Biography for Jimmy Carter
In 1976, former one-term governor of Georgia James (Jimmy) Earl Carter Jr. became the first candidate from the Deep South to win election to the presidency of the United States without the benefit of incumbency since Zachary Taylor in 1848. During his term as president, Carter, an administrator with neither a liberal nor a conservative approach, proved unable to shake his image as a vacillator, unsure of how to cope with domestic economic turmoil and foreign policy crises. Carter was born on October 1, 1924 in Plains, Georgia and grew up on the family farm in nearby Archery. He became, like his father, a pillar of the First Baptist Church of Plains. After attending Georgia Southwestern College for a year in 1941 and the Georgia Institute of Technology for another year, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated in 1946, entered the navy in 1947, and a year later began his career as a submarine officer, first on conventional vessels and then as part of Hyman Rickover's nuclear submarine program. Upon the death of his father in 1953, Carter resigned from the navy and returned to Plains to run the family farm and small general store. He began his involvement in politics by serving in a variety of local community political positions. Although he later chastised himself for not protesting more strongly the unfair treatment of African Americans in Plains, he did refuse to join the local White Citizens' Council, and he was one of only two members of his church in 1965 to oppose a motion to exclude African Americans from services. In 1962, Carter ran in the Democratic primary for the state Senate. He lost the primary election by a narrow margin because of illegal ballot box stuffing on the part of his opponent. Carter challenged the outcome and eventually succeeded in convincing the state Democratic Committee to place his name on the general election ballot. He won the general election and served in the state Senate from 1963 to 1966. In 1967, after losing his first try to win the Democratic Party nomination for governor, Carter became a "born again" Christian. His second effort to win the governor's office in 1970 was successful. As governor, Carter opened the Georgia government to women as well as African Americans and established a number of innovations designed to improve efficiency and economy. He reorganized 300 state agencies into 22 superagencies and required each department to justify its total budget annually (zero-based budgeting). He instituted a sunshine law that required government meetings to be open to the public, pushed for legislation to protect the environment, and added large tracts of open land to the state park system. He also maintained a strong anticrime image by supporting capital punishment and harsh sentences for drug dealers. The Georgia constitution prevented Carter from running for a second term. An effort to secure the vice presidential spot on the 1972 Democratic ticket with George McGovern was unsuccessful, but Carter began campaigning for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination as soon as he left the governor's office in January 1975. Carter correctly sensed that the national electorate was eager for someone outside the Washington political establishment to vote for after the Vietnam War debacle and the Watergate scandal. He promised never to "tell a lie" and to return the government to the decency its citizens had every right to expect. By winning most of the 30 state primary elections, he was able to defeat his rivals for the nomination and to dispel doubts about his attraction to nonsouthern voters. Carter chose Walter Mondale as his running mate and began the national campaign with a wide lead in the public opinion polls. Victory seemed assured, but a surprisingly vigorous campaign by President Gerald Ford combined with what appeared to be Carter's vacillation on important issues resulted in a very close race: Carter won 297 electoral votes to Ford's 240. After being sworn in as president on January 20, 1977, Carter walked from Capitol Hill with his family down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The gesture of walking rather than riding in the presidential limousine demonstrated his desire to be perceived as a man of the people. As a candidate for president, Carter had successfully turned his lack of national government experience into an asset, but as president, his outsider image and approach to dealing with Congress and the federal bureaucracy became a liability. The Democrats had an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives and Senate during his administration, but Carter seldom obtained much congressional support for his legislative proposals. The domestic issues that dominated the nation during the Carter years concerned unemployment, inflation, and energy. When Carter assumed office, the unemployment rate was approximately 7%, and the annual inflation rate was 6.8%. Carter had promised to reduce unemployment, cut the inflation rate, and balance the budget. He failed in all three areas. By 1980, unemployment was over 8%, inflation was about 12%, and the projected budget deficit was nearly $59 billion. Not all the fault lay with Carter, but nothing he did to improve the situation ever seemed to work. On one hand, he had a political commitment to full employment and refused to sacrifice people's jobs in order to lower inflation (reduced employment leads to less demand, which in turn results in lower prices). On the other hand, Carter appointed a conservative economist, Paul Volcker, to head the Federal Reserve Board. Volcker advocated forcing an economic recession (increasing unemployment) by tightening the money supply (raising interest rates). By 1980, Carter, the man who had promised to cut taxes while campaigning