The Presidency and Domestic Policies of Jimmy Carter

The Presidency and Domestic Policies of Jimmy Carter

The Presidency and Domestic Policies of Jimmy Carter

The Presidency and Domestic Policies of Jimmy Carter


Jimmy Carter was an unexpected president. The first Southerner since the Civil War to gain the office, he had pursued the presidency at the grass roots as an outsider. A president who sought to run "a government as good as the American people," Carter soon found himself embroiled in system overload as he worked on a domestic agenda to increase park lands; to make the federal judiciary accessible to more women and minorities; to better manage the civil service; to devise a rational, long-range policy of energy consumption and conservation; and to keep the deficit under control. Deadlocked with Congress, special interests, and, ultimately, caught up in the Iran hostage crisis, the outsider president saw many of his programs defeated and himself voted out of office.


The awesome duties of the office of president of the United States have been borne by only 41 people since 1789. In the years since these responsibilities first descended onto the shoulders of the somewhat reluctant General George Washington, a great variety of individuals have been their custodians and a wide variety of circumstances have helped bring them to power.In the American polity, the presidency and the president have become preeminent over time. In domestic and foreign affairs, the office and its occupant are focal points of great, or potentially great, influence and power. Therefore, they hold great interest and attention in the popular mind and on the part of practitioners of politics, as well as among systematic students of government and political science.Not only the politics and policies of presidents are examined with passionate attention. The character of the incumbents, the history of their emergence, their words and gestures, the early portents of their later prominence, their passions and ancestries, and even their physiognomies: All these are the threads from which the culture weaves the pattern by which desirable or undesirable behaviors of the holders of that great office are evaluated, understood, and judged.The inclination to measure and compare presidents and their performance in office derives from numerous needs and impulses:

- Inherent in the logic of the democratic polity is the requirement that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" be vindicated by the conduct of its leaders;
- Recurring cycles of economic prosperity/decline and social tranquillity/turmoil produce a need to know the causes for the successes and failures of the leaderships' policies;
- Because it offers the American chief executive the greatest constitutional and political latitude, the conduct of foreign policy, with its opportunities and perils, is an especially fertile ground for assessing presidential performance;
- Competing and conflicting ideologies and their advocates and followers offer criteria, which sometimes contrast sharply, for judging presidential efforts as part of the grand discourse about the role of government in society
Leaders and followers of political parties aspire to harness the evaluations of their leaders' performances to the acquisition or retention of control of the government; - Former presidents and their followers, including especially the leaders of their administration, seek to cast the best light on their past efforts as holders of power and managers of the public weal;
- Groups with varying political aspirations and of different levels of influence find it is necessary to enter into this field as part of their competition for dominance or for gaining attention to their needs; and
- Finally, scholars of different disciplines and persuasions, employing various modes of inquiry, offer competing hypotheses and criteria in their analyses of presidential performance. They seek to satisfy, supposedly, the somewhat loftier goals of matching facts and theories about politics and of adding to the storehouse of general knowledge about events in the worlds under their purvey.

Jimmy Carter was, all in all, an unexpected president.

He followed an almost continuous succession of incumbents whose stewardships had been gained by the cultivation of inside tracks; he acquired the office by the ceaselessly energetic pursuit of his party's nomination at the grass roots of the Democratic party primaries against heavy odds and, at least initially, against better known party leaders; he was the first southerner since the Civil War to head the Democratic party's ticket and to gain the White House; he was elected at a time of shifting and uncertain party loyalties in the electorate and a low point in the voters' confidence in politics and politicians; and he succeeded one, and preceded another, incumbent whose political roots, aspirations, and worldviews differed markedly from his own (and dramatically so).

Carter's presidency was unexpected also in the style by which he meant to conduct it. The "insider" presidents may be said to have had insider views, insider styles of operation, and insider aides in shaping their administrations. On the other hand, Jimmy Carter's surprise walk to the White House during the inaugural parade, his hand firmly clasping that of Rosalynn Carter, stressed his populist conception of the office for which he had been chosen as well as his sense of partnership with his wife . . .

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