the 1970 election, Carter's hard work paid off and he won Georgia's top position.

Governor of Georgia

When he was elected governor, Carter announced his intention to help all poor and needy Georgians, regardless of race. This speech won Carter national attention for the first time. He called for an end to prejudice (unequal treatment based on a person's race) and for education, jobs, and "simple justice" for the poor. As governor, he signed into law a bill ensuring that all areas of Georgia would have equal state aid for education. Carter also worked to cut government waste, combining three hundred state agencies into only thirty. The number of African American appointees on state boards and agencies increased, and the number of African American state employees rose by 40 percent. During his term, laws were passed to protect historical sites, to conserve the environment, and to encourage openness in government.

Carter became increasingly involved in national Democratic Party politics. In 1972 he headed the Democratic Governors Campaign Committee, and in 1974 he was chair of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. That same year Carter officially declared his intention to run for president in 1976, even though he was still little known outside the state of Georgia. As late as October 1975 a public opinion poll on possible Democratic candidates did not even list his name. Carter's rise to national prominence began in January 1976 with his intensive and industrious campaigning. By March he was the top choice among Democrats to run for president.

The 1976 election

Carter's success began with a victory in the New Hampshire primary in February. He convinced voters that he would be able to act independently and effectively. In his campaign he also vowed to restore moral leadership to the presidency. After the Watergate incident, when Richard Nixon (19131994) stepped down as president rather than face criminal charges, this was what people wanted to hear. Carter was elected on the first ballot at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.

With his running mate, Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale (1928), Carter made unemployment a central issue of his campaign, urging the creation of jobs through increased federal spending and the growth of business. Carter promised to reorganize the many offices and departments of the federal government and to develop a national energy policy. He also agreed to pardon those who had refused to fight in the Vietnam War (195575; this civil war between South Vietnam, supported by the United States, and the Communist forces of North Vietnam had just ended and was long considered a U.S. failure.) America's involvement through the troubled years took the form of military funds, advisors, and thousands of soldiers.

When Carter defeated Gerald Ford (1913) in the general election, he became the first president from the deep South since Zachary Taylor (17841850). Carter's victory margin came from African Americans, from those with low incomes, and from others who thought that they were being hurt by the policies of the Ford administration. One of Carter's challenges was to reach out to groups that had not really supported him, such as Catholics and Italian Americans.

His record as president

Carter's presidency began well. Congress approved his plans to dissolve or combine federal agencies that provided similar services and passed legislation aimed at lowering income taxes. In August 1977 his proposal to establish the Department of Energy as a new executive department was adopted. Unfortunately, inflation (a general increase in prices that reduces the value of money) continued to rise during his term, reaching 15 percent by mid-1980. Carter became more unpopular as a result. A July 1980 poll showed that only 21 percent of those responding approved of the job he was doing, the lowest rating recorded for any American president.

Carter's term was also marked by mixed success in foreign affairs. In 1977 he attracted worldwide attention and praise when he cut off United States aid to nations believed to have committed human rights violations. However, two 1977 treaties dealing with the Panama Canal earned him mixed reviews. The treaties promised to give control of the canal to Panama at the end of 1999 and ensured neutrality of the waterway. Carter also helped in the creation of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979 at Camp David, Maryland. With Carter as witness, President Anwar el-Sadat (19181981) and Prime Minister Menachem Begin (19131992) signed a pact that ended war between the two countries.

Carter's most dramatic moments in foreign policy affairs began in November 1979 when a group of students seized the United States embassy in Teheran, Iran, and took fifty-two U.S. citizens captive. When Carter's responsesincluding stopping all imports from Irandid not resolve the situation, he ordered an armed rescue in April 1980, which failed and led to the deaths of eight marines. The hostages were finally released on the last day that Carter held office. Carter had run for reelection in 1980, but he was defeated by former California governor Ronald Reagan (1911) by a wide margin.

After the presidency

Carter has devoted his career since leaving office to trying to achieve peace and help humanity. In 1981 he established the Carter Center, which sponsors a number of programs, including the promotion of human rights in third-world countries and maintaining detailed medical records for local Atlanta children. The Carter Center also monitors elections in newly democratic countries and works to fight disease. In addition to these efforts, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have spent their summers volunteering to build housing for the poor through the Habitat for Humanity organization.

Carter remains involved in international relations as well. In 1990 he persuaded Nicaraguan opposition leader Daniel Ortega (1945) to step down and let an elected president step in. In the early 1990s Carter brought messages from Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid (19341996) to President Bill Clinton (1946) that helped avoid a military conflict. In June 1994 Carter negotiated with North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung (19121994) to freeze his country's nuclear weapons program.

Carter had been criticized for his handling of foreign relations during his presidency, but his tireless work on all kinds of issues since leaving office has earned him great praise. In 1999 Carter was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor for private citizens. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his continuing efforts to bring peace to warring countries, to advance human rights, and to promote economic development in poor countries.

