Jimmy Carter’s election as President surprised the world. People were amazed that a little-known peanut farmer and outsider from Georgia could be elected to highest office of the land. Americans were reeling from the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s resignation. Our citizens chose to elect someone different, and they succeeded more than they knew. For example, Baptist families (like the Rameys in A Thing of Beauty) rejoiced that one of their own was running for office. However, they did not approve of Jimmy Carter‘s early decision to grant pardons to the draft evaders of the Vietnam War.
President Carter — not business as usual
From the beginning, James Earl Carter made it clear, it would not be business as usual in the White House. After his inauguration, he and his family walked sixteen blocks from the Capitol to the White House. At the Inaugural Ball, his wife Rosalynn wore a gold-trimmed blue chiffon gown. In fact, she wore the same gown six years earlier at Carter’s inauguration as governor of Georgia. The fashion world and all who followed the latest red-carpet trends scoffed in shock and disappointment—no designer gown for this First Lady.
Furthermore, Carter believe that the presidential yacht was a needless, expensive luxury, and he sold it in short order. Urging the whole country to conserve energy, he had solar panels installed to heat water in the White House. Disliking pageantry, Carter carried his own brief case and dispensed with the music marking a president’s entry, “Hail to the Chief.”
Carter finds complex problems
Unfortunately, Carter inherited a poor economy and gasoline shortages. Therefore, families like the Rameys struggled financially, waited in long lines to fill their gas tanks, and paid high heating bills. The President urged a nation, used to thoughtlessly consuming energy, to use restraint. He was famous for wearing sweaters in a chillier White House and advising his fellow Americans to do the same.
Carter makes a difference
While historians still debate President Carter’s successes and failures, people widely respect him as a determined, principled, intelligent man. It is no surprise that he has made a difference in our world. His Carter Center has been instrumental in the eradication of the Guinea worm disease, a devastating tropical infection. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have participated in Habitat for Humanity, building homes for struggling families. As well, he and his wife were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their many humanitarian efforts. Carter, working tirelessly for peace, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
Setting the record straight for President Jimmy Carter
In contrast, Jimmy Carter won more dubious fame for fending off an “attacking” rabbit during a fishing trip. Pursued by hounds, the frantic rabbit headed toward Carter’s boat, so the president splashed water at the bunny which then swam to shore. Knowing the dangers of rabies, most rural people would understand his reasonable caution. As country folk know, raccoons, foxes, and rabbits swim and swim well. Despite these facts, political opponents used the photos of this event to make fun of Jimmy Carter and score points for their candidate. In A Thing of Beauty, Becky Ramey finds inspiration to name her three 4H bunnies, Swamp Rabbit, Rosalynn, and Chief. Her father urges her, “Don’t name a rabbit ‘Carter.’ We put our presidents through enough without naming rabbits after them.”
Thank you, Karen! We remember these days, don’t we?
A nice “flashback” on a gentle, unassuming President who lived his convictions. Thanks for the reminder of a simpler day and time.
Thank you, Debbie! I enjoyed looking back on this bit of our history and President Carter.
Love this, Ms. Gale! I met Jimmy Carter twice: when he was Governor of Georgia (high school field trip to the governor’s mansion) and when he was campaigning for President. He was the first President I ever voted for and still the most honorable ex-President in my lifetime!
I am so glad you enjoyed this, Nedra! What great memories. He is a most honorable man!