Carter began his political career in the Georgia state senate, and after an unsuccessful run for governor in 1966, was elected on his second attempt in 1970, positing himself as a segregationist to win popular support the second time around before revealing his actual left-wing politics during his victory speech, to the audience's shock.note After an attempt to become running-mate to George McGovern at the 1972 presidential election ended in failure, Carter decided to instead position himself for the top job at the next election, and earned a Dark Horse Victory in part due to the party's more liberal wing not being able to coalesce around a single candidate, and also because it was felt they needed a candidate who could win the Deep South states that Richard Nixon had flipped to the Republicans in his two elections. In this he was successful: Carter won all the Southern states except Virginia, making him the last Democrat to carry a majority of the South. The end result was a close and surprising win for Carter, which was attributed primarily to lingering resentment at the Republicans over Watergate (Carter's wholesome outsider image contrasting the corruption inextricably associated with Nixon), and also due to Ford having run a poor campaign. Carter's victory was the only one the Democrats would win between 1968 and 1988, with the Republicans winning every other Presidential election during that timeframe by a landslide.
Considering that his presidency happened over forty 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 (which led to the portmanteau "stagflation" to be coined to describe it), 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.
That said, much of Carter's popularity with liberals came after his administration. Carter ran as a centrist Democrat with a platform on Christian values and small government not dissimilar from Ronald Reagan four years later. Unlike previous Democratic Presidents, Carter pivoted away from the welfare policies of the New Deal and Great Society in favor of deregulation and privatization, which angered many liberals within his own party. He was considered a micromanager who had a limited White House staff and difficult relations with both his own cabinet and Congress.note In 1980, Carter faced a strong primary challenge from Ted Kennedy, who ran on the idea that Carter had sold out the Party's progressive wing. Carter secured his nomination in the last brokered convention to date.note
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, incompetence and ineptitude 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, the reason that Operation: EAGLE CLAW was aborted before it ever reached the US Embassy was mechanical issues, such is the fickleness of helicopters. Still, the inadequacy of his response to an act of war was emblematic of his presidency. (Conspiracy theorists have held 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 also 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. And, again emblematically, Carter withdrew the USA from the 1980 Olympics. Both the Iranian Revolution and Soviet-Afghan War lead to him formulating the Carter Doctrine and green-lighting Operation Cyclone. The former states that the United States will do anything to defend its self-interests in the Middle East and the latter allowed the funding and arming of anti-Soviet Afghan mujahideen. Both of these policies expanded and continued by his successors, which unfortunately lead to the US being embroiled in Middle Eastern conflicts like the controversial War on Terror.
Still, his term saw a lasting (if somewhat frosty) peace negotiated between Israel and Egypt, having sponsored a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem 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, a few on the Left 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 who never doubted 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's former speechwriter Jimmy Fallows has opined that Carter's administration suffered from his lack of vision and an over-reliance on yes-men. People will say that he would have made a better Secretary of State than a President of the United States.
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 activities than the ones during his presidency. His 2014 project was supporting the eradication of guinea worm, a Neglected Tropical Disease-causing parasite now found mainly in South Sudan and Chad. The efforts have been largely successful, with just 27 cases in 2020 (down from millions in the 1980s). It will most likely be the second human diseasenote and the first parasitic disease to be completely eradicated.
Nowadays, Carter remains remarkably healthy despite his advanced age, walking around without a cane, surviving the pancreatic cancer that killed his father and three siblings, and still doing humanitarian handiwork with his own hammer and tool belt, with Rosalynn at his side.
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 the 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, and specifically its ban on female ministers. 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.note
- 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 rabbit during a boating excursion. Satirists had a field day with this, especially since Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which famously featured the scene that named the Killer Rabbit trope) was still fresh in public memory.
- Became good friends with Gerald Ford after his presidency.
- A graduate of the Naval Academy, where he played varsity lightweight football* , 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 rather than a carrier (as is typical for presidents). 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.
- In 1952, then-Lieutenant Carter was sent to 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 badly mismanaged, however, 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, all of which referred to him as "Jimmy Carter" as opposed to "James E. Carter". To put it in context, even though 42nd president Bill Clinton was known to the public as "Bill", his official public correspondence still referred to him as "William J. Clinton".
