Our Friend President Carter

 
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. (born October 1, 1924) was the 39th President of the United States from 1977 - 1981, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Prior to becoming president, Carter served two terms in the Georgia Senate, and was the 76th Governor of Georgia from 1971 - 1975.

Carter's presidency was marked by several major crises, including the takeover of the American embassy and holding of hostages by students in Iran, a failed rescue attempt of the hostages, serious fuel shortages, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

His administration created two new cabinet-level departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He established a national energy policy, removed price controls from domestic petroleum production, but was unable to make the USA less reliant on foreign oil sources. In foreign affairs, Carter pursued the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties and the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Carter advocated a policy that held other countries to the highest moral standard possible, a standard by which, he believed, Americans would want themselves to be judged. The final year of his term was dominated by the Iran hostage crisis, during which the United States struggled to rescue diplomats and American citizens held hostage in Tehran. By 1980, Carter was so unpopular that he was challenged by Ted Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination in 1980. Carter received the Democratic nomination, but lost the election to Republican Ronald Reagan.

After leaving office, Carter founded an institute to promote global health, democracy and human rights. He has traveled extensively to monitor international elections, conduct peace negotiations and establish relief efforts. He is also a key figure in Habitat for Humanity. Carter also became a prolific author, writing 27 books. As of 2008, he is the earliest living president and the second-oldest living president.



Early Years

Jimmy Carter descended from a family that had lived in Georgia for several generations. His great-grandfather Private L.B. Walker Carter (1832–1874) served in the Confederate States Army.

Jimmy Carter, the first president born in a hospital, was the oldest of four children of James Earl and Bessie Lillian Gordy. He was born and grew up in the tiny southwest Georgia hamlet of Plains near the larger town of Americus. Carter's father was a prominent business owner in the community and his mother was a registered nurse. He was a gifted student from an early age who always had a fondness for reading. By the time he attended Plains High School, he was also a star in basketball. He was greatly influenced by one of his high school teachers, Julia Coleman (1889-1973). While he was in high school he participated in the Future Farmers of America (Now the FFA Association).

Carter had three younger siblings: his brother, Billy Carter (1937–1988), his sister Gloria (1926–1990), and his other sister Ruth (1929–1983).

He married Rosalynn Smith in 1946. They had four children: John William "Jack" Carter (born 1947); James Earl "Chip" Carter III (born 1950); Donnel Jeffrey "Jeff" Carter, (born 1952) and Amy Lynn Carter (born 1967).



Naval Career

He attended Georgia Tech and Georgia Southwestern State University before receiving an appointment to the United States Naval Academy where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 1946 and is the only graduate of the Naval Academy to become President. Carter finished 59th out of his Academy class of 820. Carter served on surface ships and diesel submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. As a junior officer, he completed qualification for command of a diesel submarine.

He was later selected by Captain (later Admiral) Hyman G. Rickover for the U.S. Navy's fledgling nuclear submarine program. Rickover's demands were legendary, and Carter later said that, next to his parents, Admiral Rickover had the greatest influence on him.

Carter often told of being interviewed by Admiral Rickover. He was asked about his rank in his class at the Naval Academy. Carter said "Sir, I graduated 59th out of a class of 820." Rickover only asked "Did you always do your best?" Carter was forced to admit he had not, and the Admiral asked why. Carter later used this as the theme of his presidential campaign and titled his first book Why Not The Best?

Carter loved the Navy, and had planned to make it his career. His ultimate goal was to become Chief of Naval Operations. Carter felt the best route for promotion was with submarine duty since he felt that nuclear power would be increasingly used in submarines. During service on the submarine, U.S.S. Pomfret, Carter was almost washed overboard. Carter did post-graduate work, studying nuclear physics and reactor technology for several months at Union College starting in March 1953. This followed Carter's first-hand experience as part of a group of American and Canadian servicemen who took part in cleaning up after a nuclear meltdown at Canada's Chalk River Laboratories reactor.

Upon the death of his father in July 1953, however, Lieutenant Carter immediately resigned his commission and was discharged from the Navy on October 9, 1953. This cut short his nuclear power training school, and he was never able to serve on a nuclear submarine, as the first of the fleet was launched January 17, 1955, over a year after his discharge from the Navy. Carter is the first and only {2007} Korean War veteran to be President.



Farming and Teaching

He then took over and expanded his family business in Plains. There he was involved in a farming accident that left him with a permanently bent finger.

From a young age, Carter showed a deep commitment to Christianity, serving as a Sunday School teacher throughout his life. Even as President, Carter prayed several times a day, and professed that Jesus Christ was the driving force in his life. Carter had been greatly influenced by a sermon he had heard as a young man, called, "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"



State Senate

Jimmy Carter started his career by serving on various local boards, governing such entities as the schools, hospital, and library, among others. In the 1960s, he served two terms in the Georgia Senate from the fourteenth district of Georgia.

His 1962 election to the state Senate, which followed the end of Georgia's County Unit System (per the Supreme Court case of Gray v. Sanders), was chronicled in his book Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age. The election involved corruption led by Joe Hurst, the sheriff of Quitman County; system abuses included votes from deceased persons and tallies filled with people who supposedly voted in alphabetical order. It took a challenge of the fraudulent results for Carter to win the election. Carter was reelected in 1964, to serve a second two-year term.



