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The Iconic: Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter

Please note that this article is intended to provide factual coverage of events and is NOT intended to express political opinion. Any and all opinions that may be implied do not represent the official stances of the Poudre Press, Poudre School District, or Poudre High School.

On November 19th 2023 America lost one of its greatest humanitarians. Rosalynn Carter passed away at the age of 96, she leaves behind her husband of 77 years former President Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter remains the oldest former President in American history at 99, he’s been in hospice care for nearly a year. Elected in 1976 as the nation remained scarred in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Carter has always been regarded as a humble, trustworthy fellow, to many he seemed like the best choice for the nation to regain trust and confidence in government. Carter, a former governor of Georgia, represented a new part of the southern democratic party. Unlike George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who was a staunch segregationist and opposed to the civil rights movement, Carter was a southerner who supported civil rights, a breath of fresh air for a region historically behind the times on the issue of race. Unfortunately President Carter’s time in the White House wasn’t held in high regard by most Americans. A misunderstood figure for many years, Jimmy Carter, while certainly not perfect, held many accomplishments in and out of the oval office, as did his wife Rosalynn.

Anyone who was going to be elected in 76 was always going to have a rough time. The nation was gripped by stagflation (when unemployment and inflation are high), and recently South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam, despite all the American lives lost in the Vietnam war. To combat inflation, Carter’s federal reserve raised interest rates significantly, while this cooled inflation it likely made the economy go into further recession. Although Carter did still have significant accomplishments with the economy, such as deregulating the trucking and airline industries in an effort to stimulate the economy. Efforts were also made to protect the climate, through an expansion of the national park system to include an additional 103 million acres of Alaskan land. During his administration the department of education was created. Carter had an idealist foreign policy, emphasizing human rights over all else, seemingly a direct rebuke to previously policy employed by Presidents during the cold war. Others were alright and even complacent with the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA)  overthrowing of foreign leaders (some were dictators and others included democratically elected governments “unfriendly” to American interests).

Perhaps this idealistic policy can be rooted in the Carter's humble origins, Plains, Georgia. Jimmy Carter served in the navy working in submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Carter’s would marry in July 1946, and shortly thereafter settle back home in Plains taking over the Carter farm after Jimmy’s father passed away. The couple would quickly become community leaders serving on the county board, including supervising education, and healthcare. In 1962 Carter won an election to the Georgia state Senate, he would later run for governor twice, winning in 1970. Carter’s predecessor in the Georgia governor's mansion, also a Democrat, was a hardline segregationist, yet Carter was different. In his inaugural address as governor he specifically stated that “the time for racial discrimination is over”, and worked to mend race relations in segregated Georgia.

Many questions may be posed in analyzing Jimmy Carter’s Presidency including, what did he actually achieve in the area of human rights, what accomplishments did that entail, or was it simply an abdication of government overreach? Recently in the news the topic of war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel has been overwhelming, the issue over the settlement of land in the region has existed for many years, Carter was one of the few who did something to dispel tension in the region. The crown jewel of foreign policy achievements, the Camp David accords. Jimmy, along with Rosalynn negotiated with Arab, and Israeli leaders culminating in Egyptian-Israeli peace, along with a formula for Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for a guarantee of Israel’s oil supply by the United States. Unfortunately a lack of credit was transmitted to the Carter administration by the public at the time, likely due to the civil war in Afghanistan between the Communist government and an Islamic insurgency, along with an extremist Islamic government taking power in Iran.

While Carter has historically been portrayed as dovish, and idealist with no respect for meeting the challenges of the commander in chief head on, this assessment appears to be unfair for the situation Carter remained in and what he attempted. Carter did not back down to the Soviet Union after they invaded Afghanistan to reinstate the Communist government, cutting off the Soviet’s supply of grain from the United States and boycotting the Olympic games in Moscow. Still the public felt Carter was too soft in the face of the Soviets, Carter wished for more arms reductions with the Soviets including further SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties) agreements which during Carter’s Presidency failed to get ratified by the U.S. Senate. The relationship between Communist China and the U.S. had opened under President Richard Nixon. Carter faced further criticism for formally recognizing the PRC (People’s Republic of China) as the legitimate government of China as opposed to Taiwan; trade would increase significantly between the U.S. and China following the agreement. Many believe that this was a beneficial step which aided both nations' economies, others believe it has harmed the U.S. in the long term through a reliance on Chinese manufacturing.

