Term Paper: Jimmy Carter

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Jimmy Carter

The 39th President of the United States, James Earl ("Jimmy") Carter, Jr., (known as Jimmy Carter) was elected to the White House in 1976, having defeated the incumbent Republican President, Gerald Ford. Ford himself had not been elected President, but Ford had completed Richard Nixon's second term when Nixon resigned in 1974 as a result of the Watergate scandals. But Jimmy Carter was defeated by Republican challenger Ronald Reagan for re-election four years later. During the 1976 presidential race between Ford and Carter, Jimmy Carter stressed his strong belief in and capacity for moral leadership in particular - a quality especially appealing to American voters in the aftermath of Watergate. Jimmy Carter's moral values, a key component of his presidential leadership style, however, did not spring from nowhere in order to manifest themselves in 1976. On the contrary, the values of Jimmy Carter's childhood; adolescence and early manhood were deeply influenced by his family's Southern Baptist piety. The values that shaped his early life were in fact ones that carried over into his public and private work as an adult, inside and outside politics and public service: e.g., throughout his college and graduate education; his Naval career; his business career as a Georgia peanut farmer; throughout his tenure as Governor of Georgia, during his time as a Presidential candidate; and in his four years as President of the United States. Jimmy Carter's successful 1976 Presidential candidacy and later his policies as President were guided by those same ideas of faith.

In particular, Jimmy Carter's distinctly moral, humanistic approach to leadership; i.e., as characterized especially by his emphasis on and lifelong commitment to human rights; honesty, and integrity (especially as opposed to the self-interest of various other contemporary U.S. Presidents before and after him) had been based all along on various early influences that helped determine Carter's future leadership style long before he ever held public office. A faith and morality-driven American presidency, however well-intentioned and chock-full of integrity it may be, does not always (or even necessarily) add up in the end to a great or even a very good one. This fact is vividly, clearly, and sometimes starkly exemplified moreover, by various less-than-successful aspects of Jimmy Carter's own largely, albeit not completely, undistinguished presidency. As Kaufman states, Jimmy Carter, while President from 1976 through 1980, was "long on good intentions but short on knowledge."

According to Hargrove, Carter was a personable but also a probing discussion leader, and that, in combination with his and his inner circle's independent reading, research, and reflections in private, combined, was how decisions were arrived at within Jimmy Carter's White House. On the other hand, perhaps in reaction to Watergate, Carter was neither well-practiced nor very interested in political maneuvering and was perhaps even (due, as Hargrove suggests, to his engineering background in the Naval Submarine Program under Hyman Rickover) too intently focused, and therefore lacking in sufficient peripheral vision.

During Jimmy Carter's one term of office, the Arab Oil Embargo caused sky-high gas prices; two-hour lines at the pump, and temporary gas rationing. Out-of-control oil prices plus double-digit inflation generally gave many Americans an increasingly dim view, in the run-up to 1980, of Carter's Presidential leadership and its economic ramifications here at home. As for foreign policy, the internationally embarrassing Iran Hostage crisis was likely Carter's last straw. He lost that fall to Ronald Reagan. Carter's Presidency was mostly undistinguished.

Still, arguably, the overall and total moral integrity of Jimmy Carter's presidency, especially given today's general, merely weakly-resisted (if at all) diminution of political, corporate, and other leaders' all-too-typical overall levels of ethical and moral behavior, Jimmy Carter's often-maligned (then and now) leadership deserves fresh scrutiny - not so much for what it accomplished, which remains questionable as for what it embodied: a steady and serious sense of human dignity; human equality; and ethical fair play. Primary and secondary evidence, combined, of Carter's own early religious; moral; educational, and personal influences, i.e., from within various biographical, political, philosophical, and other works written by Jimmy Carter from 1976 on, offer insight into his morally-based leadership: a kind America might arguably do well nowadays to more strongly and clearly encourage rather than ignore or even denigrate when found (rarely) within and among America's political; corporate; education; and other leaders today.