- Was the first President to be born after WWI.note
- Carter is the only US president ever to admit to filing a UFO report.note
- His father and three siblings all died from pancreatic cancer at a relatively young age. In August 2015, he disclosed that he had been diagnosed with cancer himself. In December 2015, he announced that the cancer has been cleared out.
- Has all but eradicated the Guinea Worm, a painful and hard-to-remove parasite, with the help of his Carter Foundation. Torpedoing the number of infections from the millions in the '80s, to less than 30 in the 2010s.
- He is the only modern President to return to living full-time in the house he lived in before entering politics — a two-bedroom ranch house in Plains, Georgia.
- Now age 97, Carter is Americas longest-lived President, having surpassed George H. W. Bush in October 2019. His post-presidential longevity of 40 years and counting has long since surpassed Herbert Hoover, whose post-presidential career spanned 31 years after leaving office, and lived to the age of 90.
- He is the last living US President to be born before World War II.
- He is currently one of the only two living former US Presidents eligible for reelection, as three of them (Clinton, Bush Jr, and Obama) fulfilled the Constitutionally-imposed maximum of two terms. Granted, it's unlikely that Carter will try to run again, given his advanced age. note
- Was the first president to be born in a hospital (in this case, the Wise clinic in Plains, Georgianote )
You just have to keep some simple tropes:
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The premise of Saturday Night Live's "Ask President Carter" sketch was not fiction, Carter actually did host a two-hour show where anyone could call in and ask him a question. Here's a clip.
- Approval of God: Carter has commented on the 2012 film Argo, which is a dramatization of the "Canadian Caper", a joint covert rescue by the Canadian government and the CIA of six American diplomats who had evaded capture during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!:
- It's widely remembered that Carter filed an official UFO report while he was the Governor of Georgia in 1973. It has been played up over the years to suggest that Carter believes in aliens or that he at least believed that he spotted an actual alien spacecraft. However, all he ever reported was that he spotted a strange object in the sky that couldn't easily be identified. The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast in 2016 and 2020 theorized that Carter spotted a barium cloud emerging from the adjacent air force base.
- His 1979 "Crisis of Confidence" speech became known as the "malaise speech", even though Carter didn't use that word.
- Butt-Monkey: Carter was the go-to President to use as the butt of jokes until George W. Bush came along, so many media portrayals of Carter from the 80s and 90s characterize him in this manner or otherwise portray him as a loser. The Simpsons took it Up to Eleven.
- Coattail-Riding Relative: Carter has probably the greatest example of this trope for an American president with his younger brother Billy, who obtained a significant media profile of his own which included his own brand of beer. While comedic portrayals of Carter originally portrayed him as a stereotypical southern redneck, once Billy rose to prominence and was found to fit the role so much better, he became the redneck character and Jimmy became the beleaguered straight-man who kept having to bail him out of trouble. Became Truth in Television when Billy's sketchy dealings with the Libyans became a headache for Carter's administration.
- Crapsack World: Carter's presidency is commonly remembered as a time of "malaise", with a bad economy, a never-ending string of crisesnote and a general feeling that the American public was losing faith in their own country and government. This has influenced Carter's portrayals in fiction, especially after he left office. Republicans like to play up this trope to help portray successor Ronald Reagan in a more favorable light.
- Deep South: Carter was the first President to rise from the region post-Reconstruction and today remains the most recent. Residents of the Deep Southern states jokingly referred to him as "the South's revenge".
- Handy Man: Commonly portrayed as this in his post-presidency due to his extensive work building houses for Habitat for Humanity. He personally chastises Tim Taylor for the poor quality of his Habitat for Humanity house on a 1994 episode of Home Improvement.
- Jack-of-All-Trades: Dan Aykroyd's portrayal of Carter on Saturday Night Live leaned into this, particularly during the memorable 1977 "Ask President Carter" sketch. The sketch revolves around Carter setting up a hotline in the Oval Office so regular Americans can call him for help with their problems. Calls included a woman needing advice on how to set up a letter sorter at the post office and a college student asking how to deal with a particularly bad acid trip. Carter had the exact solution to all of their issues right off the top of his head.
- Long Runner: More recent portrayals of Carter tend to focus on his lengthy post-presidency, which is now one for the record books; he is the longest-retired president in American history and the first to live to see the 40th anniversary of his own inauguration. Multiple generations of Americans only know him as "the guy who used to be President a long time ago".
