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James Earl Carter, the son of a peanut farmer, was born in Plains, Georgia, on 1st October, 1924. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1946 and worked for several years on the nation's nuclear submarine program. When his father died of cancer in 1953, Carter resigned his commission and took over the running of the family peanut farm.
Carter, a member of the Democratic Party, won election to the Georgia State Senate in 1962. A popular local politician, Carter became Governor of Georgia in 1970. Carter election represented the change that had taken place in the Deep South following the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).
In his inaugural address Carter announced that "the time for racial discrimination is over" and during his period of office (1970-74) he increased the number of African American appointees on major state boards and agencies from three to fifty-three and the number employed by the state rose to 40 per cent.
In 1974 Carter announced his plans to seek the presidency. Virtually unknown outside Georgia, at first he was not considered a serious candidate but in February, 1976 he won the New Hampshire primary. This was followed by sixteen more victories and Carter was elected on the first ballot at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. He selected Walter Mondale as his vice presidential candidate.
During the presidential campaign Carter made unemployment a central issue and announced plans to create jobs by increased federal spending. He also promised to pardon draft evaders during the Vietnam War and to reorganize government bureaucracy. Gerald Ford, handicapped by his association with Richard Nixon and the Watergate conspiracy, was defeated by 38,532,360 votes to 40,276,040.
Carter was the first president from the Deep South since 1844. His record of civil rights resulted in him being supported by four out of every five African Americans who voted. He also did well with whites in the South and Americans on low incomes.
Once in power, Carter quickly made good his election pledges concerning the pardoning of Vietnam War draft evaders and ending the production of the expensive B-1 bomber. He also began to reorganize federal agencies that were duplicating services. Carter also received praise for announcing that aid would be cut to those foreign governments guilty of human rights violations.
In 1977 President Carter appointed Stansfield Turner as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The journalist, Edward Jay Epstein, has pointed out that: "Although Turner had had little previous experience in intelligence, he viewed it simply as a problem of assessing data... he assumed that he could bring the CIA, and American intelligence, to the same standard of operational efficiency he had brought the ships under his command. He quickly found, however, that the CIA was a far more complex and elusive entity than he had expected.... Not only did he view such secrecy as irrational, he began to suspect that it cloaked a wide range of unethical activities. He became especially concerned with abuses in the espionage division."
Turner discovered that President Richard Nixon and the CIA had been involved in the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the elected leader of Chile. "Complementing the CIA effort, the US government exerted economic pressure on Chile, again to no avail. A second approach, entirely under CIA auspices, encouraged a military coup. President Richard Nixon directed that neither the Departments of State and Defense nor the US Ambassador to Chile be informed of this undertaking."
Carter's popularity was badly damaged in November, 1979, when student militants in Iran seized the United States embassy in Teheran and took 52 hostages. The students demanded that the hostages would be held until the Shah, the country's former leader, who was in the United States for medical treatment, was handed over to the government of Iran. Carter imposed economic sanctions on Iran and when that failed to work, ordered an armed rescue. This failed and Carter's approval rating during the summer of 1980 slumped to 21 per cent, the lowest figure ever recorded by a president.
Carter's administration was also unable to deal successfully with the country's mounting economic problems. Inflation had risen throughout his presidency and by 1980 had reached 15 per cent. With the Iran hostage crisis still unsolved, Carter had little chance against Ronald Reagan, his Republican Party opponent in the 1980 presidential election. Carter was easily defeated, receiving only 35 million votes to Reagan's 44 million.
After leaving office Carter continued to be active in politics. In 1981 he established the Carter Center which sponsored programs promoting human rights in third world countries. He has also been involved in negotiating the end of human rights abuses in Nicaragua, Panama, Ethiopia and Haiti.
In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Carter and Human Rights, 1977–1981
Jimmy Carter campaigned for the presidency in 1976 promising substantial changes in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. He intended to infuse a new morality in American diplomacy, one grounded in the pursuit of human rights.Carter made this cause explicit in his January 20, 1977, inaugural address: “Because we are free, we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clear-cut preference for those societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights.” The Carter administration thus articulated, devised, and implemented a human rights strategy that would serve as the cornerstone of Carter’s foreign policy.
Criticism of human rights abuses in other nations served as an early indication that Carter’s inaugural address marked an ideological shift in U.S. foreign policy. During the early weeks of the administration, officials spoke out against harassment and human rights violations in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Uganda.When asked at a January 31, 1977, press conference if the administration would continue to address specific human rights issues or exert quiet diplomatic pressure, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance explained that the United States “will speak frankly about injustice, both at home and abroad,” while avoiding strident and polemical language. Vance cautioned, though, that the administration would not “comment on each and every issue” but would comment “when we see a threat to human rights” and when it was “constructive to do so.” The administration also linked human rights concerns directly to the conduct of foreign policy, including support for a bill halting importation of Rhodesian chrome and the reduction of foreign aid to other nations that did not display sufficient respect for human rights.