Governor of Georgia

Carter was sworn-in as the 76th Governor of Georgia on January 12, 1971 and held this post for one term, until January 14, 1975. Governors of Georgia were not allowed to succeed themselves at the time. His predecessor as Governor, Lester Maddox, became the Lieutenant Governor. However, Carter and Maddox found little common ground during their four years of service, often publicly feuding with each other.



Vice-Presidential Aspirations in 1972

In 1972, as U.S. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota was marching toward the Democratic nomination for President, Carter called a news conference in Atlanta to warn that McGovern was unelectable. Carter criticized McGovern as too liberal on both foreign and domestic policy, yet when McGovern's nomination became a foregone conclusion, Carter lobbied to become his vice-presidential running mate. The remarks attracted little national attention, and after McGovern's huge loss in the general election, Carter's attitude was not held against him within the Democratic Party.

However, Carter received 30 votes at the Democratic National Convention in the chaotic ballot for Vice President. Interestingly, McGovern offered the second spot to Reubin Askew, from next door Florida and one of the "new southern governors," but he declined.



1976 Presidential Campaign

When Carter entered the Democratic Party presidential primaries in 1976, he was considered to have little chance against nationally better-known politicians. He had a name recognition of only 2 percent. When he told his family of his intention to run for President, he was asked by his mother, "President of what?" However, Nixon's Watergate scandal was still fresh in the voters' minds, and so his position as an outsider, distant from Washington, D.C., became an asset. The centerpiece of his campaign platform was government reorganization.

He chose Senator Walter F. Mondale as his running mate. He attacked Washington in his speeches, and offered a religious salve for the nation's wounds, which was necessary following the Watergate Scandal.

Carter became the front-runner early on by winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. He used a two-prong strategy. In the South, which most had tacitly conceded to Alabama's George Wallace, Carter ran as a moderate favorite son. When Wallace proved to be a spent force, Carter swept the region. In the North, Carter appealed largely to conservative Christian and rural voters and had little chance of winning a majority in most states. In a field crowded with liberals, he managed to win several Northern states by building the largest single bloc. Initially dismissed as a regional candidate, Carter proved to be the only Democrat with a truly national strategy, and he eventually clinched the nomination.

The media discovered and promoted Carter. As Lawrence Shoup noted in his 1980 book The Carter Presidency and Beyond:

"What Carter had that his opponents did not was the acceptance and support of elite sectors of the mass communications media. It was their favorable coverage of Carter and his campaign that gave him an edge, propelling him rocket-like to the top of the opinion polls. This helped Carter win key primary election victories, enabling him to rise from an obscure public figure to President-elect in the short space of 9 months."



Carter was interviewed by Robert Scheer of Playboy magazine for its November 1976 issue, which hit the newsstands a couple of weeks before the election. It was here that in the course of a digression on his religion's view of pride, Carter admitted that "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times." He remains the only American president to be interviewed by this magazine.

As late as January 26, 1976, Carter was the first choice of only 4% of Democratic voters, according to a Gallup Poll. Yet "by mid-March 1976 Carter was not only far ahead of the active contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, he also led President Ford by a few percentage points," according to Shoup.

Carter began the race with a sizable lead over Ford, who was able to narrow the gap over the course of the campaign, but was unable to prevent Carter from narrowly defeating him on November 2, 1976. Carter won the popular vote by 50.1% to 48.0% for Ford and received 297 electoral votes to Ford's 240. He became the first contender from the Deep South to be elected President since the 1848 election.

In his inaugural address he said: "We have learned that more is not necessarily better, that even our great nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems." His first steps in the White House were to reduce the size of the staff by one third, and order cabinet members to drive their own cars.



1980 Election

Carter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. The popular vote went 50.7%, or 43.9 million popular votes, for Reagan and 41%, or 35.5 million, for Carter. Independent candidate John B. Anderson won 6.6%, or 5.7 million votes. However, because Carter's support was not concentrated in any geographic region, Reagan won a landslide 91% of the electoral vote, leaving Carter with only six states and the District of Columbia. Reagan carried a total of 489 electoral votes compared to Carter's 49.

While Carter kept his promise (all 52 hostages returned home alive), he failed to secure the release of the hostages prior to the election. While Carter ultimately won their release, Iran did not technically release the hostages until minutes after Reagan took office. In recognition of the fact that Carter was responsible for bringing the hostages home, President Reagan asked Carter to go to West Germany to greet them upon their release.

During his campaign, Carter was mocked for an encounter with a swimming rabbit while fishing on a farm pond on April 20, 1979.



Post Presidency

In 1981, he 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. Unfortunately, upon returning, Carter found that the trustees had mismanaged the trust, leaving him over one million dollars in debt. He devoted his time to writing several best-selling books (twenty-three books in all), establishing the Carter Center, and to building his presidential library.

Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale are the longest-living post-presidential team in American history. On December 11, 2006, they had been out of office for 25 years and 325 days, surpassing the former record established by President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826.
Jimmy Carter in 1991 with Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.
Jimmy Carter in 1991 with Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.

In ten surveys of historians which ranked US presidents, which included over 1000 scholars, the ranking of Carter's presidency ranged from #19 to #34. These rankings are similar to those of Gerald Ford, Carter's predecessor in office. At the time he left office Carter's presidency was viewed by some as a failure, his activities since leaving office, especially his many peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, have led to a more favorable view in some circles.

After leaving office, Jimmy Carter has written books and attempted to influence politics in the United States. The 2007 documentary, "Man from Plains", gives an overview of Carter's humanitarian work. His popularity as a statesman has gone up since leaving office.