Tuesday, November 11, 2008

American Experience: Jimmy Carter

I recently watched the biography of Jimmy Carter on PBS. I actually learned a lot about Jimmy Carter from this three hour biography. This documentary did a great job of showcasing Carter’s strengths as well as weaknesses. He certainly had problems – he didn’t compromise well and didn’t work well with Congress (seeing them as adversaries rather than co-workers) – but he did great things for world peace making efforts. He gets tarred by the Iranian hostage situation, but he is the President responsible for the Camp David Accords. He also has been very successful in his post-presidency, again with peace efforts, through the Carter Center.

Carter came from rural Georgia and had an extraordinarily quick rise in politics. He started out in the Navy, but came home when his father died to run the family farm. Bored, he entered in politics. He took on the party bosses and got a reputation for determination and honesty. His first run for Governor of Georgia ended in defeat, but he went back four years later, determined to win. Then as a first time Governor who had completely restructured the Georgia state government, he ended up as the Democratic Presidential nominee. He was a virtual unknown, but the US was looking for some honest and simple after the Nixon scandal which had tarnished his successor (and Carter’s opponent), Gerald Ford.

I think the issue here was that the US population got exactly what they seemed to want – someone new, honest and direct, but that wasn’t what they actually wanted as a President. Carter wasn’t willing to do things just because they were the right political decision and so often angered Congress and the US population. One of his aides said that if you told Carter “this is the right political decision,” he’d just quit listening. Carter’s response to the energy crisis was to tell people to conserve energy and set a model for it himself in the White House. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what the US population wanted to hear even though most of us would agree it was the “right” thing to do. They wanted a quick solution to rising energy costs. In addition, he faced many bad situations – like the Iranian hostage crisis – that presented no easy solution.

The film includes a lot of interviews with Carter aides and his son, Chip, as well as with Rosalynn Carter. Because Rosalynn was so involved in Jimmy’s career, this really adds a great dimension to the video.

This documentary is well worth the time to view. Parts of it would be make great classroom addition for a modern history course as well and PBS, as usual, provides a good teacher’s guide.

No comments: