Useful Notes: Jimmy Carter
"To be true to ourselves, we must be true to others. We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that the trust which our Nation earns is essential to our strength."
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.
— Inaugural address, January 20, 1977
(October 1, 1924-) was 39th President of the United States, following Gerald Ford
and preceding Ronald Reagan
, and lasting from 1977 to 1981
Considering that his presidency happened more than thirty years ago, a look around the Internet will astonish many readers with just how much of a polarizing figure Jimmy Carter continues to be. Conservatives declare that his watch was a mess, while liberals assert that he inherited a mess
: the huge Vietnam War
deficit, an economy that for the first time ever
suffered rampant inflation while stagnating
, and a national post-Vietnam, post-Watergate funk which was described as a "malaise" — a word that is hung around his neck by conservative commentators (and The Simpsons
) to this day, though Carter himself never actually used it
. "Stagflation" was exacerbated by the 1979 oil crisis; long gas lines and high energy costs contributed to the national unhappiness. In an attempt to lead by example, the President lowered the thermostats in the White House and donned sweaters to keep warm instead — which, for many, became a hated symbol of the lifestyle sacrifices which they believed his policies had made necessary.
On the foreign policy front, meanwhile, the Iranian
Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent protracted holding of American hostages seemed to many to demonstrate the feebleness of the Carter administration's foreign policy, an impression by no means dispelled by a bungled attempt to free the hostages by force. In fairness, Operation: EAGLE CLAW's failure was the military's fault, not his, and had it worked, people might be praising Carter's steely-eyed decisiveness in foreign policy. Such is the fickleness of helicopters.
(Conspiracy theorists have held — and not without reason or completely without evidence — that there was an arrangement between the Ayatollah and the Reagan campaign as the hostages were released on Inauguration Day 1981, almost immediately after Reagan had taken the oath
.) Carter's term saw the Soviets deploy better nuclear weapons
and invade Afghanistan
, resulting in the SALT II arms control treaty not being put before the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Still, his term saw a lasting (if somewhat frosty) peace negotiated between Israel and Egypt, having sponsored a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at Camp David. The only significant and lasting peace settlement in the modern Middle East, it's so well-respected that even Egypt's new post-revolution government is honoring it. His administration negotiated the return of the Panama Canal to Panama
at the end of the 20th century. Additionally, some might claim that his economic policies may have paid off in the next decade and that their success had been wrongly attributed to Ronald Reagan
. The emphasis that the Carter administration placed on human rights garnered respect even among his political opponents; even most conservatives do not doubt the sincerity of Carter's intentions. More than a few people argue that Carter was essentially a nice guy who was good at humanitarianism and charity work but was saddled with a job that he wasn't prepared for at a bad time to have it.
Carter has had one of the most active post-presidencies of any former president, founding the Carter Center to work toward peace, which helped him win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. (Contrary to popular opinion, Carter didn't win in 1978 for negotiating the Camp David Accords; rather, Begin and Sadat each won.) His work with charities such as Habitat for Humanity gives him the interesting designation of causing people to like him better for his post-presidency actives than the ones during his presidency. His current crusade (as of January 2014) is to eradicate guinea worm
, a disease-causing parasite now found mainly in South Sudan; if he is successful it will be the third disease (the rinderpest virus was the second to be eradicated, following smallpox) and the first parasitic disease to be completely eradicated.
Satirical media portrayals of Carter focused on his southern-ness, ranging from portrayal as an incongruous Southern Gentleman
out of place in a savvier Washington, to an out and out hickish bumpkin; his toothy smile became iconic. The "Redneck President" conception fell a bit out of favor once the nation was introduced to Jimmy's brother, Billy Carter, who generally fit the stereotype a lot better, putting Jimmy in the role of straight man. Given that the former president is still alive and working for diplomacy and Habitat, a lot of portrayals reference this. In the states of the former Confederacy, he was widely known as "The South's Revenge."
A few other facts about President Carter:
- Was known as a very devout Southern Baptist (and brought the term "born-again Christian" into the national vocabulary), but left the denomination in 2000 because of its increasing conservatism. Founded the New Baptist Covenant movement with Bill Clinton for more liberal Baptists.
