From 1977 to 1981, Jimmy Carter served as the 39th president of the United States. During his presidency, he had a huge focus on human rights and even attempted to intertwine human rights with foreign policy. Even though his advocacy for civil liberties was well-liked among many, he proved to be a weak leader, putting the United States in economic and diplomatic turmoil.

For instance, Carter admitted the Shah of Iran into the United States to receive medical treatment in 1979. This sparked Iranian students to storm the U.S. Embassy and take 52 American diplomats and citizens. This crisis lasted for 444 days, and Carter was unable to free the hostages until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration day. Even after Carter put sanctions on Iran, they still would not budge. Carter refused to take any military action, other than a failed rescue operation. To this day, many people say that if Carter had sent one more helicopter on the rescue mission, it would have been a success. Even Carter himself realizes this mistake, and when reflecting back on it says, “I wish I’d sent one more helicopter to get the hostages and we would have rescued them.” This failure was a huge embarrassment for the United States and was put into the limelight by other countries. Additionally, Carter did not drive a hard bargain in negotiating for the hostages and gave the Iranians much of what they wanted. It took so long for the Carter administration to negotiate that the hostages were released the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. The Iranian regime purposely did this to spite and ridicule Carter, because they hated him.

Carter also mishandled the energy crisis and failed to properly solve it. He blamed it on America’s reliance on imported oil and urged people to cut their consumption of oil and gas. He failed to pass much of the legislation he wanted, due to the bad relationship he had with Congress. For instance, Carter wanted to pair a windfall profits tax with a deregulation proposal however, Congress did not pass the tax. Although there was a windfall profits tax passed later, this instance illustrates how Carter’s relationship with Congress prevented him from enacting his ambitious legislation at an effectual rate. To help handle the energy crisis, Carter thought that setting examples for the American people by turning down the thermostat in the White House and installing solar panels would help with the crisis, however, this was a futile action with no actual result. In July 1979, he gave his famous “Crisis of Confidence” speech, and while it did boost his approval rating for a bit, many critics today think that the speech was a sign of weakness in the White House and was too transparent. Altogether, Carter was unable to broker a satisfactory energy policy, and the crisis did not end until Reagan was elected into office.

Furthermore, during Carter’s term, “[t]he annual inflation rate rose from 4.8% in 1976 to 6.8% in 1977, 9% in 1978, 11% in 1979, and hovered around 12% at the time of the 1980 election campaign”. On top of that, “the unemployment rate had leveled off to a nationwide average of about 7.7% by the time of the [re]election campaign.” Carter’s failure to control inflation and unemployment rates was one of the main reasons for his failure to be reelected. The economy entered into a recession under the Carter administration and would stay in stagflation until the Reagan administration. Under Reagan is when Americans finally saw true economic growth, and America would finally be out of its recession.

Overall, Jimmy Carter was a very indecisive man and proved to be a weak leader. His negotiating skills were very indigent, thus his overall foreign policy was poor. He even implied that he solemnly asked his 13-year-old daughter Amy for political advice, further showing his irresolute character. I do think that Jimmy Carter deserves full acknowledgment for being an American leader, after all, he was elected by the people. However, I will personally remember him by his failure to be a strong, leading figure for America.

Photo: Joe Haupt

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