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Democrat Jimmy Carter served as the 39th President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. As a gifted student and former governor of Georgia, he was relatively inexperienced in politics. His administration sought to make the government "competent and compassionate." However, in the midst of an economic crisis produced by rising energy prices and stagflation, he met with difficulty in achieving his objectives. The final year of his presidential tenure was marked by several major crises, including the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Iran, an unsuccessful rescue attempt of the hostages, serious fuel shortages, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Legacies and Public Image
In his inaugural address, Carter stated, "We have learned that more is not necessarily better, that even our great nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems. " Carter had campaigned on a promise to eliminate the trappings of the "Imperial Presidency," and he began taking action according to that promise on the day of his inauguration, breaking with recent history and security protocols by walking up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House in his inaugural parade. His first steps in the White House went further in this direction: Carter reduced the size of the staff by one-third; canceled government-funded chauffeur service for Cabinet members, ordering them to drive their own cars; and put the U.S.S. Sequoia, the presidential yacht, up for sale.
Jimmy Carter’s administration began with great promise, but his efforts to improve the economy through deregulation largely failed. Carter created the United States Department of Education and United States Department of Energy, established a national energy policy, and pursued civil service and social security reform. At the end of his administration, Carter had substantively decreased unemployment and reduced some of the deficit, but the recession ultimately perpetuated.
Carter's ethos of humility and compassion informed much of his presidency and was reflected in his foreign policy and administration. In foreign affairs, Carter initiated the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, and the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II). Throughout his career, Carter strongly emphasized human rights; however, this also prompted much criticism, as did his decision to boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow. On the other hand, he successfully brokered the beginnings of a historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama amidst criticism at home for his decision, which was seen by many as yet another signal of U.S. weakness and of Carter's own habit of backing down when faced with confrontation. Remaining public faith in Carter was dealt a serious blow when he proved unable to free the American hostages in Tehran.
In the 1980 campaign, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan used the economic problems, Iran hostage crisis, and lack of Washington cooperation to portray Carter as a weak and ineffectual leader. Carter was the first elected president since Hoover in 1932 to lose a reelection bid.