in 1976, was saying new taxes were necessary. Carter had no better luck in dealing with a shortage of oil import supplies in 1979 caused by the overthrow of the shah of Iran. The United States had been plagued by rising energy costs ever since the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Even though Carter had submitted a comprehensive energy bill to Congress designed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil with the statement that "nothing less than the moral equivalent of war" was at stake, he was unable to rally support. In the fall of 1978, he settled for enactment of a much weaker piece of legislation than he knew was necessary. Thus, when prices began to skyrocket in the summer of 1979, there was little he could do except urge conservation and institute a gasoline rationing system through the newly created Department of Energy. The rationing system failed to avoid fuel shortages: tempers flared in long gasoline station lines, prices continued to soar, and Carter was blamed. Carter appeared on television and announced that he was submitting another comprehensive energy bill to Congress that instituted procedures for developing synthetic fuels and conservation incentives. That time most of his suggested measures were enacted, but his reputation did not recover. The basic tenets of Carter's foreign policy objectives—to pursue diplomatic solutions to world problems, initiate détente with the Soviet Union, plan strategic arms reduction, and strengthen relations with China—were goals consistent with the administrations of both Richard Nixon and Ford. However, Carter's human rights policy of holding nations accountable for the treatment of their citizens made his foreign policy different. Critics charged that the fundamental flaw in Carter's approach was that the United States was able to exert pressure only on the authoritarian governments of allies, while it could do little or nothing to influence what happened in the communist nations that were not dependent on aid from the United States. Yet, historians may well credit Carter's insistence on human rights as providing critical support to dissidents in Eastern Europe and Russia, thus accelerating the collapse of communism. Moreover, Carter is one of the only U.S. presidents to retain respect in Latin America, where the U.S. government has traditionally supported governments with horrible human rights records. The two foreign policy successes of the Carter administration—the negotiation and ratification by the Senate of a new Panama Canal treaty in 1978 and the facilitating of the negotiations that led to the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1979 (the first peace treaty between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors)—were overshadowed by events in Iran. Perhaps no issue exemplified the image of a confused leader so much as the way Carter dealt with the results of the overthrow of the shah of Iran in 1979. During the convoluted course of Iran's Islamic Revolution, 52 American citizens were seized at the American embassy and held hostage for 444 days. Carter pledged not to use military force that might endanger the lives of the hostages. Instead, greatly underestimating the popularity and power of the new Iranian government, he relied on world opinion and economic sanctions. In addition, after the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan in order to prop up a puppet communist government, an outraged Carter ordered further economic sanctions, appealed to the United Nations for support, and sent a U.S. fleet to the area in an ineffectual display of force. In 1980, in an effort to retain the Democratic presidential nomination in a close race with Senator Edward Kennedy, Carter announced on the eve of several important primary races that the release of the hostages was on the verge of being secured. Finally, desperate after an agreement for their release was never reached, Carter ordered a military rescue attempt that failed and led to the death of eight servicemen and the resignation of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. As Hamilton Jordan, Carter's chief campaign strategist, later noted: "The hostage crisis had come to symbolize the collective frustration of the American people. And in that sense, the President's chances for reelection probably died on the desert of Iran with eight brave soldiers." The hostages were finally released on the day Republican Ronald Reagan, Carter's successor, became president in exchange for U.S. concessions that included the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the United States and the procurement of medical supplies. Carter retired to Plains, Georgia with the lowest presidential popularity rating ever recorded. In Plains, he wrote his memoirs, rebuilt the family business, and established the Carter Library. He also began to rebuild his public reputation through goodwill work. He helped the homeless in the United States by rebuilding houses and worked for low cost housing throughout the world with his participation in the Habitat for Humanity program. Carter has also served as a roving peace ambassador who employs his negotiating skills to effect compromise settlements. His efforts were successful in Nicaragua and Ethiopia but produced fewer results in Haiti and Korea. On October 11, 2002, the Nobel Committee, citing Carter's "untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development," awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter became the first American president to publish fiction with the release of The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War in November 2003. The book centers around a militia enclave in northern Georgia during the American Revolution, a group to which some of Carter's ancestors belonged.