- Grew up on a peanut farm.
- Had an embarrassing redneck brother Billy, renowned for his eponymous (and terrible) brand of beer and for financial trafficking with the Libyans.
- Pushed for a comprehensive national energy policy and advocated alternative energy sources in the mid-to-late '70s, which, regardless of one's political views, made him most certainly a man well ahead of his time.
- Gave an interview to Playboy magazine in which he defended his own monogamy but admitted that he had at times had "lust in [his] heart" for women other than his wife (reference to Matthew 5:28), words that would haunt him.
- Was attacked by a Killer Rabbit during a boating excursion.
- Became good friends with Gerald Ford after his presidency.
- A graduate of the Naval academy, he was a submariner and nuclear engineer in his early life (although he never got to serve on a nuclear submarine). This is why he got the submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) named after him. It was a fast-attack nuclear boat and was also last of the even-scarier-than-the-name-makes-it-sound-but-also-ludicrously-expensive Seawolf class named after him rather than a carrier (as is typical for presidents).
- In 1952, then Lieutenant Carter was sent to the deal with a partial meltdown at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories (Ontario, Canada), whereupon he was lowered into the reactor wearing woefully inadequate protective clothing to disassemble it. If that act does not get him on the Badass president list, it at least gets him on the "most radioactive president" list.
- Carter had actually planned to make his career in the Navy, and maybe retire to the family peanut farm when he decided to quit; however, his father's death in 1953 at the age of 28 forced Carter to return so he could rescue the family business. For various reasons, Carter's farm didn't generate quite enough income, and he was forced to live in public housing for a time. He is the only president to have lived in subsidized housing for the poor (not even Bill Clinton—who grew up in backwoods Arkansas with a widowed mother and later a gambling-addict, abusive stepfather—had done so).
- The peanut farm seems to have overall been a net drain on Carter's financial assets: after being elected President, Carter placed the farm and other family holdings into a blind trust to avoid allegations of a conflict of interest. The trust was, however, badly mismanaged, and Carter left office one million dollars in debt. As a result Carter is the only modern President to have left the office a debtor.
- Was the first president to be referred to by a diminutive of his given name in official White House/public correspondence.
- Was the first President to be born after WW1.note
- Carter is the only US president ever to admit to filing a UFO report.note
- His father and three siblings have all died from pancreatic cancer at a relatively young age.
Tropes related to Carter:
- Butt Monkey: Was the foremost one among the modern presidents - just watch an early episode of The Simpsons - until George W. Bush came along. Him winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 did a lot to help him shed this image, as it forced his detractors to at least acknowledge the success of his post-presidential work.
- Coattail-Riding Relative: His embarrassing redneck brother Billy, who is one of the most famous and well remembered presidential relatives in history, is one of the most notable examples.
- Crapsack World: A good general summary of America during his presidency - it isn't called the "malaise era" for nothing. We had Stagflation (a mixture of high unemployment, high inflation and a stagnant economy - the first time in history that such a thing had occurred), 12% inflation and 20% interest rates, multiple energy shortages that culminated in the 1979 energy crisis, the 55 MPH highway speed limit, the Crisis of Confidence speech, endless feuding with Congress - which was controlled by his party - that resulted in multiple government shutdowns, massive budget deficits, the Love Canal incident, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the rise of the Ayatollah in Iran, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, escalation of the Cold War, the 1980 Olympic boycott, the beginning of the deep and painful early-1980s recession, the near-bankruptcy and 1980 bailout of the Chrysler Corporation, Supertrain, and the cars, music, and fashions really sucked.