- Memetic Loser: How the media generally treated Carter during his post-presidency until he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 - the first and only US President to win the prize for their post-presidential work.
- Never Live It Down:
- The 1979 "Killer Rabbit" incident. Carter's perceived fear of a bunny rabbit was seized upon by his opponents and used to ruthlessly mock him and illustrate how weak and feeble of a leader he was.
- One of Carter's most memorable speeches is his 1979 "Crisis of Confidence" speech, in which he addressed the ongoing energy crisis and what he perceived as the American public's loss of faith in their nation. While the speech received a moderately positive response at the time, it later became dubbed as the "malaise speech" and held up as an illustration of the Crapsack World nature of the country during Carter's presidency and his inability to improve it. Presidential historians cite the speech as an example of what they perceive to be Carter's fundamental flaw - he more often wound up lecturing the country rather than leading it.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Boston Globe inadvertently delivered a particularly scathing one. Its March 15, 1980 edition contained an editorial criticizing Carter's economic policies that was famously titled, "Mush from the Wimp". The Globe's publishers claimed that the headline was never meant to see the press, but over 160,000 newspapers were printed with it before the article was retitled "All Must Share the Burden" in later pressings.
- Sequel Displacement:
- Carter is widely believed to have accomplished far more in his post-presidency than he achieved while he was in office.
- As noted above, the media generally portrayed Carter as a Memetic Loser in the '80s and '90s. He shed this image in the 2000s, both thanks to comedians turning their attention to George W. Bush and Carter winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his post-presidential work.
- Southern-Fried Genius: Carter was somewhat portrayed as this before his approval rating plunged into the toilet in 1979.
- Still the Leader: As of 2022 he is immensly more liked and remembered for his 40+ years as an ex-president and his charities, rather than his rather lack-luster one-term presidency. It went to the point that President Joe Biden, during his 2021 inauguration speech, made sure to mention that he had talked to Carter the day before, since the 96 year old Jimmy Carter couldn't attend the unofficial former presidents' meeting during the inauguration because of COVID-19 restrictions.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Peanuts, peanuts, peanuts! Carter is forever associated with them due to his background as a peanut farmer.
Jimmy Carter in fiction:
- In Judge Dredd's "Cursed Earth" arc, he's the fifth president on Mount Rushmore.
- A look-alike actor portrayed him briefly attending the Super Bowl in the film adaptation of Black Sunday. Presumably the shots had to be filmed and edited between Carter's election in November 1976 and the film's release in March 1977.
- Archive footage of Carter is featured in the film Super 8 as its set in the immediate aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear explosion.
- The 2012 film Argo revolves around the "Canadian Caper", a joint covert rescue by the Canadian government and the CIA of six American diplomats who had evaded capture during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Naturally, Carter is referenced throughout the film, and he appears in certain parts via archive footage. Carter has often commented on the film.
- 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.
- The Three Mile Island nuclear incident occurred during Carter's presidency; Saturday Night Live riffed on this and the (real life) incident mentioned above where an inadequately protected Carter entered a malfunctioning nuclear reactor. In the skit, Carter did the same thing at Three Mile Island, which saved the plant but had Carter grow to enormous size as a result.
- Depicted in the final episode of Maude, when Maude is appointed to fill the vacant seat left by the sudden death of her fellow Congresswoman Irene McIlhaney, and she receives a congratulatory call from President Carter (voiced by Jeff Altman) after taking office.
- Very indirectly referenced in an episode of Frasier which has Frasier and Niles publicly endorsing an (inferred) Democratic candidate for office, in which the Democratic candidate for Senate, endorsed as sane by Frasier, casually says he believes in UFOs as he was once Abducted By Aliens. While Jimmy Carter never claimed to have had that close an encounter, he once filed a UFO report and has since said he is "open-minded" on the existence of UFOs and possible alien life. Obviously a man with ideas like that was too flaky to go far in politics.
- Carter appears on a 1995 episode of Home Improvement where the Taylors help build homes for Habitat for Humanity. At the end of the episode, the Taylors receive a videotaped message from Carter in the mail, where he commends Jill's and Al's efforts and chastises Tim for constructing a poorly made house that construction crews are working around the clock to bring up to code. He also asks for a picture of Al for Rosalynn.
