Jimmy Carter aspired to make Government "competent
and compassionate," responsive to the American people and their
expectations. His achievements were notable, but in an era of rising
energy costs, mounting inflation, and continuing tensions, it was
impossible for his administration to meet these high expectations.
Carter, who has rarely used his full name--James Earl Carter, Jr.--was
born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia. Peanut farming, talk of
politics, and devotion to the Baptist faith were mainstays of his
upbringing. Upon graduation in 1946 from the Naval Academy in Annapolis,
Maryland, Carter married Rosalynn Smith. The Carters have three sons,
John William (Jack), James Earl III (Chip), Donnel Jeffrey (Jeff),
and a daughter, Amy Lynn.
After seven years' service as a naval officer, Carter returned to
Plains. In 1962 he entered state politics, and eight years later he
was elected Governor of Georgia. Among the new young southern governors,
he attracted attention by emphasizing ecology, efficiency in government,
and the removal of racial barriers.
Carter announced his candidacy for President in December 1974 and began a
two-year campaign that gradually gained momentum. At the Democratic
Convention, he was nominated on the first ballot. He chose Senator
Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate. Carter campaigned hard
against President Gerald R. Ford, debating with him three times. Carter
won by 297 electoral votes to 241 for Ford.
Carter worked hard to combat the continuing economic woes of inflation
and unemployment. By the end of his administration, he could claim an
increase of nearly eight million jobs and a decrease in the budget deficit,
measured in percentage of the gross national product. Unfortunately,
inflation and interest rates were at near record highs, and efforts to
reduce them caused a short recession.
Carter could point to a number of achievements in domestic affairs.
He dealt with the energy shortage by establishing a national energy policy
and by decontrolling domestic petroleum prices to stimulate
production. He prompted Government efficiency through civil service reform
and proceeded with deregulation of the trucking and airline industries.
He sought to improve the environment. His expansion of the national park
system included protection of 103 million acres of Alaskan lands. To
increase human and social services, he created the Department of
Education, bolstered the Social Security system, and appointed
record numbers of women, blacks, and Hispanics to Government jobs.
In foreign affairs, Carter set his own style. His championing of human
rights was coldly received by the Soviet Union and some other nations.
In the Middle East, through the Camp David agreement of 1978, he helped
bring amity between Egypt and Israel. He succeeded in obtaining
ratification of the Panama Canal treaties. Building upon the
work of predecessors, he established full diplomatic relations with the
People's Republic of China and completed negotiation of the SALT II
nuclear limitation treaty with the Soviet Union.
There were serious setbacks, however. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
caused the suspension of plans for ratification of the SALT II pact.
The seizure as hostages of the U. S. embassy staff in Iran dominated
the news during the last 14 months of the administration. The
consequences of Iran's holding Americans captive, together with continuing
inflation at home, contributed to
Carter's defeat in 1980. Even then, he continued the difficult
negotiations over the hostages. Iran finally released the 52 Americans
the same day Carter left office.