- History Repeats:
- Entering office with little political experience, Carter's presidency was largely defined by poor political acumen and questionable decision making, as well as his inability to improve one of the worst economies in history, which lead him to being voted out after one term in favor of a charismatic challenger. Carter found himself in office just in time to take the blame for problems which were largely the work of his predecessors and left office just in time for his successor to take all the credit for a subsequent economic recovery, even though his economic policies were largely just taking the policies Carter implemented later in his term and running with them. Despite this, Carter would become highly active as a elder statesman, where he engaged in diplomatic and humanitarian work, assisted his successors in the oval office, wrote numerous books, gave numerous speeches around the country and frequently provided his opinion about unfolding events to the public. Living into his 90s, amassing the longest presidential retirement in history and being active through multiple eras of American history, Carter would see his reputation rehabilitated and would have the interesting status of being far more respected and admired for his work after leaving office as opposed to what he did while in office.
- Carter's time in office was rough, to put it kindly, largely because of his poor decision making and political acumen, which could be attributed to his lack of political experience. However, it was his lack of experience and him being completely absent from Washington during the multiple political crisis' that occurred throughout his two predecessors' terms that got him elected to the office in the first place.
- It Will Never Catch On: In 1977, in response to the energy crisis throughout the 70s, Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House as a way to promote energy conservation, prompting great mockery. The panels would be removed during Ronald Reagan's presidency. But by the 2000s, when oil prices reached record highs and global warming became a greater concern, alternative energy became more favorable; thus, in 2013, Barack Obama had new panels installed on the White House.
- Start My Own: He started his own Baptist Church with Bill Clinton, dissatisfied with how conservative the Southern Baptist Church was becoming.
- Vindicated by History: Historians are slowly becoming more approving about his presidency and its accomplishments, such as the Camp David Accords and pushing towards alternative energy.
- What Measure Is a Non-Badass?: He has frequently been ridiculed for not being a "tough guy". Indeed, he has been the only modern president who didn't lead America into any major armed conflicts.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: His 1979 "Crisis of Confidence" speech.
Jimmy Carter in fiction:
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- In Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series, Carter is a Confederate naval officer and is killed in 1942 while home on leave, defending Plains, Georgia from an attack by black guerrilla fighters.
- In Stephen King's The Dead Zone, clairvoyant Johnny Smith meets Carter when he's campaigning for the presidency in 1976, and predicts to him that he's going to win.
Live Action TV
- "Jimmy Carter Says 'Yes'" by Gene Marshall, a Disco song on how the Government CAN be open and honest.
- According to Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo's top hit "Whip It" was intended as a rallying anthem for Carter's Presidency and re-election.
- His puppet appears in every episode of DC Follies.
- Appears in an episode of King of the Hill and used his negotiating skills to get Hank's father to recognize his son's "right to exist".
- For which Bobby declares him to possibly be Jesus: His initials are J. C., he worked a miracle, and he was a carpenter (Habitat).
- The Simpsons loves to riff on his unpopularity (and Habitat work).
Carter: You too, huh? Hey, I know a good yogurt place.
Bush: (shoving Carter out of his way) Get away from me, loser.
- In "Behind the Laughter", the Simpson family was participating in the benefit concert "Habitat for Hilarity", sponsored by Carter, when their performance broke into a vicious argument. Carter tried to defuse the situation with a breakdance number, but it failed, and the Simpsons temporarily disbanded.
Carter: Got a brother named Billy, and my teeth look silly, break it down, now!
- In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "The Koos is Loose," Dee Dee's imaginary friend Koosalagoopagoop says that turning your lips inside out makes you look like Carter.
- An episode of American Dad! showed that he is head of a cover-up that peanut butter was invented by Abraham Lincoln's wife, not George Washington Carver.
- He also appears in an episode of God, the Devil and Bob in reference to his Habitat for Humanity work. The Devil uses his powers to stop his work including getting a family he is helping to turn on him and having Bob trip him up while carrying building supplies.
- In The Critic, Marty Sherman and his friends play a video game concerning blasting space aliens. Jimmy Carter appears in the game and urges the player to reconsider shooting any more aliens, suggesting they could work towards a peaceful solution instead. Marty shoots him anyway. Amusingly, Jimmy Carter calls himself the worst president in history in the game.
- Pops up during an episode of China Il as the guardian of a clue to Thomas Jefferson's Crystal Palace, which requires a fight with Ronald Reagan. He loses.
Reagen: You're 0 for 2, Georgia. You just got 1980'd.