Carter, Jimmy

Carter, Jimmy
orig. James Earl Carter

born Oct. 1, 1924, Plains, Ga., U.S.

39th president of the U.S. (1977–81).

He graduated from Annapolis and served in the U.S. Navy until 1953, when he left to manage the family peanut business. He served in the state senate from 1962 to 1966. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1966; depressed by this experience, he found solace in evangelical Christianity, becoming a born-again Baptist. In 1970 he ran again and won. As governor (1971–75), he opened Georgia's government offices to African Americans and women and introduced stricter budgeting procedures for state agencies. In 1976, though lacking a national political base or major backing, he won the Democratic nomination and the presidency, defeating the Republican incumbent, Gerald Ford. As president, Carter helped negotiate a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed a treaty with Panama to make the Panama Canal a neutral zone after 1999, and established full diplomatic relations with China. In 1979–80 the Iran hostage crisis became a major political liability. He responded forcefully to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, embargoing the shipment of U.S. grain to the Soviet Union and pressing for a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The poor state of the economy, which was plagued by high inflation and high unemployment, contributed to Carter's electoral defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980. He subsequently became involved in numerous international diplomatic negotiations and helped to oversee elections in countries with insecure democratic traditions; he also became the first sitting or former American president to visit Fidel Castro's Cuba. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002.

Jimmy Carter, 1979

UPI/Bettmann Newsphotos

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▪ president of United States
in full  James Earl Carter, Jr.  
born October 1, 1924, Plains, Georgia, U.S.
 39th president of the United States (1977–81), who served as the nation's chief executive during a time of serious problems at home and abroad. His perceived inability to deal successfully with those problems led to an overwhelming defeat in his bid for reelection. After leaving office he embarked on a career of diplomacy and advocacy, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

      The son of Earl Carter, a peanut warehouser who had served in the Georgia state legislature, and Lillian Gordy Carter, a registered nurse who went to India as a Peace Corps volunteer at age 68, Carter attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1946. After marrying Rosalynn Smith (Rosalynn Carter (Carter, Rosalynn))—who came from Carter's small hometown, Plains, Georgia—he embarked on a seven-year career in the U.S. Navy, serving submarine duty for five years. He was preparing to become an engineering officer for the submarine Seawolf in 1953 when his father died. Carter resigned his commission and returned to Georgia to manage the family peanut farm operations.

      Beginning his political career by serving on the local board of education, Carter won election as a Democrat to the Georgia State Senate in 1962 and was reelected in 1964. In 1966 he failed in a bid for the governorship and, depressed by this experience, found solace in evangelical Christianity, becoming a born-again Baptist. Prior to running again for governor and winning in 1970, Carter at least tacitly adhered to a segregationist approach; however, in his inaugural address he announced that “the time for racial discrimination is over” and proceeded to open Georgia's government offices to blacks—and to women. As governor he reorganized the existing maze of state agencies and consolidated them into larger units while introducing stricter budgeting procedures for them. In the process he came to national attention, finding his way onto the cover of Time magazine as a symbol of both good government and the “New South.”

  In 1974, just before his term as governor ended, Carter announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. Although lacking a national political base or major backing, he managed through tireless and systematic campaigning to assemble a broad constituency. In the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, which had raised widespread concern about the power of the presidency and the integrity of the executive branch, Carter styled himself as an outsider to Washington, D.C., a man of strong principles who could restore the faith of the American people in their leaders. Ironically, Carter's moral stance and candour caused a small stir when, during the campaign, he admitted in an interview with Playboy magazine that he had “committed adultery in [his] heart many times.”

     Cabinet of President Jimmy CarterWinning the Democratic nomination in July 1976, Carter chose the liberal U.S. Senator Walter F. Mondale (Mondale, Walter) of Minnesota as his running mate. Carter's opponent was the unelected incumbent Republican president, Gerald R. Ford (Ford, Gerald R.), who had come into office in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate. Many believed that the close race tipped in Carter's favour after Ford stumbled in a televised debate by saying that eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviet Union. In November 1976 the Carter-Mondale ticket won the election, capturing 51 percent of the popular vote and garnering 297 electoral votes to Ford's 240. (The table provides a list of cabinet members in the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Cabinet of President Jimmy Carter)

      Beginning with his inaugural walk with Rosalynn down Pennsylvania Avenue, Carter tried to reinforce his image as a man of the people. (See primary source document: Inaugural Address (Jimmy Carter: Inaugural Address).) He adopted an informal style of dress and speech in public appearances, held frequent press conferences, and reduced the pomp of the presidency. Early on in his administration, Carter introduced a dizzying array of ambitious programs for social, administrative, and economic reform. Most of those programs, however, met with opposition in Congress despite the Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. On one hand, Congress, in the post-Watergate environment, was more willing to challenge the executive branch; on the other, Carter the populist was quick to criticize Congress and to take his agenda to the American people. In either case, Carter's difficulties with Congress undermined the success of his administration, and by 1978 his initial popularity had dissipated in the face of his inability to convert his ideas into legislative realities.