Now, the issue that has defined the legacy of the Carter Presidency, Iran. In the 1950s Iran’s democratically elected government kicked out British oil companies whom they believed were exploiting Iran’s natural resources. The American government was concerned of the Soviet’s influence on the Iranian government and subsequently the CIA overthrew Iran’s government in favor of Iran’s Shah. The Shah had previously been a figurehead but was now an absolute monarch. The Shah gave British and American companies access to 80% of Iran’s oil supply, to the dismay of many Iranian citizens. The Shah governed as a cruel dictator curtailing human and political rights, and making Iran a police state. Ultimately a strong movement of Islamic fundamentalists led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah’s government in 1979 forcing him into exile. The United State’s acceptance of the Shah into the U.S. further enraged Iran culminating in Iranian citizens overrunning the American embassy in Tehran and holding over 60 American citizens hostage and demanding the return of the Shah to Iran for a criminal trial. Carter tried his best to remedy the situation, freezing billions of dollars of Iranian assets, and attempting to negotiate, which ultimately did not pan well with Iran’s government. By the time Carter attempted to use military force to free the hostages, it failed miserably with 3 out of 8 helicopters having severe mechanical issues leading to one crashing killing 8 soldiers. Iran would move the hostages to secret locations after the operation. Carter’s soft reputation paired with the failures of Iran contributed greatly to Carter’s defeat to Reagon in the 1980 election.

The reflection that can be learned of the Carter Presidency is that life will not always pan out the way you intend it, you make mistakes despite your best intentions. Carter despite his humble attempts to amend America’s foreign policy and revive the national economy would not pan out during his time in office. Another note, history is not black and white. While Carter’s Presidency has often been regarded as a failure, a good guy without the ability to perform, it's clear that there remains a great deal of nuance. Carter had many accomplishments that remained more impactful in the long run such as his humanitarian agreements, and deregulation of the economy. 

The Carter Presidency would also evolve the role of the first lady. Rosalynn Carter worked as an equal to Jimmy. She attended cabinet meetings, and actively participated in diplomatic events including the Camp David accords. According to Judy Woodruff a great example of her groundbreaking strides involve overseas diplomacy “For the first time, a first lady traveled overseas to visit a number of foreign countries and meet with heads of state, heads of government on behalf of the president. She made this trip to Latin America. I think it was seven different countries. And no one expected her - a lot of people didn't expect her to do well. She ended up doing quite well in conveying his message, and these were some tough conversations.” In addition Rosalynn worked hard in advocating for mental health “the work she did for many, many years around mental health, advocacy for mental health, trying to reduce the stigma around mental health and also for caregivers. She was a huge advocate of people who take care of those who can't take care of themselves.”

Though Carter’s Presidency ended in 1981, Rosalynn and Jimmy’s public service continued. They worked with Habitat for Humanity contributing a great deal of work towards those who needed homes. Carter has undeniably had one of the most successful post Presidencies out of all the Presidents, some may say it was more successful than his own Presidency. 

We now stand with President Carter in hospice care, and the tragic passing of Rosalynn. All the living first ladies attended her funeral, along with President Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The tragic moment has represented a moment of political unity, with every President issuing statements commending Rosalynn’s great work for public service. With President Biden issuing a statement “we always felt the hope, warmth, and optimism of Rosalynn Carter”, and President Trump saying “She was a devoted First Lady, a great humanitarian, a champion of mental health, and a beloved wife to her husband for 77 years”. Clearly there is much we can learn about service and dedication from both the Carter’s, even if everything they did didn’t turn out to be successful, they were both hardworking honest people, which counts for a great deal.

Please note that this article is intended to provide factual coverage of events and is NOT intended to express political opinion. Any and all opinions that may be implied do not represent the official stances of the Poudre Press, Poudre School District, or Poudre High School.

Brody is a senior at Poudre High School working at the Poudre Press for the first time. Some of Brody's interests include government, history, and world events. He runs a column called 2024 Today which delves into relevant news around the upcoming 2024 election. You can find his blog here.


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