Ribuffo suggests how Carter's deeply-held Protestant beliefs deeply inflected, if not drove altogether, Carter's decision-making processes and leadership, and how that fundamental religious influence, in Carter's case, on the secular office of the American Presidency, may have strengthened his personal resolve and inner confidence as president, but also may have resulted in a lack of clear focus or forcefully underscored, widely-recognizable purpose to his Presidency. That in turn, as Ribuffo suggests as well, may have contributed to many Americans' perception of Carter, especially during the years of high inflation; soaring gas prices, and the Iran Hostage crisis, as a weak and indecisive leader.

In 1976, during his ultimately and to many, especially early on, surprisingly successful presidential bid against incumbent Gerald Ford for what would have been then-President Ford's second, if first elected term, Jimmy Carter of tiny Plains, Georgia, ex-Governor of that state and then considered a relative dark horse candidate compared to higher-profile Democrats like Edward Kennedy and Gary Hart, published a short campaign autobiography that would introduce him to the American public. This was called Why Not the Best? As Carter explains within that first-ever political autobiography, the then dark horse candidate for the American presidency in 1976 chose that title because, as he recalls, his future mentor in the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarine program, future Admiral [then Captain] Hyman Rickover, upon learning Carter had recently graduated 59th in his class of 802, asked the future President if he had in fact done his best at Annapolis.

In Why Not the Best (1976) Presidential candidate Carter recalls having had to admit to Rickover whose new nuclear submarine program Carter wished very much to enter then, that he had not always done his best in college. Carter tells of how he then reviewed in his mind all of the various times that he had not done his best to learn everything he possibly could learn, in all of his Annapolis classes. Rickover's challenge to Carter right then, a challenge to always do his best; and if he ever did not, ask himself why not, was to become a standard Jimmy Carter would uphold in all future areas of his life, from that day on, following that initial encounter with Rickover.

The future Admiral Rickover would later become an important mentor to the new Lieutenant Jimmy Carter, USN, during Carter's eight-year naval career. However, that career also ended abruptly, as a result of Carter's father Earl's death back in Plains. After his father died, Jimmy Carter understood the need (despite his strong personal desire to remain in the Navy for life) for him to now leave the Navy and return to Plains, in order to now take over the complex management of his family's long-term, successful peanut farming business.

As Jimmy Carter further reflects in Why Not the Best (1976), for the former President a strong belief in the importance of serving God, through public service, e.g., within the United States Navy; through community work; or by holding political office, has continually been a major catalyst of Carter's adult life. Today, moreover, former President Carter, now 82, shows similarly, especially within some of his more recent, and in many ways sharply critical publications on American politics and public policy on a number of foreign and domestic issues alike today, that he still apparently possesses the same quiet seriousness and low-key; dispassionate, carefully analytical sense of purpose he showed as U.S. President from 1976 through 1980.

For example, in one of his more recently published books, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006), Carter argues that within the Middle East in particular, Israelis and Palestinians today must learn to truly respect equally, and thereby, begin to be able to co-exist peacefully, i.e., with one another's respective religions, cultures, and political and human rights. Ultimately, Jimmy Carter also suggests, the nations of the Middle East must endeavor, sincerely and long-term, to get along as equals, rather than, for example, Israel's continuing to seeking to turn today's Palestinian Arab region into something tantamount to an apartheid state.

Within another of Jimmy Carter's more recent books called Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis (2006), the former President discusses what he sees as America's own deep and fundamental early 21st-century divisiveness, some of which (he also argues) springs from America's own version of overly zealous religious extremism: the political agenda and frequent bullying tactics of the Christian fundamentalist, largely southern-based right wing. For example, as Carter states, about today's political divisiveness in America in particular, within the book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis:

strong majority of both Democrats and Republicans agree that our country is more politically divided than at any time in living memory, a fact that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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