The Presidents of the USA


 
 
 

Biography

 
39
Jimmy Carter
R R R R R
 
1977-1981
 
From the deep south and a Washington outsider, he pursued foreign policy emphasizing human rights and peaceful solution of international conflict. He lost the chance for a 2nd term because of he Panama Canal Treaty, the prolonged Iran hostage crisis and the stagnant economy.


Born Oct. 1, 1924, Plains, Ga.
Political partyDemocrat
EducationU.S. Naval Academy, B.S., 1946
Military service U.S. Navy, 1947-53
Previous public office  ♦ chair, Sumter County, Ga., Board of Education, 1955-62
 ♦ Georgia Senate 1963-66;
 ♦ Governor of Georgia, 1971-75
picture of Jimmy Carter



Early Life

Born in the small town of Plains, Georgia, James Earl Carter, Jr., was the first American President to be born in a hospital. He graduated from Plains High School as valedictorian in 1941, and in 1946 he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in the top tenth of his class.

He served as an ensign on an experimental nuclear submarine with Captain (later Admiral) Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. In 1953, after the death of his father, Carter resigned his commission to take over his family's peanut farm, which he turned into a thriving business.



Political Career

Carter became a deacon and Sunday school teacher in the Plains Baptist Church, then chairman of the Sumter County School Board, where he peacefully promoted racial desegregation of the schools. As a state senator, Carter fought local segregationist groups, and he defeated racist opponents to win reelection to the senate. He encouraged blacks to join the Plains Baptist Church.

In 1966 Carter ran for governor but lost to arch-segregationist Lester Maddox. Carter's loss led him to become a born-again Christian. In the 1970 Democratic gubernatorial primary Carter declared his opposition to busing as a means of overcoming racial segregation in schools, leading the Atlanta Constitution to call him an “ignorant, racist, backward, ultraconservative, redneck South Georgia peanut farmer.” With evangelical and fundamentalist Christian support, he won the election.

Although elected with segregationist support, Carter was a progressive, especially on race relations. Carter reorganized the state government and consolidated many independent agencies into a few efficient departments. He increased minority hiring in state government by 50 percent, and he promoted environmental and educational programs. But he worked poorly with traditional politicians in the state legislature, gaining a reputation as an arrogant and isolated governor.

Carter began a steady rise in national Democratic politics, however. He became chair of the Democratic Governors’ Campaign Committee in 1972 and campaign chair for the Democratic National Committee in 1974—a year in which the party scored major successes in congressional elections. By 1975 Carter was spending most of his time making speeches and traveling from one state to another seeking financial support and media attention.

Carter portrayed himself as an outsider who could clean up the mess in Washington. He promised never to lie to the American people, implicitly contrasting himself to politicians like Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. He called for “a government that is as honest and decent and fair and competent and truthful and idealistic as are the American people.”

Carter won the Iowa Presidential caucuses on January 19, 1976, and propelled himself to the forefront of the Democratic field. He won the New Hampshire primary a few weeks later, and funds poured into his campaign. He won a number of other primaries and gained sufficient votes for a first-ballot nomination at the national convention. He defeated the incumbent President, Gerald Ford, in the general election by a narrow margin, due in large measure to a split in the opposition ranks between moderate Republicans and conservatives who had favored Ronald Reagan. The high unemployment rate and Ford's pardon of Nixon also worked in Carter's favor.



Presidency

Although Carter took office with large Democratic majorities in Congress, he was unable to get them to support much of his program. His opposition to some rivers and harbors projects early in his term was fiercely resisted by his own party's congressional leaders, as was his 1978 veto of a public works measure on the grounds that it would be inflationary.

Although Congress passed his proposal to create a department of energy, his comprehensive energy program was revised. When it did pass, it proved unpopular with the public because it emphasized conservation and higher prices.

He cut back on federal aid to urban areas, causing a backlash among liberal Democrats. His decision to cancel the B-1 bomber upset party conservatives. When Congress transformed his tax reform plan into new favors for special interests, Carter referred to them as “a pack of ravenous wolves.”

Carter did have some successes: he got Congress to divide the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into two new departments, one for education and the other for health and human services; the minimum wage was raised; and Congress deregulated the airline, trucking, and railroad industries. It also established a “Superfund” to clean up toxic waste sites.