Carter further defined these efforts in a series of public addresses delivered in early 1977. These speeches also afforded Carter the opportunity to explain why and how his administration promoted human rights. Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly on March 17, 1977, the President asserted that the United States had a “historical birthright” to be associated with human rights. While the United States had not always lived up to this ideal, Carter identified several steps to rectify U.S. shortcomings “quickly and openly,” including the liberalization of travel policies and the signing and ratification of international human rights covenants. In his May 22, 1977, commencement address, delivered at Notre Dame University, Carter drew a distinction between his policy and the policies of his predecessors, noting that they had pursued the “flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries.” As a result, the United States had moved away from its core values. The interdependent world of the 1970s required a “new American foreign policy” grounded in cardinal principles, including the “commitment to human rights as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy.” The Notre Dame address served as a comprehensive statement and justification of Carter’s human rights policy.
Vance refined the policy in an April 30, 1977, address at the University of Georgia Law School. He promoted adherence to three human rights categories—the right to be free from government violation of the integrity of the person the right to fulfill vital needs such as food, shelter, and education and civil and political rights. Vance explained flexibility characterized implementation of policy, depending on the details of particular cases. The United States had to accept limits in pursuing human rights a rigid approach to imposing U.S. values on other nations would not allow the United States to achieve its objectives in this area.
These public declarations coincided with and guided the administration’s effort to translate Carter’s commitment into a broader strategy. In May 1977, the administration issued Presidential Review Memorandum/NSC 28, which directed a review of U.S. human rights policy in order to define policy objectives, evaluate actions designed to improve rights, review national security considerations, and propose implementing actions. The completed PRM/NSC 28 study’s recommendations formed the basis for Presidential Directive 30, issued in February 1978. Noting that a major objective of U.S. foreign policy should be the observance of global human rights, Presidential Directive 30 outlined specific guidelines for U.S. human rights policy and indicated the types of rights the United States would protect. The United States would use “the full range of diplomatic tools,” including public statements, consultations with allies, and cooperation with non-governmental actors and international organizations. The directive linked economic and military assistance to the human rights records of the recipients countries with good or improving records would receive favorable consideration, while those nations with poor or deteriorating records would not. Presidential Directive 30 thus formally defined U.S. policy on human rights.
Implementing the administration’s human rights strategy required the Department of State to modify existing institutional structures. Legislation enacted during the Gerald R. Ford administration created the position of Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, located within the Deputy Secretary of State’s office. The Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs also included a Deputy Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and coordinators for Refugee and Migration Affairs and POW/MIA Affairs.Carter selected Patricia Murphy Derian, a civil rights activist, to serve as Coordinator, upon the retirement of Coordinator James Wilson. By the end of 1977, the Department of State established the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and elevated Derian to Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Foreign Service officers with regional and topical expertise staffed the Bureau, which, over time, added additional offices for country reports, asylum, and refugee and migration affairs. Managing the human rights country reports process existed as one of the main responsibilities of the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. These reports on the status of human rights practices were initially limited to countries receiving security and economic assistance but later extended to apply to all countries. The Department of State released the annual reports to the public, and Derian testified before Congress concerning the administration’s views of the human rights record of particular countries.
Managing human rights policy also required the administration to establish new coordinating and evaluation mechanisms. To ensure that all bureaus engaged on human rights issues, Vance tasked Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher with creating a Human Rights Coordinating Group (HRCG), consisting of Department of State officials at the deputy assistant secretary level, to serve as an “internal mechanism” for decision-making. Recognizing that the United States could not examine economic and security assistance decisions in a vacuum, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski directed Vance and Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal to establish a group—the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights and Foreign Assistance—to evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, bilateral and multilateral aid decisions as they related to human rights and to provide guidance to ensure a unified government position on aid decisions. Brzezinski had also established within the National Security Council (NSC) a Global Issues Cluster responsible for overseeing issues such as human rights and arms control.
Jimmy Carter: The Last of the Fiscally Responsible Presidents
Joe Renouard teaches at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Nanjing, China. His most recent book is Human Rights in American Foreign Policy: From the 1960s to the Soviet Collapse. He has also contributed essays toThe Los Angeles Times, The National Interest, American Diplomacy, The Diplomat, The Journal of American Culture, andThe Prague Post.
Popular impressions of Jimmy Carter tend to fall into two broad categories. Many see him as a failed president who mismanaged the economy, presided over a national &ldquomalaise,&rdquo allowed a small band of Iranian militants to humiliate the United States, and ultimately failed to win reelection. His final Gallup presidential approval rating stood at 34%&mdashequal to that of George W. Bush. Among postwar presidents, only Richard Nixon (24%) and Harry Truman (32%) left office with lower approval ratings. As the political scientist John Orman suggested some years ago, Carter&rsquos name is &ldquosynonymous with a weak, passive, indecisive presidential performance.&rdquo For those who hold this view, Carter represents everything that made the late &lsquo70s a real bummer.
His supporters, meanwhile, portray him as a unique visionary who governed by moral principles rather than power politics. They point out that he initiated a groundbreaking human rights policy, forged a lasting Middle East peace agreement, normalized relations with China, pursued energy alternatives, and dived headlong into the most ambitious post-presidency in American history.