For More Information

Carter, Jimmy. The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Carter, Jimmy. Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Fink, Gary M. Prelude to the Presidency. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Morris, Kenneth E. Jimmy Carter: American Moralist. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Carter, Jimmy

views updated May 23 2018

Jimmy Carter

James Earl Carter Jr. was born on October 1, 1924, into a farming family in Plains, Georgia . His father was a farmer and local business owner, his mother a nurse, and there were three other children in the family. When the young Carter, known as Jimmy, was four, the family moved to a community called Archery to operate a peanut farm. The farm was a success, but even so, the family home was not equipped with running water or electricity.

Carter graduated from high school in 1941 and enrolled in college. His stay was cut short when he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland in 1942. There he excelled in electronics and naval tactics. Carter graduated near the top of his class in 1946 and served in the U.S. Navy until 1953. He married Rosalynn Smith (1927–) the year of his graduation, and the couple eventually had four children.

The Carter family moved to Norfolk, Virginia, soon after the marriage. When Carter's father died in 1953, young Carter resigned his commission and returned home to run the peanut farm. With the help of his wife, he turned it into a million-dollar business.

Enters politics

Carter was an active member in the Plains community, where he served on the board of education, joined other civic organizations, and was a deacon in his church. Carter's commitment to his Baptist faith gave him a liberal view on race, and amid the severe racial tensions of the 1950s South, his was a voice of tolerance.

Carter ran for a seat in the Georgia state senate in 1962 as a Democrat but lost in the primary. When he was able to prove his opponent had committed voter fraud, he easily won the general election. He earned a reputation as an outspoken, effective legislator and was reelected to another two-year term in 1964.

Carter ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1966. Despite the loss, he was convinced he could use politics as a tool to achieve good works. Between 1966 and 1970, Carter traveled the state, studying problems and making nearly eighteen hundred speeches. He won the governor's seat in 1970. In that position, he increased the number of African American state employees by 40 percent and pushed through a law stating that the poor and the wealthy areas of Georgia must have equal educational funding.

While governor, Carter became more active in the Democratic Party on a national level. In 1974, staff members of Republican president Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) broke into Democratic campaign headquarters. This event became known as the Watergate scandal , and it shook American politics to its core. It was during this upheaval that Carter announced his plans to run for president. In the 1976 campaign, he won the Democratic Party nomination, and on November 2, he defeated President Gerald R. Ford (1913–2006; served 1974–77), who had taken over the presidency when Nixon resigned amidst the disgrace of the Watergate scandal.

A one-term president

Carter was known for his down-to-earth leadership style. He wore cardigan sweaters instead of business suits, and he walked in parades rather than ride in a limousine. He was what he said he was: a regular man of the people.

His was a difficult presidency, however. Unemployment and inflation were high, and there was trouble with Iran. On November 4, 1979, militant Iranian students took over the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The students were angry with the Carter adminstration because it had allowed Iran's deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment. America had supported the Shah for years, but many Iranians resented him for his Western influences and repressive practices. Carter could not get the hostages freed, and in April 1980, eight U.S. Marines accidentally died when a rescue attempt had to be aborted. The Iran hostage crisis was a nightmare for the president, and it would haunt him throughout his term.

Carter achieved some major feats while in office. In September 1977, he negotiated the Panama Canal Treaties, a controversial move that gave control of the American-built canal to the Central American nation of Panama in the year 2000. Until that time, control would be shared between the United States and Panama. Many Americans and the Republican Party believed this negotiation to be a bad move strategically. The Panama Canal is a neutral canal, meaning that ships from all countries may use it for commerce. America had been in control of the canal since its completion in 1903. Carter's negotiations allowed America the permanent right to defend its neutrality, but control was given to Panama, an unstable country led by a brutal military dictator. After signing the treaties, Carter visited Panama with his wife and twelve senators. While there, the politicians urged Panama to soften its policies. Ultimately, the treaties led to improved relations between Latin America and Panama.

On September 17, 1978, Carter negotiated a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, two countries long embroiled in violent conflict. This agreement is known as the Camp David Accords . He also continued normalizing diplomatic and trade relations with the People's Republic of China. Carter made great efforts to minimize the number of nuclear arms produced by both the United States and the Soviet Union. His efforts resulted in negotiations known as the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) II Treaty in 1979. Congress was reluctant to ratify the treaty because it was feared the terms would weaken the United States. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, Carter withdrew the treaty, and it was never ratified. Even so, the commitments outlined in SALT II were honored by both the United States and the Soviet Union.

America's economic situation was difficult for various reasons while Carter was in office. That fact, coupled with the hostage situation, left Carter at a disadvantage when it came time for reelection. The Republican Party challenger, former California governor Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89), defeated the former peanut farmer by one of the largest margins in history. Carter kept his efforts focused on the release of the hostages, who finally were freed on January 20, 1981, the day of Reagan's inauguration—literally minutes after Reagan was sworn in as president. Former president Carter represented the U.S. government in West Germany, where the hostages were welcomed at a military airbase and underwent medical tests.


