Jimmy Carter’s Life and Legacy

Brian Luppy, Staff Writer

Last week, the Carter Center released news that former president Jimmy Carter has entered hospice care. While the news is sad, it presents the opportunity to reflect on his life and legacy.

Carter was born and raised in Plains, Georgia. When he was a young adult, he joined the United States Navy, serving in the submarine force as an officer. After serving in the military, he returned home and took over his family’s peanut farm.Meanwhile, Carter became involved in politics, opposing racial segregation at a time when it was rampant in the American South. He served in the Georgia State Senate for four years, and then became the governor of Georgia. 

As a dark horse candidate, Carter won the Democratic presidential nomination and faced incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 election.

After narrowly defeating Ford, Carter took office, and immediately stepped into a tumultuous US political landscape. Distrust in the government was at an all-time high following Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Inflation rates were also at extreme heights. Record-breaking inflation during his time in the oval office, coupled with an inability to suppress unemployment, began to plague his public perception. 

The 1979 United States energy crisis was, perhaps, the most decisive moment of his presidency. During the Iranian Revolution, production of oil in the Middle East sharply declined, causing oil prices to spike. The results were apparent at the pump. Long lines and high prices frustrated Americans throughout the country. 

Meanwhile, Carter dealt with the Iranian Hostage Crisis overseas, where more than 50 American diplomats were held hostage by Iranian Revolution supporters in the US Embassy in Tehran.

Going into the 1980 election, Americans were tired of the effects of a weak economy, and, therefore, Carter’s presidency as a whole. Ronald Reagan, meanwhile, promised to restore the economy, as well as bolster military strength at a time when most Americans thought that defense spending was too low.

After receiving just 49 electoral votes, compared to Reagan’s 489, the public voice was clear: Carter’s time as president was up.

The Villanovan spoke with Frank Pryor, a political science professor at Villanova. 

“By and large, I wouldn’t call it a failed presidency, but probably a mediocre one,” he said. 

To best understand Carter’s legacy, it is imperative that we also remember his time out of office.

After leaving the White House, Carter became a diplomat for the US, taking trips to Egypt and North Korea. In 1982, he founded The Carter Center, a non-profit that advocates for human rights around the world. 

He has also worked with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for the underprivileged. Additionally, he has written three books, is a deacon, was a Sunday school teacher and has been a tenured professor at Emory University in Atlanta for 37 years.

Carter has been married to his wife, Rosalynn, for 77 years, giving the two of them the title of “Longest-Married Presidential Couple.” Carter is also the longest living president, at 98 years old.

“All future presidents should be judged by his post-presidency,” Pryor said. “That should be the benchmark. That should be the standard.” 

Such an outstanding post-presidency has transitioned Carter’s once negative reputation into a positive one. Once deemed largely a failure of a president, we can now look back at his presidency with a clearer understanding that he stepped into office at a difficult time. 

With a perfect track record since leaving office, including several charitable endeavors, Carter is a president with a strong moral compass.

As we reflect on the life of Carter, during what could be his final days, we must look at all 98 years of his life, not just his four as president. There, we will find that he was a man of selflessness and integrity. 

“A moral leader in an immoral time,” Pryor said. That should be his legacy.