In foreign affairs, too, Carter took actions that were unpopular. In 1977, although more than three-fourths of the American people wanted to keep the Panama Canal Zone, Carter negotiated two treaties with Panama that called for the United States to give up sovereign rights in the Panama Canal Zone and to turn over operation of the canal to Panama by the turn of the century. The Senate consented to the treaties by only a bare margin.

In 1978 Carter presided over the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, which resulted in a treaty between the two nations the following year. In 1979 Carter recognized communist China and canceled a defense treaty with the anticommunist government on Taiwan—actions that upset Southern conservatives.

He began an emphasis in American foreign policy on human rights, cutting off foreign aid to certain Latin American nations with repressive regimes. The second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union was signed on June 18, 1979, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan put Senate consent to the treaty in doubt and Carter withdrew it from the Senate. Nevertheless, both governments adhered to its terms.

Carter's popularity fell during much of his term, as inflation increased to more than 15 percent and the unemployment rate, after dropping early in his term, rose again to more than 6 percent. Interest rates rose to the 20 percent range, which made it difficult for people to purchase homes and consumer goods.

Carter's most dramatic moments in foreign policy affairs began in November 1979 when Iranian student militants seized the United States embassy in Tehran 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. An April 1980 attempt to rescue the hostages ended in failure with the death of eight U.S. marines in a helicopter crash in the Iranian desert. 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.

In response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which raised a bitter controversy

In July 1980 Carter's popularity slid to 20 percent in the polls-lower even than Nixon's during the Watergate scandal.

In the 1980 Democratic nominating contest, Senator Edward M. Kennedy almost defeated Carter, and much of Kennedy's liberal platform was adopted by the convention in a repudiation of the Carter Presidency. With the Democrats split, Republican conservative Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in a three-way race that also involved independent candidate John Anderson.

On the day Carter's successor was inaugurated, the Iranian government released the 52 hostages they had held for 444 days. President Reagan asked Carter to fly to Germany to greet the returning hostages.



Retirement

In 1981, Carter returned to Georgia to his peanut farm, which he had placed into a blind trust during his presidency to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. He found that the trustees had mismanaged the trust, leaving him more than one million dollars in debt. In the years that followed, he has led an active life, establishing The Carter Center, building his presidential library, teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and writing numerous books

The Carter Center of Emory University is an institution devoted to mediating international conflict and ameliorating health problems in the world's developing nations. In a departure from the usual quiet retirement of presidents, participated in the creation and work of the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, an organization devoted to human rights and humanitarian causes around the world. Carter has played an active role in numerous diplomatic and domestic efforts after leaving office. In this, he is especially known for his successful international mediations in countries such as North Korea and Haiti.

He also became involved in monitoring elections in a number of foreign nations, which aided in their transformation from dictatorship to democracy.

In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development" through The Carter Center

Three sitting presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama, have received the prize; Carter is unique in receiving the award for his actions after leaving the presidency.



Legacy

Promising a “government as good as the people,” Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 as a Washington outsider by voters fed up with the Watergate scandal and the weak economy. He became the first president from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor in 1844.

Carter shed many of the trappings of the “imperial” Presidency and pursued a foreign policy emphasizing human rights and peaceful solution of international conflict.

He was an intelligent man and knew the issues in detail. But he had no base in the Democratic party and few friends in the federal government, making it difficult for him to achieve his purposes.

If one had to sum up Carter's leadership style in a phrase, it would be "hands-on engineering." Among Carter's greatest flaws as president--and one the Republicans exploited without mercy--was his excessive micro managerial style. For better or worse, Carter was a control freak who wanted to know exactly what was happening around him at all times.

Carter presidency's implosion can be attributed to the unpopular Panama Canal Treaty, the prolonged Iran hostage crisis and the stagnant U.S. economy.

In a January 10, 1981, article entitled "Not to Worry, Jimmy," New York Times humorist Russell Baker imagined high-school students in the year 2081 preparing for a test on twentieth-century U.S. presidents by asking their teacher to tell them what Jimmy Carter had accomplished in the White House. "I fancy the teacher will have to reflect a minute before saying something like, `Well, he really didn't do anything dreadful at all,'" Baker wrote. "For the era of 1961-1981 that is not a bad notice from the history critics."




 
 
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