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How Jimmy Carter Contributed to America's Growth

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Carter: An Intentioned Presidency

While there have been many presidents who rose from abject poverty into the political arena, Jimmy Carter’s upbringing as a peanut farmer definitely set a precedent of presidential origin. Carter’s upbringing in Plains, Georgia is where his honest and well intentioned attitude is first found and later seen very frequently during his presidency. In the end, despite all that Carter had tried to do, his brutal honesty did not appeal to the American public as he had expected it would and while he had presidential successes, his presidency became the presidency of good intentions.

One of Carter’s most well-known efforts was the Iran hostage crisis. In 1979 Iranian students stormed the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran in what would be the most embarrassing publicized breach in an embassy’s security until the Benghazi crisis. The students took fifty-two Americans hostages, with only six slipping through their fingers to escape to safety. It is at this point where Carter is the first to subscribe to the American ideal of a non-negotiation pact with terrorists. This idea of non-negotiation was not well received by the American people. With America’s very small exposure to terrorism at this point the American public wanted everything possible to be done towards rescuing the hostages and Carter’s non-negotiation stance was inadequate. To make matters worse, the Carter administration attempted a rescue mission on April 24, 1980 called operation “Eagle Claw” that miserably failed. As a result eight American troops died in a futile attempt to rescue the hostages who would end up staying imprisoned in Iran for a total of 444 days. Even though the hostages were freed the public did not credit the release of the hostages to Carter. The hostages had been released while Carter was sitting at Reagan’s inaugural ceremony after he had already lost the election of 1980; Carter’s political career had been ended by the crisis.

One of the most directly correlating factors to governmental approval is the economy. Even with Carter’s problems on the foreign front, the economy was suffering. Nixon had recently taken the country off of the gold standard which opened the floodgates of inflation in the American economy. Since Carter was a Democrat he tried to control the economy by spending more. This policy drastically backfired on him causing inflation to rise to 13% during Carter’s term leaving Americans to sit back and watch as their money became less and less valuable each year. On top of the economic problem carter was facing there was an oil crisis and the price of gasoline increased incrementally. The proposed solution to this was gasoline rationing which made Americans have to wait in large lines just to fill up their tank another five gallons. These two crises caused Carter’s approval rating to continue decreasing until it rested at 34% when he left office.

Carter may have had his downfalls when trying to manage international and domestic crises but he was without a doubt a master of foreign negotiations. This becomes prevalent in the “Camp David Accords” between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli President Menachem Begin. Not only did Carter successfully broker peace between the two countries, but he set the precedents that America would be willing to be a peacekeeper in the world and that its leader would be able to broker peace effectively establishing a sense of credibility to the peace keeping abilities of American leadership.

Carter not only excelled at foreign negotiations, but he had a vision for what he wanted America to look like. To Carter, it is the responsibility of American government to provide energy and education. To fulfil this responsibility Carter created both the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. These programs were well intentioned, but the Department of Energy was not well received by the public. Carter had been a nuclear engineer and was well versed on energy efficiency but the public was very conservative about nuclear energy and were frightened by the prospect of a nuclear reactor malfunctioning. The public’s uncertainty of an Energy Department ultimately hurt Carter’s approval rating. On top of the negative public opinion towards his Energy Department, the two new departments Carter created needed to be staffed and funded and as a result increased the spending deficit of our nation at a time of high economic inflation.

The Carter presidency is best described as the presidency of a man who tried his very best, but was not what our country needed at the time. Ironically, the Carter presidency was predicated on honesty, a trait that is often sought after in presidential candidates, yet Carter’s honesty was rewarded with ridicule in circumstances such as the Malaise speech. What can be learned from Carter’s presidency is that the public does not want honesty; the public wants the truth coated in layers of dulled down inconsequential words that do not serve a purpose in providing truth other than to make it “publically presentable.” While Carter was able to succeed in aspects of his presidency such as foreign negotiations, his shortcomings in times of crisis and the economy were too large for the public to forgive. Even though Carter tried his very best, effort is not rewarded as kindly as success.

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