Tim: Let's tape over this.
- The man himself appears (as Stock Footage) in the Gainax Ending to Season 3 of The Heart She Holler. Everyone who hasn't been Killed Off for Real (and their doppelgangers) sit down to watch his "Crisis of Confidence" speech. He says his entire speech, while weird things happen to the audience. And then it just sort of ends. Despite being Stock Footage, his name appears first in the credits.
- Not the man himself, but the submarine named after him, is portrayed in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as one of the few naval vessels under the control of John Connor's resistance in the war after Judgment Day. The vessel's final voyage was a failed effort to make peace with a faction of the terminators, represented by a T-1000 (liquid metal shapeshifting terminator) who was picked up on Connor's orders.
- The first episode of The Tick (2001) has the Tick trying to stop a robot sent to assassinate Carter.
- When the Presidential Wax Museum in Gettysburg shut down and auctioned off its figures, his was one of five purchased by Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, described as "the before picture in an ad for jaundice medication."
- "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.
- Not the Nine O'Clock News did a spoof song in the early 1980's expressing disenchantment with the way the world was being led, and expressed regret that when all but a few of them were gathered together in Belgrade for the funeral of President Tito of Yugoslavia, nobody thought to drop a bloody big bomb on them. Except for one.
Jimmy Carter ought to know/That's why he stayed at home!/If I had a bomb, and a plane to drop it from, I'd drop it on you, world leaders....
- His puppet appears in every episode of DC Follies.
- Referenced in Kickassia during a spectacularly gullible monologue.
You're so nice... nice people always do so well in politics. Just look at Carter!
- Linkara apparently doesn't like him, mainly for his legislation concerning feeder nuclear reactors.
- Carter appears in Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, an Alternate History in which the 1972 presidential election ended in a messy stalemate. After completing his term as Georgia Governor, he was elected as one of that state's Senators and is still largely nationally unknown - without the precise circumstances of the '76 election from our history, he would never be considered presidential material. His main role has been to help prevent Henry Kissinger being made Secretary of State to President James Gavin. In the sequel, he becomes one of Rumsfeld's most outspoken opponents. He barely avoids being carted off to a Bedlam House, and goes into hiding when a coup against Rumsfeld falls apart. He even dyes his skin black and is confronted by the racism of Rumsfeldia.
- 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: Got a brother named Billy, and my teeth look silly, break it down, now!
- In "Marge in Chains", when the town can't raise money for an Abraham Lincoln statue, they have to settle for one of him instead that reads "Malaise Forever". This nearly causes a riot, as one angry citizen declares:
"Jimmy Carter's the worst thing to happen to this country!"
"He's history's greatest monster!"
- They then gave the statue to Marge when she got out of jail, claiming that it was a statue of her (they only added her signature hairdo to it).
- In "Marge Gets a Job", Marge says she voted for him. Twice! This is a possible reference to Edith Bunker, who unlike her arch-conservative Blue-collar husband, also voted for Carter.
- In "Large Marge" George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton once appeared with him at the Habitat for Humanity to do a Three Stooges routine: Moe, Curly and Larry, respectively.
- In "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)", after seeing it done in a movie, Homer begins slapping people with a glove and challenging them to a duel when they "insult his honor" (really just a way to bully them into getting his way). Later, he attempts this on a stereotypical Southern Colonel, who is more than willing to accept his challenge. Homer flees town in terror. He encounters Carter working on a Habitat for Humanity (for Cletus' family), and attempts to bully Carter into building a new home for his family as well, to which an angry Carter responds, "Why that is an insult to my honor! I challenge you to a du—" which prompts Homer to again flee.
- In "Rosebud", Carter and G.H.W. Bush are barred from Mr. Burns' birthday party due to being one-termers.
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.
- In "Marge in Chains", when the town can't raise money for an Abraham Lincoln statue, they have to settle for one of him instead that reads "Malaise Forever". This nearly causes a riot, as one angry citizen declares:
- 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.
- One of the X-Presidents on Saturday Night Live's TV Funhouse, and a tie-in graphic novel, where he is generally the Butt-Monkey of the team, presumably due to being the only Democrat.