Both perspectives have their merits. Yet although even Carter&rsquos admirers would rather ignore his economic record than defend it, popular memory of his economy is off the mark. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, by many indices the U.S. economy did relatively well during Carter&rsquos presidency, and he took his role as steward of the public trust seriously. He kept the national debt in check, created no new entitlements, and steered the nation clear of expensive foreign wars. Whatever else one may think about the man, it is no exaggeration to say that Jimmy Carter was among the last of the fiscally responsible presidents.
Although there is no single measure for evaluating a president&rsquos economic performance, if we combine such standard measures as unemployment, productivity, interest rates, inflation, capital investment, and growth in output and employment, Carter&rsquos numbers were higher than those of his near-contemporaries Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush. &ldquoWhat may be surprising,&rdquo notes the economist Ann Mari May, &ldquois not only that the performance index for the Carter years is close behind the Eisenhower index of the booming 1950s, but that the Carter years outperformed the Nixon and Reagan years.&rdquo Average real GDP growth under Carter was 3.4%, a figure surpassed by only three postwar presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton. Even though unemployment generally increased after the 1960s, the average number of jobs created per year was higher under Carter than under any postwar president.
Particularly noteworthy was Carter&rsquos fiscal discipline. Although Keynesian policies were central to Democratic Party orthodoxy, Carter was a fiscal conservative who touted balanced budgets and anti-inflationary measures. By and large, he stuck to his campaign self-assessment: &ldquoI would consider myself quite conservative . . . on balancing the budget, on very careful planning and businesslike management of government.&rdquo
Under Carter, the annual federal deficit was consistently low, the national debt stayed below $1 trillion, and gross federal debt as a percentage of GDP peaked below forty percent, the lowest of any presidency since the 1920s. During his final year in office, the debt-to-GDPratio was 32% and the deficit-to-GDP ratio was 1.7%. In the ensuing twelve years of Reagan and Bush (1981-1993), the debt quadrupled to over $4 trillion and the debt-to-GDP ratio doubled. The neoliberal policies popularly known as Reaganomics had plenty of fans, but in the process of lowering taxes, reducing federal regulations, and increasing defense spending, conservatives all but abandoned balanced budgets.
The debt increased by a more modest 32% during Bill Clinton&rsquos presidency (Clinton could even boast budget surpluses in his second term) before it ballooned by 101% to nearly $11.7 trillion under George W. Bush. Not only did Bush entangle the U.S. in two expensive wars, but he also convinced Congress to cut taxes and to add an unfunded drug entitlement to the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. During the Obama presidency, the debt nearly doubled again to $20 trillion. (Obama and Bush&rsquos respective totals depend in part on how one assigns responsibility for the FY2009 stimulus bill.) Under President Trump, the national debt has reached a historic high of over $22 trillion, and policymakers are on track to add trillions more in the next decade.
There are a few major blots on Carter&rsquos economic record. Inflation was a killer. Indeed, much of Carter&rsquos reputation for economic mismanagement stems from the election year of 1980, when the &ldquomisery index&rdquo (inflation plus unemployment) peaked at a postwar high of 21.98. The average annual inflation rate during Carter&rsquos presidency was a relatively high 8% &ndash lower than Ford&rsquos (8.1%), but higher than Nixon&rsquos (6.2%) and Reagan&rsquos (4.5%). The annualized prime lending rate of 11% was lower than Reagan&rsquos (11.6%) but higher than Nixon&rsquos (7.6%) and Ford&rsquos (7.4%). Economist Ann Mari May concurs that while fiscal policy was relatively stable in the Carter years, monetary policy was &ldquohighly erratic&rdquo and represented a destabilizing influence at the end of the 70s.
Carter&rsquos defenders note that he inherited a lackluster economy with fundamental weaknesses that were largely beyond his control, including a substantial trade deficit, declining productivity, the &ldquogreat inflation&rdquo that had begun in the late 1960s, Vietnam War debts, the Federal Reserve&rsquos expansionary monetary policy, growing international competition from the likes of Japan and West Germany, and a second oil shock. &ldquoIt was Jimmy Carter&rsquos misfortune,&rdquo writes the economist W. Carl Biven, &ldquoto become president at a time when the country was faced with its most intractable economic policy problem since the Great Depression: unacceptable rates of both unemployment and inflation&rdquo&mdasha one-two punch that came to be called &ldquostagflation.&rdquo
In response, Carter chose austerity. Throughout the 1970s, Federal Reserve chairmen Arthur F. Burns and G. William Miller had been reluctant to raise interest rates for fear of touching off a recession, and Carter was left holding the bag. After Carter named Paul Volcker as Fed chairman in August 1979, the Fed restricted the money supply and interest rates rose accordingly&mdashthe prime rate reaching an all-time high of 21.5% at the end of 1980. All the while, Carter kept a tight grip on spending. &ldquoOur priority now is to balance the budget,&rdquo he declared in March 1980. &ldquoThrough fiscal discipline today, we can free up resources tomorrow.&rdquo
Unfortunately for Carter, austerity paid few political dividends. As the economist Anthony S. Campagna has shown, Carter could not balance his low tolerance for Keynesian spending with other Democratic Party interests. His administration took up fiscal responsibility, but his constituents wanted expanded social programs. Meanwhile, his ambitious domestic agenda of industrial deregulation, energy conservation, and tax and welfare reform was hindered by his poor relationship with Congress.
The Carter administration might have shown more imagination in tackling these problems, but as many have noted, this was an &ldquoage of limits.&rdquo Carter&rsquos successors seem to have taken one major lesson from his failings: The American public may blame the president for a sluggish economy, but when it comes to debt, the sky&rsquos the limit.
Jimmy Carter: Life Before the Presidency
James Earl Carter's ancestors had lived in America since the 1630s. They were residents of Georgia since just after the Revolution. “Jimmy” Carter’s parents, Earl and Lillian Carter, owned a peanut farm and warehouse and a store outside the small town of Plains, Georgia. Earl was bright, hardworking, and a very good businessman. "Miz" Lillian had been trained as a nurse, but abandoned her career when she became pregnant soon after marriage. She named the first of her four children James Earl, for his father. Jimmy's mother, well read and curious about the world around her, crossed the then-strict lines of segregation in 1920s Georgia by counseling poor African American women on matters of health care.
The family became moderately prosperous, but when Jimmy was born in 1924, the first American president to be born in a hospital, he was taken back to a house that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. By the time he was ten, the boy stacked produce from the family farm onto a wagon, hauled it into town, and sold it. He saved his money, and by the age of thirteen, he bought five houses around Plains that the Great Depression had put on the market at rock-bottom prices. These homes were rented to families in the area. His father was stern but proud of Jimmy. His mother, Lillian, while also demanding, nurtured and encouraged his reading.
Entertainment was hard to come by in the rural Georgia of the 1930s, and for Jimmy his mother's brother offered a glimpse of the outside world. Uncle Tom Gordy had joined the United States Navy, and sent postcards to the Carters from around the globe. His nephew was fascinated with all the exotic places depicted in the cards and began to tell his parents that someday he'd be in the Navy, too. Before he even entered high school he had written the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to ask for a catalogue. In 1941, he graduated as class valedictorian of his tiny high school.
Navy Career and Marriage
The events of World War II (1939-45) motivated many American patriots like Jimmy to enter the military service. There was stiff competition for admission into Annapolis and thus, Carter flung himself into his coursework, studying for a year at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1942. Carter was admitted to Annapolis in 1943 and graduated in the top ten percent of his class in August 1946, just after the end of the war.
Prior to his last year at Annapolis, while on leave, Midshipman Carter met Rosalynn Smith, a friend of his sister's. She was only seventeen-years-old, three years Jimmy's junior. When Carter first proposed marriage, she refused him. Early the following year, however, she visited him at Annapolis, and when he proposed a second time she accepted. The two were married in July of 1946.
For Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, the next eight years were typical of a young postwar, American couple. Their first son was born within a year of their marriage, and there would eventually be two more sons and a daughter. Carter worked long hours while his wife worked at home raising the children. Lieutenant Carter selected the submarine service, the Navy's most hazardous duty. One incident during this time clearly illustrated Carter's values and beliefs. While his submarine was moored in Bermuda, British officials there extended a party invitation to white crewmembers only. Partly at Carter's urgings, everyone on the submarine refused to attend.
About this time, the Navy was attempting to construct its first nuclear-powered submarines. The program was headed by the brilliant, tough Captain Hyman Rickover. Today regarded as "the father of the nuclear Navy," Rickover was slight, intense and a demanding taskmaster. Carter was assigned to Rickover's research team, and the young lieutenant was pushed mercilessly by the uncompromising captain. "I think, second to my own father, Rickover had more effect on my life than any other man," Carter would later say. One of the two new submarines being built was the Seawolf, and Carter taught nuclear engineering to its handpicked crew.
Then came bad news from Plains. Carter's father Earl had cancer, and in July 1953, he died. The farm had declined in his last years, and there was real danger that it would now be lost, a crushing prospect to Lillian Carter. After some hard thought, Carter decided to resign from the Navy, return to Plains, and help his family.
Southern Winds of Change
Carter threw himself into farming the way he had his naval duties. But the return to Plains became the greatest crisis of the Carter marriage. Rosalynn, deeply opposed to giving up the travel and financial security of military life, found it a difficult adjustment. The year 1954, saw a terrible drought in Georgia, and net profits from the farm totaled just $187.
The South was changing. The Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), had declared school segregation unconstitutional. Later in neighboring Alabama, an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a city bus to a white person, and she was jailed for it. Black citizens boycotted the bus system and challenged the segregation in court. They were taking a stand against centuries of oppression, and the attitudes of many whites hardened. An organization called the White Citizens Council was formed to maintain the segregated status quo in the South, and its membership blossomed across the region-including Plains, Georgia. Carter was heavily pressured to join the organization in 1958, and was the only white male in Plains to refuse. The council's members boycotted Carter's business, but he stubbornly held out and over time, the boycott fizzled out.
Community Involvement and Political Aspirations
Hard work and effective management made the Carter farm prosperous by 1959. Jimmy Carter's involvement in his local community increased as he began to serve on local boards for civic entities like hospitals and libraries. He also became a church deacon and Sunday school teacher at the Plains Baptist Church. In 1955 he successfully ran for office for the first time-a seat on Sumter County Board of Education, eventually becoming its chairman. When a new seat in the Georgia State Senate opened up because of federally ordered reapportionment in 1962, Carter entered that race. Initially defeated in the Democratic primary, he was able to prove that his opponent's victory was based on widespread vote fraud. He appealed the result and a judge threw out the fraudulent votes, and Carter was handed the election.
During his two terms in the state senate, Carter earned a reputation as a tough, independent operator. He attacked wasteful government practices and helped repeal laws designed to discourage African Americans from voting. Consistent with his past practice and his deeply held principles, when a vote was held in his church to decide on whether to admit blacks to worship there, the vote was nearly unanimous against integration. Of the three dissenting votes, two were cast by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
In 1966, Carter planned to run for United States Congress. However, a Republican rival announced his candidacy for governor of Georgia, and Carter decided to challenge him. This attempt was a mistake. The civil rights movement had created a conservative backlash in the South ending the solidly Democratic stranglehold on the South. Liberal Democrats like Carter were especially vulnerable. Although he campaigned hard, he finished a poor third in the 1966 Democratic primary. The eventual winner was Lester Maddox, an ultraconservative who proudly refused to allow blacks to enter a restaurant he owned, and who distributed ax handles to white patrons as a symbol of resistance to desegregation required under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Carter was bitterly disappointed by the defeat and was saddled with a substantial debt from it. He began to position himself for the 1970 gubernatorial election almost immediately. In the late 1960s Carter campaigned tirelessly up and down the state.
He campaigned on a platform calling for an end to busing as a means to overcome segregation in public schools. Carter thought that in order to win he would have to capture white voters who were uneasy about integration. Consequently, he minimized appearances before African American groups, and sought the endorsement of several avowed segregationists, including Lester Maddox. The leading newspaper in the state, the Atlanta Constitution, refused to endorse him, and described him as an "ignorant, racist, backward, ultra-conservative, red-necked South Georgia peanut farmer." The strategy worked, however, and with the support of rural farmers, born-again Christians, and segregationist voters, Carter forced a runoff election and won with 49 percent of the vote.
Delivering Change to Georgia
The new governor's inaugural address surprised many Georgians by calling for an end to segregation, and received national attention for it. By and large, Carter governed as a progressive and reformer. During Carter's term as governor of Georgia, he increased the number of African American staff members in Georgia's government by 25 percent. But his primary concern was the state's outdated, wasteful government bureaucracy. Three hundred state agencies were channeled into two dozen "superagencies." He promoted environmental protection and greater funding for the schools. However, he worked poorly with traditional Democratic politicians in the state legislature, and gained a deserved reputation as an arrogant governor, with a "holier than thou" attitude that isolated him from politicians who might otherwise have become his political allies.
While Carter was serving as governor, he was taking careful measure of the national political landscape. The Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 was George McGovern, a liberal who steadfastly opposed the war in Vietnam. Carter watched McGovern run an impracticable campaign, in which he was portrayed by his opponents as a radical extremist, and that ended with an overwhelming defeat at the hands of Republican incumbent, Richard Nixon. Governor Carter reasoned that the next election would require a different type of Democrat, and he quietly began laying the groundwork for a run for the White House in 1976.
Senior Fellow Emeritus - Governance Studies
A concern for process is not a bad thing. Some past presidents made a fetish of chaos in policy development, often resulting in proposals that had not been fully explored.
But process is only a tool for getting from here to there—it is not a substitute for substance. And good processes can produce conflicting, competing and confusing programs.
When a president lacks an overriding design for what he wants government to do, his department chiefs are forced to prepare presidential options in a vacuum. Usually this is done by BOGSAT—the acronym for a “bunch of guys sitting around a table.” In other cases, where political executives have not been given some framework in which to function, they will try to impose their own hidden agendas on the president.
Each departmental proposal—whether for welfare reform or tax reform—may or may not be “right,” but there is no reason to expect that automatically it will fall in place with what other departments will be proposing. Ironically, Carter’s procedures assure, by definition, that he cannot deal with the nation’s ills comprehensively.
Political executives and high level civil servants prefer to be loyal to a president. If direction is forthcoming, they will try—successfully or not—to honor a president’s wishes. When direction is not present, they will go into business for themselves.
The Carter presidency cannot be described—as was sometimes true of past administrations—in terms of White House loyalists versus cabinet department disloyalists. Today neither White House staff nor cabinet officials have been given the predictive capacity that they must have to do their jobs properly. A subordinate—even on the cabinet level—has to be able to plan on the basis of some past pattern.
Take government reorganization policy. Some of Carter’s actions support the concept of centralization (energy) some support the concept of decentralization (education). On what basis is an administration planner to design the next reorganization?
Uncertainty radiating from the top, furthermore, lowers morale throughout the permanent government, hence it adversely affects the implementation of programs. While the bureaucracy may be the butt of jokes, it is also the motor force that provides services on a day-to-day basis—and it too looks for consistent signs from a president.
American presidents have not been ideologues. And it is certainly not my notion that Carter should become one. But all modern presidents, whether “liberal” or “conservative”—no matter what their other faults—have had some programmatic view of government in which the specific parts usually could be fitted. This is not the case with Carter’s domestic program, although he does seem to have a firmer view of defense policy (perhaps because of his naval background).
So the basic problem of this administration will not be corrected by rearranging boxes on organization charts or by doing a better selling job to Congress and the public.
What has produced an undistinguished presidency? Jimmy Carter’s failure to set consistent policy goals—or more grandly, a philosophy for government.
Jimmy Carter is the rare U.S. president who is most lauded for his work after the Oval Office.
But Jonathan Alter argues in his latest book, "His Very Best," that former President Carter's influence inside the White House, might be the most misunderstood in our history.
Jonathan Alter, thank you very much for joining us to talk about your book.
You call Jimmy Carter perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history. I have known, have covered him for a long time. I even covered him before he came to Washington to be president.
What made you so interested in him?
Well, what happened, Judy, is, I learned some of the details of his achievements at Camp David.
And this was a virtuoso performance. It's the most enduring and significant peace treaty in the world since World War II. And I started to think, if he could pull that off, maybe there's more to Jimmy Carter to &mdash than this kind of easy shorthand, inept president, great former president. And it just got me curious to get beyond that cliche.
And when I started to do the research five years ago, I found that he had actually achieved much more as president than I or I think a lot of other people understood, and that he was a political failure, but a substantive and farsighted success.
Well, talk about that for a minute. What was it that made him the consequential president that he was? You write about how he was ahead of his time in many regards.
He signed 14 major pieces of environmental legislation. And he was also the first leader anywhere in the world to think about climate change, which at that time was just in the scientific community.
But it really goes across the board, Judy. There were accomplishments all the way throughout, Jimmy Carter, who introduced and got passed the Ethics in Government Act that first protected whistle-blowers, Inspector Generals Act setting up those offices, FISA courts, FEMA. He established FEMA, did some of the first emergency planning.
I think people know that he created the Departments of Education and Energy, but the list goes on and on.
And in the foreign policy area, despite the failures in terms of getting the hostages out of Iran before the election, which hurt him badly, not only Camp David, but establishing full diplomatic relations with China, which created the bilateral relationship that our world economy is now based on, that was Jimmy Carter.
The Panama Canal treaties prevented a major war in Central America. The human rights policy was historic, helped kick off the democratic revolution around the world, helped end the Cold War, win the Cold War, as a lot of conservatives admitted later on.
But much of this was hard to understand at the time. So his political mistakes kind of overwhelm these achievements.
But, despite all this, Jon Alter, there were a lot of mistakes. There were embarrassments, mistakes of his own doing, and then a lot of bad luck along with all that.
So, Jimmy Carter has led this almost novelistic life. It's a real American epic. You know, he was born on a farm where they had no running water, no electricity, essentially in the 19th century.
So, Carter is coming this great distance. And he runs this campaign from zero percent in the polls, gets to the presidency, has a lot of good luck, as well as good timing, because he was running after Watergate as an ethical, moral candidate. But he has good luck.
Then, when he gets to the presidency, especially in the second half of his term, 1979 and '80, he's essentially swamped by events, including economic problems that were very serious and contributed in a major way to his not getting reelected.
He did, though, appoint Paul Volcker, who raised interest rates way above 15 percent, which hurt Carter when he was running for reelection, but, eventually, that harsh medicine ended inflation. So, Reagan got the credit and arguably got reelected in '84 for that, but it was Carter's appointee who accomplished it, Paul Volcker.
And &mdash but just to go to the political problems, he could not unify the Democratic Party. And that challenge by Ted Kennedy from the left in the 1980 primaries, that was very hurtful to Jimmy Carter.
It was almost everywhere you look, between the Iran hostage crisis, as you mentioned, internationally, the spike in oil prices, the long gas lines, and then, as you mentioned, political problems.
Did you ever figure out, Jon Alter, what drives him? And we should say the man is still alive well into his 90s.
So, his faith definitely drives him. I devote a fair amount of attention to that. I think even that is very misunderstood. He was a strong believer in the separation of church and state and would not allow any religious-tinged events at the White house. But I also think a sense of atonement drives him.
But his father dies. He comes back to Georgia and &mdash to take over his father's business, farm supply business, get going in politics. And he's ducking the civil rights movement right through that 1970 campaign, even using some code words in that 1970 campaign.
And then, Judy, you were there for one of the most important events of his political career&hellip
&hellip when he took the oath and gave his inaugural address as governor of Georgia. And he said, the time for racial discrimination is over.
And you could tell &mdash you said later that you could feel the electricity going through the crowd. It doesn't sound like anything, but it was a huge decision. Then he went on to integrate Georgia.
But then I think he spent the second half of his life, from that moment on, essentially making up for what he did not do in the first half of his life on civil rights. And that can be an inspiration for us, so this faith and this sense of wanting to do as much as he can for as many people as he can in whatever time he has left.
It certainly seems to be driving him.
So, does he finally, Jon Alter, become like Harry Truman, a president who is appreciated, but decades after he's president, or not? What do you think?
So, Harry Truman was his favorite president. He put the sign "The buck stops here" right on the desk.
And I'm hoping that I and other authors can contribute to a real reassessment of his presidency. He's not going to be in our first rank of presidents. He made plenty of mistakes, but I do think that historians are now starting to recognize that he got slimed in some ways after he left office, and that there was much more that he achieved than people recognize.
And, of course, we haven't even spoken about his achievements as a former president. He revolutionized the role of former president. Rosalynn Carter is this enormously formidable partner. And I have the love letters, kind of steamy love letters that he wrote her from the Navy.
So, he completely changed the role of first lady. She did much more, for instance, than Eleanor Roosevelt as first lady. And then, after he left office, he revolutionized the role of former president.
But I'm just trying to kind of correct but I'm just trying to kind of correct the balance here and end this notion that he was a lousy president, which is just not true.
The book is "His Very Best," of course, a play on Jimmy Carter saying when he was running for president, why not the best? It's "His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life," a big contribution to our study of this presidency.
And I came to Washington to cover his presidency. And the book is very much worth reading.
What Were Jimmy Carter's Failures?
Carter failed to capitalize on his early successes, form alliances with Congress and connect with the American people. He also failed to understand how government operated and the importance of compromise. Few presidents have started their term under such favorable political conditions as Carter. With Democrat majorities in both houses, he fulfilled most of his campaign promises within a few months of taking office.
Despite early successes, Carter failed to form alliances with Congressional leaders and secure passage of key legislation. He overlooked high-ranking party members and filled his cabinet with political outsiders who failed to develop working relationships with legislators. He further alienated Congressional leaders by refusing to compromise his ideals or negotiate differences. He refused to engage in “back-door” deals and vetoed bills that he considered wasteful spending. Congress reacted by gutting his tax plans, overriding vetoes and blocking energy initiatives and welfare reform plans.
Carter also failed to translate his early successes into support from the American people, often appearing smug and condescending when he spoke, even to supporters. When he delivered his “malaise” speech during the energy crisis of 1979, he seemed to be scolding the public and blaming them for the crisis rather than proposing solutions or espousing policy. Asking Americans to drive slower, set thermostats lower and do without Christmas lights did little to inspire confidence. After foreign policy failures such as the prolonged Iranian hostage crisis and botched rescue attempt, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, many Americans saw their government as weak, ineffectual and no longer commanding respect.
Jimmy Carter: American homebrew hero?
The next time you raise a glass of craft beer, make sure you toast former President Jimmy Carter. No, really. You should be offering your suds up to the man who was reported by the media during the 1976 election to be a non-drinker. As crazy as it may seem now, homebrewing used to be illegal and Jimmy Carter actually played a part in changing that, contributing to the craft beer revolution. But that’s just one unexpected facet in the story of how our current beer industry came to be.
The thirteen years of Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, had been a hard slog of bootleg liquor, moonshine, and yes – homebrewed beer. Before and during Prohibition, many breweries essentially encouraged homebrewing by marketing malt extract. This product could be used as a baking ingredient, but was more often used to homebrew beer. In fact, breweries often included instructions of what not to do with the extract to avoid accidentally producing beer. (Wink, wink.)
As Prohibition approached, the brewing industry created ingredients such as this “beer extract” (aka malt extract) to encourage Americans to brew at home. Advertisement, around 1900. Courtesy of Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, many homebrewers returned to buying professionally made beer and most homebrewing activities declined. Homebrewing remained illegal at the federal level. Federal regulators were concerned about people using the brewing grain not for beer, but for moonshine, a homemade and highly potent hard liquor. Unlike homebrewed beer, moonshine was often toxic due to impure ingredients and clumsy—if not negligent distilling conditions—when prepared by amateurs, making it proved dangerous. By the 1960s, even with homebrewing’s continued illegality, homebrewing clubs sprang up around the country as hobbyists tried to make beer that was different from the American light lager that was so common at the time.
One of these hobbyists was Charlie Papazian. While studying at the University of Virginia in 1970, a friend’s neighbor who made “Prohibition-style homebrew” introduced Papazian to homebrewing. Papazian found that homebrewed beer tasted more flavorful than the beer he was used to. “I never knew beer could taste like this,” he recalled.
Charlie Papazian’s first recipe for homebrewed beer, “Log Boom Brew" from 1971. (Division of Work and Industry)
After graduating from college in 1972, Papazian moved to Boulder, Colorado, to try to figure out his life plans. Some people there discovered that he knew how to brew beer and asked him to teach a class on homebrewing at the local community free school. The classes were incredibly popular and attracted many curious local residents.