      Two scandals also damaged Carter's credibility. In summer 1977 Bert Lance, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and one of Carter's closest friends, was accused of financial improprieties as a Georgia banker. When Carter stood by Lance (whom he eventually asked to resign and who later was acquitted of all charges), many questioned the president's vaunted scruples. Carter's image suffered again—though less—in summer 1980 when his younger brother, Billy (widely perceived as a buffoon), was accused of acting as an influence peddler for the Libyan government of Muammar al-Qaddafi (Qaddafi, Muammar al-). Senate investigators concluded that, while Billy had acted improperly, he had no real influence on the president.

 In foreign affairs, Carter received accolades for championing international human rights, though his critics charged that his vision of the world was naive. Carter's idealism notwithstanding, his major achievements were on the more pragmatic level of patient diplomacy. In 1977 he obtained two treaties between the United States and Panama that gave the latter control over the Panama Canal at the end of 1999 and guaranteed the neutrality of that waterway thereafter. In 1978 Carter brought together Egyptian President Anwar el-Sādāt (Sādāt, Anwar el-) and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Begin, Menachem) at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, and secured their agreement to the Camp David Accords, which ended the state of war that had existed between the two countries since Israel's founding in 1948. The difficult negotiations—which lasted 13 days and were salvaged only by Carter's tenacious intervention—provided for the establishment of full diplomatic and economic relations on condition that Israel return the occupied Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. On January 1, 1979, Carter established full diplomatic relations between the United States and China and simultaneously broke official ties with Taiwan. Also in 1979, in Vienna, Carterand Soviet (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) leader Leonid Brezhnev (Brezhnev, Leonid Ilich) signed a new bilateral strategic arms limitation (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) treaty (SALT II) intended to establish parity in strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems between the two superpowers on terms that could be adequately verified. Carter removed the treaty from consideration by the Senate in January 1980, however, after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. He also placed an embargo on the shipment of American grain to the Soviet Union and pressed for a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics due to be held in Moscow.

      Carter's substantial foreign policy successes were overshadowed by a serious crisis in foreign affairs and by a groundswell of popular discontent over his economic policies. On November 4, 1979, a mob of Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehrān and took the diplomatic staff there hostage (Iran hostage crisis). Their actions, in response to the arrival of the deposed shah ( Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) in the United States for medical treatment, were sanctioned by Iran's revolutionary government, led by Shīʿite cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Khomeini, Ruhollah). A standoff developed between the United States and Iran over the issue of the captive diplomats. Carter responded by trying to negotiate the hostages' release while avoiding a direct confrontation with the Iranian government, but, as the crisis wore on (documented nightly on American television by a special news program that would become the influential Nightline), his inability to obtain the release of the hostages became a major political liability. The failure of a secret U.S. military mission to rescue the hostages (which ended almost before it began with a crash in the desert of a plane and helicopter) in April 1980 seemed to typify the inefficacy and misfortune of the Carter administration.

      On the home front, Carter's management of the economy aroused widespread concern. The inflation rate climbed higher each year he was in office, rising from 6 percent in 1976 to more than 12 percent by 1980; unemployment remained high at 7.5 percent; and volatile interest rates reached a high of 20 percent or more twice during 1980. Both business leaders and the public at large blamed Carter for the nation's economic woes, charging that the president lacked a coherent strategy for taming inflation without causing a painful increase in unemployment.

      The faltering economy was due in part to the energy crisis that had originated in the early 1970s as a result of overdependence on foreign oil. In 1977 the president, whose mistrust of special interest groups such as the oil companies was well known, proposed an energy program that included an oil tax, conservation, and the use of alternative sources (renewable energy) of energy. The House supported the program but the Senate quashed it. Moreover, one of those alternative sources, nuclear power, seemed much less viable after the disastrous meltdown of the core reactor at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in March 1979.

 In July 1979 Carter canceled a major policy speech and instead met with a wide cross section of American leaders at Camp David. In the nationally televised speech that followed that meeting, Carter spoke of a “crisis of spirit” in the country, but most Americans were ultimately no more interested in rising to the challenge of a national “malaise” than they were in Carter's suggestion that they needed to lower some of their expectations. (See primary source document: A National Malaise (Jimmy Carter: A National Malaise).) Still, Carter was able to fend off the challenge of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy (Kennedy, Edward M.) to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980. However, the public's confidence in Carter's executive abilities had fallen to an irretrievable low. Above all else, he was generally seen as indecisive. In the elections held that November, Carter was overwhelmingly defeated by the Republican nominee, a former actor and governor of California, Ronald W. Reagan (Reagan, Ronald W.), who pointed to what he called Carter's “misery index”—the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate, whose sum was over 20—and asked two poignant questions that the public took to heart: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” and “Is America as respected throughout the world?” In the landslide, Carter won only 41 percent of the popular vote and 49 votes in the electoral college (third-party candidate John Anderson captured 7 percent of the vote). In the late 1980s, allegations surfaced that the Reagan campaign had made a secret agreement with the government of Iran to ensure that the hostages were not released before the election (thus preventing an “October Surprise” that might boost Carter's election chances); however, in 1993 a congressional subcommittee found the evidence inconclusive. Moreover, Reagan invited Carter to greet the hostages in Germany after their release on January 21, 1981, the day after Reagan's inauguration.

