Ranked #28: Carter met huge challenges when he arrived in office. As hard working as he was, he often seemed like a man more suited for another career. There were events during his tenure that simply overwhelmed his presidency.
Summary: Carter is reflective, always ready to confront his own shortcomings and seek self improvement. He is productive and self-disciplined and believes in the power of positive thinking. He has said that his greatest strength was his inner peace. Persuasively unassuming and simple, yet he is a complex personality.
Bio: You could easily say that Carter was the greatest man ever to be a lousy president. He is an intelligent man. He graduated 59th out of 820 from Annapolis and then studied nuclear physics. He is a humble man. He is so folksy and unceremonious that there are literally pictures of him carrying his own bags to Air Force One. He is sort of a walking paradox if you consider that he was shy, yet fearless - a great deal of modesty in a complex man. He is a born-again Christian who insisted on teaching the Bible at a Washington DC church every Sunday during his term. He rarely showed anger and if he was mad, typically became silent with a pissed-off look on his face. He ran his campaign as an ordinary, everyday man, yet his tenure in office required much more than ordinary.
Carter is 5’ 9” and weighed roughly 155 pounds while President. He parted his hair to the right during his first years and switched to the left towards his closing years. Carter is known for his smile and all those teeth in his mouth. He has one bad knee and due to a cotton gin accident, a permanently bent finger. He had a 160 bowling average. He was also into jogging, hiking, bicycling, playing tennis, cross-country skiing and he loved to fish. As a speed reader, he clocked in at 2000 words per minute with 95% comprehension. He read about three or four books a week plus required presidential reading material. He loves poetry and classical music, (which he piped into the Oval Office). He also enjoys Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Allman Brothers and Willie Nelson. In fact Nelson once performed at the White House, stayed overnight and apparently spent the early hours of the morning on the roof of the White house sparking up what Willie liked to call “Austin Torpedoes.”
Carter had a bear of time while in office. He was a Washington outsider who got treated as such by Congress, (even his own party). He barely got any support for anything he wanted to do. Being Carter, this only drove him more to believe he was going about business properly. Members of Congress often cited that he did not know how to compromise and make deals. He would eventually get politically clobbered by the Iran Hostage Crisis and a sputtering economy. There was a gas crisis during his tenure that caused huge gas lines and higher prices across America. His initial response was to ask Americans to conserve on energy, (which did not go over well). Oil prices went from $13 a barrel to over $34 and inflation followed. What he did manage to accomplish, he got little credit for.
Foreign policy was Carter’s strength during his years in office. I think the Camp David Accords was his biggest achievement. Carter invited Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to Camp David to talk peace. Carter rotated between the Israeli and Egyptian delegation and after roughly two weeks hammered out an agreement. Begin made many concessions to Carter. In return, the US provided resources for Israel to rebuild their military bases. Begin and Sadat went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and as usual, Carter received no political benefit.
Around the same time, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Not only did this put a halt to any meaningful arms agreement between the USSR and the US, but as a result, Carter boycotted the 1980 Olympics taking place in Moscow. Although the invasion would eventually drain the Soviet Union of much needed economical resources, weakening the USSR as a military threat, the boycott only made Carter look vindictive and again, no political benefit.
It took years for people to finally appreciate Carter. This is largely due to his work in his post-presidency. He had entered office after his predecessors left the federal government in pieces. America had a serious mistrust in it’s executive branch and Carter fought that back to a certain degree. He had an awkward time at it overall. He had a sense of independence that certainly helped him get elected, but at the same time placed a wedge between him and Congress that never really was removed. In some ways, it was a tough time to be President.
Pros: Huge avocate of human rights. The Camp David Accords. Recognition of China.
Cons: The Iran Hostage Crisis. The Energy Crisis. Terrible relationship with Congress. Poor media image.
Born: October 1, 1924, Plains, Georgia
Term: January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981 (1 term)
Political Party: Democrat
Education: Georgia Southwestern College, 1941–1942; Georgia Institute of Technology, 1942–1943; United States Naval Academy, 1943–1946 (class of 1947); Union College, 1952–1953