I’m not going to try to make the case that Jimmy Carter was a great president, or one of our best president’s, because he clearly wasn’t. I have a lot of respect for Jimmy Carter as a man and even to a certain extent for him as president. But he had so much on his plate when he came into the White House in 1977 and that just grew with the economy going down and even into recession in 1979-80 and with everything that came up in foreign affairs, that I’m not sure anyone would’ve been very successful as president in just four years on those issues.
A big reason why Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States in 1976 was because he was an outsider. Washington was very unpopular in the mid 1970s with Congress and the Federal Government more broadly because of Watergate and the gridlock that was going on. And here comes this Washington outsider who had never worked or served in Washington, who was a successful Governor of Georgia who had a lot of appeal because he was an outsider. And who ran as someone who would always tell the truth and would always do what he believes was right.
The fact that Jimmy Carter was such a complete outsider to Washington I believe was part of his downfall. It was not just that he was an outsider, but most of his White House staff except for a few including his Vice President Walter Mondale were outsiders as well. People with little to no experience in how the Federal Government works and how Congress works. And not knowing how to deal with Congress. One of President Carter’s classic mistakes was when he ran against Congress as President as someone who would take on Congress.
The Problem with that strategy was that his own party controlled Congress both the House and Senate and with big majorities in both chambers. And he needed to be able to work with his own party to get his policies enacted. He not only ran against Congress, but he was a liberal New Democrat back in the late 1970s when that didn’t become popular until the early 1990s, dealing with a progressive New Deal/Great Society Democratic Congress that wanted to expand the safety net in America. And go back to the 1960s economically.
Jimmy Carter is one of those classic examples as someone who would’ve done much better as President had he had some real experience in Washington before he became President. George W. Bush falls into this category as well. But had Carter served in Congress before the White House in either chamber or both chambers and then went back to Georgia to run his business and serve as Governor before he became President. Or served in the executive branch like in the cabinet or a combination of both executive experience at the Federal level and Congressional experience before going back to Georgia he would’ve had the experience to do much better as President.
I see Jimmy Carter as an underrated President because of his success’s in foreign policy as it did with the nuclear arms agreement with Russia. His dealings with China, the Middle East peace agreement with Egypt and Israel, the Panama Canal Treaty, keeping America out of war as President, making human rights the priority of his foreign policy which contributed to the opposition in Eastern Europe gaining strength and being able to take on the authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe. And with energy policy in trying to move America off of foreign oil. So I would give President Carter a B or perhaps even a B+ as President, but not one of our great president’s.