Interesting facts about Jimmy Carter

October 4, 2010 | In: People facts

The 1976 race between President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, one-time governor of Georgia, was best summed up by T.V. personality Johnny Carson who said the election, “boils down to fear of the unknown versus fear of the known.” It was Carter, the unknown, who stressed that he was not part of the Washington establishment — this very fact helped to ruin his presidency.

Born James Earl Carter on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1946, and served as an engineer working with nuclear-powered submarines. He resigned from the Navy in 1953, following the death of his father, to take over the family’s peanut-growing business.

He got more and more interested in politics and was elected governor in 1970. Then he began a longshot quest for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. He built a commanding lead over his rivals by establishing solid support among Southern and black voters. The campaign was centered on the economy, the desire for change, and the personality of the two candidates. Carter started out with a big lead, but saw it fade away until he managed to win only a narrow victory.

Carter became the country’s 39th President without any experience or particular desire to know about how Washington worked. And his campaign had been one of pointing out where others had failed, instead of what he would do. He quickly found that his warm smile would not convince Congress to do his bidding — though the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. He was not helped by inexperienced aides on Capitol Hill, who offended more than they influenced. Quickly, many came to think of his administration as focusing on symbolism — for example, Carter carrying his own suitcases — than substance, and the public began to turn against him.

He got a short breather in 1979, when his personal efforts brought peace between Israel and Egypt, which had fought three wars since 1948. However the end of his Presidency began on November 4, 1979, when Iranian militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held hundreds of Americans hostage. It got worse, when a rescue mission failed in April 1980. Then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Carter ordered a U.S. boycott of the Olympic Games, which were to be held in Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union.

Carter managed to win his party’s nomination, but faced a formidable opponent in Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, one-time movie star and former California governor. Reagan launched a well-planned campaign that hit Carter for bad economic times and the weakness of the U.S. military. On election day, Reagan swept to victory. Carter spent his last months in office trying to get the hostages freed, but they were not released until a few minutes after Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1981.

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