      In his final months in office, Carter was able to push through important legislation that created a “superfund” to address environmental disasters and that set aside some 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of land in Alaska to protect it from development. Carter would also be remembered for his inclusion of women and minorities in his cabinet, including Andrew Young (Young, Andrew), the African American former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, who played a prominent though controversial role as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

      At the conclusion of the president's term, the Carters returned to their hometown. Rosalynn (Carter, Rosalynn), who had taken an active role as first lady—not only acting as an adviser to the president but also attending cabinet meetings when the subjects under consideration were of interest to her—joined her husband in establishing the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, which included a presidential library and museum. Carter served as a sort of diplomat without portfolio in various conflicts in a number of countries—including Nicaragua (where he successfully promoted the return of the Miskito Indians (Miskito) to their homeland), Panama (where he observed and reported illegal voting procedures), and Ethiopia (where he attempted to mediate a settlement with the Eritrean People's Liberation Force (Eritrean People's Liberation Front)). He was particularly active in this role in 1994, negotiating with North Korea to end nuclear weapons development there, with Haiti to effect a peaceful transfer of power, and with Bosnian Serbs and Muslims to broker a short-lived cease-fire. His efforts on behalf of international peace and his highly visible participation in building homes for the poor through Habitat for Humanity established in the public mind a much more favourable image of Carter than had been the case during his presidency. After leaving office, Carter also became a prolific author, writing on a variety of topics, including his presidency, the Middle East, and his Christian faith. He also wrote a collection of poetry.

Additional Reading
Carter recorded his presidential memoirs in Keeping Faith (1982, reissued 1995). Other works by Carter include The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East, new ed. (1993), a discussion of Arab-Israeli relations, and Always a Reckoning, and Other Poems (1995). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, 9 vol. (1977–82), includes speeches and statements from 1977 to 1981.Biographies of Carter include Betty Glad, Jimmy Carter: In Search of the Great White House (1980), which touches on all stages of Carter's career through the presidency, as well as on the political implications of his self-image; and William Lee Miller, Yankee from Georgia: The Emergence of Jimmy Carter (1978), which portrays Carter as possessing a psychological makeup usually attributed to New England Puritanism. Gary M. Fink, Prelude to the Presidency (1980), discusses Carter's goals and achievements as the governor of Georgia. Kenneth E. Morris, Jimmy Carter, American Moralist: The Life Story and Moral Legacy of Our Thirty-Ninth President (1996), is a more recent biography.Haynes Johnson, In the Absence of Power: Governing America (1980), examines the difficulties faced by the Carter administration in its dealings with Congress, the political bureaucracy, and the media. M. Glenn Abernathy, Dilys M. Hill, and Phil Williams (eds.), The Carter Years: The President and Policy Making (1984), provides an overview of the Carter presidency in a collection of essays. Carter's self-image as the trustee of the public interest is covered in Erwin C. Hargrove, Jimmy Carter as President: Leadership and the Politics of the Public Good (1988); and Charles O. Jones, The Trusteeship Presidency: Jimmy Carter and the United States Congress (1988). Additional works focusing on Carter's term as president include Garland A. Haas, Jimmy Carter and the Politics of Frustration (1992), a valuable introductory examination; Burton I. Kaufman, The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. (1993); and Herbert D. Rosenbaum and Alexej Ugrinsky (eds.), The Presidency and Domestic Policies of Jimmy Carter (1994), a collection of papers from a conference on the Carter presidency.Studies of foreign policy during the Carter presidency include two works by members of the Carter administration: Cyrus Vance, Hard Choices (1983); and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle, rev. ed. (1985). Additional works covering foreign policy include Gaddis Smith, Morality, Reason, and Power: American Diplomacy in the Carter Years (1986); and Herbert D. Rosenbaum and Alexej Ugrinsky (eds.), Jimmy Carter: Foreign Policy and Post-Presidential Years (1994), collected conference papers. William B. Quandt, Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics (1986), highlights Carter's role as the catalyst in the negotiations that resulted in the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The influence of the Carter administration's human rights policy on its foreign policy is examined in Joshua Muravchik, The Uncertain Crusade: Jimmy Carter and the Dilemmas of Human Rights Policy (1986); and John Dumbrell, The Carter Presidency: A Re-evaluation, 2nd ed. (1995), including coverage of civil rights and women's rights.Carter's two presidential election campaigns are reviewed in Jules Witcover, Marathon (1977), a report on the 1976 campaign; and Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover, Blue Smoke and Mirrors (1981), an account of the unsuccessful 1980 campaign. Carter's considerable accomplishments since leaving the White House are examined in Douglas Brinkley, The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House (1998).Rosalynn Carter, First Lady from Plains (1984), offers memoirs from her days in the White House and focuses not only on her responsibilities as first lady but also on the important events of the Carter presidency.

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Universalium. 2010.

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