Post 10: The Coalescing Work of Jimmy Carter

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President Jimmy Carter. (Erika Santelices, AFP/Getty Images).

In the final days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his administration was in a poor state of affairs. In 1980, Carter’s approval rating was only 34 percent and the US economy was in peril. [1] Public opinion was low because, in part, inflation was 16 percent and industrial production, consumption and personal income were declining at annualized rates of about 5 percent. [2]

Carter struggled in the foreign policy arena too. In 1979 Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, capturing American diplomatic staff and holding them hostage until the day Carter left office in 1980. [3] [4] Further, Carter’s efforts to ratify the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) failed in Congress and with the Soviet government. [5]

As a result, Carter lost badly to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, winning only 49 electoral votes to Reagan’s 489. [6] Regarded as a political liability by his own party, Carter left Washington DC as a marginalized one-term president.

Despite Carter’s well-documented struggles, his White House tenure and post-presidency efforts contain many enduring successes. During his term as president, Carter accomplished several domestic and foreign policy goals that impact American society to this day. As a founder of the Carter Center, he has made humanitarianism the central feature of his civilian life.

As president, Carter’s domestic policy was innovative and pragmatic. In 1980, Carter created the Department of Education [7] which alleviated an over-burdened Department of Health, Education and Welfare [8] and increased college tuition grants for needy students. [9] He also addressed American energy independence by phasing out oil and natural gas price controls and creating the Department of Energy. [10]

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Carter with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty signing. (Photo Israeli GPO).

Carter’s foreign policies resulted in several diplomatic achievements as well. Most notable was the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. [11] That agreement ended hostilities that dated back to 1948, and the treaty still endures today. [12] In Latin America, Carter began a new era of relations by turning over the Panama Canal to its native country. [13] Lastly, he established full diplomatic relations with China, completing a task initiated by President Nixon. [14]

However, some of Carter’s greatest achievements came after he left office. In 1982, Carter and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center. Located in Atlanta, Georgia, the Center’s mission is “guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering… and seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.” [15] The Center’s accomplishments include observing 103 elections in 39 countries to help establish and strengthen democracies, [16] distributing over 240 million treatments to combat River Blindness [17] and bringing the painful and debilitating Guinea Worm Disease to the brink of eradication. [18]

Carter has also continued his diplomatic efforts as well. For example, in 1994 Carter negotiated with North Korea to end their nuclear weapons program, worked in Haiti to ensure a peaceful transfer of government and brokered a temporary ceasefire between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims. [19] Largely due to these efforts, in 2002 he became the only ex-president to win the Nobel Peace Prize. [20]

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Carter tending to a six year old girl from Ghana as she is treated for Guinea Worm Disease. (Louise Gubb for the Carter Center).

Lastly, Carter has contributed to domestic humanitarian causes and the arts too. One week a year, Carter and his wife help build houses for Habitat for Humanity. [21] Also, he has written books on the Bible, diplomacy, the Middle East, poetry, and the Revolutionary War. [22]

Despite his many accomplishments, Carter has remained a divisive figure after leaving the White House. On the right, conservatives point to him as the exemplar of liberal incompetence. On the other side of the aisle, Carter’s liberal successors often seek to distinguish themselves from his policies in order to establish their own credentials.

Nonetheless, the product of Carter’s efforts should unite Americans of all party affiliations. Taken in summation, Carter’s work, both during his presidency and in the ensuing years, represents a tireless dedication to improve the human condition. This was represented in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech when Carter said, “We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes — and we must.” [23]

That said, at the base of most public policy is the maintenance of peace and the promotion of human welfare. After all, mankind initially formed government to create social stability and preserve human health, and that goal still survives today. Thus, Carter’s lifetime mission to broker peace and cure global maladies represents the calling of all public servants and concerned citizens. As a result, Carter should be, to people of all political inclinations, a person worthy of emulation.

[1] Dillon, J. (2012). The Record Setting Ex-Presidency of Jimmy Carter. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/the-record-setting-ex-presidency-of-jimmy-carter/262143/.

[2] Silver, N. (2012). Economically, Obama is No Jimmy Carter. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/economically-obama-is-no-jimmy-carter/.

[3] History.com. (2017). Jimmy Carter. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/jimmy-carter.

[4] The White House. (2017). James Carter. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/jimmycarter.

[5] Id.

[6] Encyclopedia Britannica. (2013). United States Presidential Election of 1980. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1980.

[7] United States Department of Education. (2017). About. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/landing.jhtml.

[8] Macaray, D. (2011) 10 Good Things President Carter Did. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-macaray/10-good-things-the-39th-p_b_945343.html.

[9] Eizenstat, S. (2015). Jimmy Carter’s Unheralded Legacy. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/25/opinion/jimmy-carters-unheralded-legacy.html.

[10] Id.

[11] Taylor, A. (2015). On This day 36 Years Ago: The Signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. The Atlantic. Retrieved from  https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/03/on-this-day-36-years-ago-the-signing-of-the-egyptisrael-peace-treaty/388781/.

[12] Id.

[13] Eizenstat. (2015).

[14] Id.

[15] The Carter Center. (2017). Our Mission. Retrieved from https://www.cartercenter.org/about/index.html.

[16] The Carter Center. (2017). Accomplishments. Retrieved from https://www.cartercenter.org/about/accomplishments.html.

[17] The Carter Center. (2017). River Blindness. Retrieved from https://www.cartercenter.org/health/river_blindness/index.html.

[18] Schuster, Alexandra. (2014). Jimmy Carter Announces Guinea Worm Disease on the Brink of Eradication (Video). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/jimmy-carter-guinea-worm_n_4609506.html.

[19] History.com. (2017).

[20] Dillon. (2012).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] NobelPrize.org. (2002). Jimmy Carter- Nobel Lecture. Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2002/carter-lecture.html.


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