As word spread through newspaper articles, administrators grew concerned that the classes might be attracting the wrong type of attention. “After about the third year…those classes became notorious,” Papazian recounted. “One time at registration for the class, the administration contacted me, and said, ‘You know… there’s a guy, who’s registering for this class. He may be from the ATF.’” The ATF is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms—the law enforcement agency in charge of regulating activities such as homebrewing. As Papazian started the class, a man walked in wearing a dark pair of slacks, a white shirt, and a skinny black tie. Papazian suspected he was the ATF agent right away. Curious as to the agent’s intent, he started the class by making sure to point out the illicit nature of their activity, with a plea for mercy. “I mentioned that it was illegal. But the ATF has better things to do than… to arrest homebrewers that are making homebrew for …home consumption.” As it turned out, the ATF agent wasn’t there to arrest anybody, he just wanted to take the class. “He seemed to enjoy it, but I think his gig was up after three [classes]. So, he had to leave after that.” Luckily, encounters such as this would prove rare as Papazian did not have to wait long for his hobby to become legal.
A spoon used by homebrew pioneer Charlie Papazian from 1974. (Division of Work and Industry)
This is where Jimmy Carter’s role in the story came into play. In 1976, a group of homebrewers in California, where homebrewing had become popular, lobbied Senator Alan Cranston for federal legalization. After two years of failed attempts, Cranston was finally able to incorporate the legislation into a transportation bill to avoid scrutiny. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed HR 1337, legalizing homebrewing at the federal level and giving Carter the unlikely distinction of homebrewing hero. The law took effect on February 1st, 1979, just as Papazian was launching his homebrewing magazine Zymurgy (Zymurgy is a scientific term that is defined as fermentation by yeast) and the American Homebrewers Association. Today, homebrewing is how over 95 percent of craft brewers learn their trade.
Coaster showing the logo of the American Homebrewers Association, founded by Charlie Papazian in 1978. This coaster dates to 1983-1986. (Division of Work and Industry)
Charlie Papazian’s quotes from this article were provided by an oral history recorded in 2017 for the American Brewing History Initiative, a research and collecting initiative to document the history of beer and brewing in the United States. Several artifacts relating to Papazian’s story will go on display for the first time this fall with the reopening of the museum’s refreshed exhibit FOOD: Transforming the American Table in late October 2019.
John Harry was an intern at the National Museum of American History.
The American Brewing History Initiative is made possible through generous support from the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers.
#7 Carter played a key role in negotiating a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel
On assuming office, Jimmy Carter decided to use his influence to mediate the long-running Arab–Israeli conflict. By the end of his first year in office, he had already met with Anwar Sadat of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, Hafez al-Assad of Syria and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel. He was able to convince Anwar Sadat to visit Israel in 1978. Carter then invited Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the presidential retreat of Camp David in September 1978. Following twelve days of secret negotiations at Camp David, the two leaders signed the Camp David Accords at the White House. The Camp David Accords comprise two separate agreements: “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East” and “A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel”. The second of these led to the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty signed on March 26, 1979. Jimmy Carter played a critical role in the treaty getting done and he himself viewed the agreement as his most important accomplishment in office.
Jimmy Carter: Impact and Legacy
Jimmy Carter is much more highly regarded today than when he lost his bid for reelection in 1980. He has produced an exemplary post-presidency, and today there is an increased appreciation for the enormity of the task he took on in 1977, if not for the measures he took to deal with the crises that he faced. Carter took office just thirty months after a President had left the entire federal government in a shambles. He faced epic challenges—the energy crisis, Soviet aggression, Iran, and above all, a deep mistrust of leadership by his citizens. He was hard working and conscientious. But he often seemed like a player out of position, a man more suited to be secretary of energy than president. Carter became President by narrowly defeating an uninspiring, unelected chief executive heir to the worst presidential scandal in history. The nomination was his largely because in the decade before 1976, Democratic leadership in the nation had been decimated by scandal, Vietnam, and an assassination.
Jimmy Carter was the second death knell for the old liberal politics of the 1960s. The first had been the Democratic candidate preceding him, George McGovern. Carter was successful largely because he was one of the first to discern the public's overall disaffection with liberalism that endures to this day. At every turn he sought to portray himself as a new type of Democrat.
As President, Carter revived a long-dormant practice of presidential mediation in disputes between other nations, something every succeeding chief executive has emulated to varying degrees. His insistence on American leadership in the protection of human rights around the world helped to subvert the power of communist and other dictatorial regimes, and eventually led to the human rights initiatives of the 1980s and 1990s. His stubborn independence, a great asset while climbing to the presidency, was in many ways his downfall once he attained the office. His refusal to engage in a give and take with Congress the ill-conceived boycott of the Olympic Games his inability to use force effectively to resolve the crisis in Iran his inability to build coalitions and to be flexible in dealings with friends and foes. These varied characteristics combined to brand him as ineffectual.
There was always, it seemed, something unlucky about him: massive public disaffection with government, the fires of crisis breaking out at home and abroad, the hostile post-Watergate press, and, by the end of his term, a challenge by a smooth, consummately telegenic challenger with an engaging new conservative message.