In the years immediately following his term in the Oval Office, historians considered Carter a decent man but one ill-equipped for leading the nation. More recent analysis assesses Carter's decisions and actions in a more positive light. For example, though he was criticized for the way he handled the Iran hostage crisis, he did manage to bring home all 52 Americans alive without breaking any laws.

Carter used his post-presidency to champion causes he believed in. In 1981, Carter established the nonprofit Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The organization's purpose is multifaceted and includes the promotion of human rights and health care in Third World countries, the monitoring of democratic elections overseas, and the maintenance of immunization records for Atlanta children. Carter also aligned himself with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds low-income housing around the world.

Carter maintained his role as a statesperson into the twenty-first century. In 2002, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, only the third U.S. president to win the honor. The other two were Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) and Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21). Carter continues to dedicate his life to humanitarian issues around the world and has published scores of books on various topics.

Carter, Jimmy

views updated Jun 11 2018

Carter, Jimmy (1924– ), naval officer, farm business operator, governor, president of the United States.Born in Plains, Georgia, Carter graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 and became a nuclear submarine officer. After his father's death (1953), he returned to manage the family's farming enterprises. Active in the local Baptist church and state politics, Carter was a state senator (1963–67) and governor of Georgia (1971–75). In 1974, he narrowly defeated President Gerald Ford.

As president, Carter characterized himself as nonideological, a social liberal and fiscal conservative. He had a strong sense of morality and equity. A rational and diligent manager, Carter proved a technician rather than a logrolling politician or a highly inspiring leader. He experienced only a mixed success in foreign and defense matters, a result of circumstances and of Carter himself.

Diplomatically, the Carter administration negotiated and secured a divided Senate's ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, completed normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China, and spectacularly achieved a peace treaty, the Camp David Accords (1978), between Israel and Egypt.

Carter was also confronted with major challenges over which he had little control, although he was criticized for lurching between weak and hard‐line policies. Soviet intervention in Cuba and the Horn of Africa and Russian military occupation of Afghanistan led the administration to support a military buildup. Carter ended his opposition to increases in the military budget, approved construction of the MX missile, abandoned his SALT II Treaty, canceled U.S. participation in the Summer Olympics in Moscow, and resumed compulsory draft registration. In the “Carter Doctrine,” he pledged protection of the oil‐rich Persian Gulf region and established a rapid deployment force to enforce it.

Seizure of U.S. Embassy hostages in November 1979 by successful Iranian revolutionaries led Carter to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran. In April 1980, an ill‐fated military rescue attempt was aborted at the “Desert One” site south of Tehran after three of the eight helicopters malfunctioned. Another helicopter and a C‐130 transport plane collided in the nighttime lift‐off. Government released the hostages in January 1981 when Ronald Reagan became president.

Out of office, Carter pursued his own agenda, involving human rights, social welfare, and international mediation. He played particularly important, if often controversial, roles in easing later conflicts with Nicaragua, North Korea, and Haiti. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work as a mediator and head of the Carter Centre in Atlanta.
[See also Conscription; Iran, U.S. Military Involvement in; Panama, U.S. Military Involvement in; SALT Treaties.]


Burton I. Kaufman , The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr., 1993.
Gary M. Fink and Hush Davis Graham, eds., The Carter Presidency, 1998.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

Carter, Jimmy

views updated May 29 2018


CARTER, Jimmy. (James Earl Carter, Jr). American, b. 1924. Genres: Politics/Government, Autobiography/Memoirs, Inspirational/Motivational Literature. Career: Distinguished Professor, Emory University, Atlanta, 1982-. Chairman, Board of Trustees, Carter Center, Atlanta, Carter-Menil Human Rights Foundation, and Global 200, Inc., all 1986-. U.S. Navy, Lt., 1946-53; Businessman/Farmer (Carter Peanut Farms), 1953-77; Georgia State Senator, 1962-66; Governor of Georgia, 1971-74; President of the United States, 1977-81. Recipient: Nobel Prize for Peace, 2002. Publications: Why Not the Best?, 1975; A Government as Good as Its People, 1977; Letters to the Hon. William Prescott, 1977; Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President, 1982; Negotiation: The Alternative to Hostility, 1984; The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East, 1985, new ed., 1993; (with R. Carter) Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life, 1987; An Outdoor Journal, 1988; Turning Point: A Candidate and a State Come of Age, 1992; Talking Peace: A Vision for the Next Generation, 1993; Always a Reckoning and Other Poems, 1995; Living Faith, 1996; The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer, 1996; Sources of Strength: Meditations on Scripture for Daily Living, 1997; The Virtues of Aging, 1998; An Hour before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, 2000; The Hornet's Nest (novel), 2003. Address: The Carter Center, One Copenhill, 453 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta, GA 30307-1498, U.S.A.

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