The Presidency of Jimmy Carter
The Presidency of Jimmy Carter
Gerald Ford served out the remainder of Nixon’s term and ran for reelection in 1976. In a fairly close election, he lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter, the former governor of Georgia. The crimes committed by Nixon and many of his aides, Ford’s subsequent pardon of Nixon, and the shaky state of the economy led many people to vote for Carter.
In contrast to the colorful Democratic personalities who had preceded him in office—FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson—Carter evoked memories of Woodrow Wilson. Both men were quiet, scholarly, and soft-spoken and had no experience of national politics. This “outsider” status made Carter attractive to voters who had had enough of Washington insiders after Watergate. Carter was also unimpeachably honest. However, he exhibited little understanding of the mood of the nation, and did not know how to assuage many of the everyday concerns of Americans. At a time when the nation badly needed a confident, strong leader, Carter did not give an impression of either strength or confidence.
Domestically, Carter’s presidency was largely unsuccessful. The nation was in the grip of a social and economic malaise that the White House could not shake. Prices, which had been relatively steady for many years until the time that Nixon took office, continued to rise. In 1979, OPEC raised the price of oil by 50 percent, leading to another energy crisis and to more long lines of cars at gas stations. Carter argued that the United States needed to depend more on solar and nuclear energy and less on foreign oil; just at that time, a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania failed, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the area. Few Americans would have confidence in nuclear power for some time afterward.
Carter was more successful as a foreign policy president. He urged the Senate to ratify a series of treaties giving the Panamanians full control of the Panama Canal. This move was popular among the voters and also among Latin American countries, most of which had regarded the United States warily and suspiciously for many years. Carter also condemned the South African policy of apartheid, or “separateness”—racial segregation like the Jim Crow laws in the former Confederacy. Carter’s outspoken opposition to apartheid strengthened international respect and regard for the United States.
Carter’s greatest achievement was his brokering of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which had been at war for 30 years. In September 1978, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sat down with Carter at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, to negotiate. The result of the Camp David Accords was a formal peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
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