Jimmy CarterAired November 11, 2002
Jimmy Carter's story is one of the greatest dramas in American politics. In 1980, he was overwhelmingly voted out of office in a humiliating defeat. Over the subsequent two decades, he became one of the most admired statesmen and humanitarians in America and the world. Through interviews with the people who know him best, Jimmy Carter traces his rapid ascent in politics, dramatic fall from grace and unexpected resurrection, including Carter family home movies and a rare film sequence of Carter's final hours in the Oval Office, when he and his advisors waited in vain for the release of the Americans who had been held hostage in Tehran for 444 days.
Carter was the first president to confront the challenge of militant Islam, then embodied by the Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution. Carter was also the first president to embark on what would prove to be the excruciating road to peace in the Middle East. But in the end, his presidency was undone by his failure to secure the hostages' release and by a plummeting economy. Yet the memories of his presidency — gas lines, inflation, recession, the Iran hostage crisis, an ineffectual and fractured administration, and the so-called national malaise — would be eclipsed, finally, by his post-presidential successes as a peacemaker in the world's most troubled areas, and his emergence as a champion for the poor in his own country.
Cast and Crew
For Jimmy Carter
Written and Produced by
Director of Archival Research
Medallion – PFA Film & Video
The Frame Shop
Original Photography Consultant
Patricia Garcia Rios
Special Thanks to
President and Mrs. Carter
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, National Park Service
The Carter Center
The Jimmy Carter Library & Museum
E. Stanly Godbold
Kenneth E. Morris
Stan Jones, Southwest Georgia Branch Station
Matthew Moy, Westville
Massachusetts Historical Society
Tudor Place Foundation
Woodrow Wilson House
Captain Forbes House
Archival Photographs and Footage
The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, National Park Service
ABC News VideoSource
Archive Films by Getty Images
AP/Wide World Photos
Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta History Center
The Boston Globe
BBC Worldwide Americas, Inc.
© 1978, 1979 The Chicago Tribune Company
Clayton Historic Committee
The Columbus Ledger Enquirer
Ray De Tournay Productions
Gerald R. Ford Library
Governor’s Office, State of Georgia
Special Collections Department, Pullen Library, Georgia State University
Grinberg Film Libraries, Inc.
Habitat for Humanity International
© Yousuf Karsh / Woodfin Camp & Associates
Library of Congress
Los Angeles Times
Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries
NBC News Archives
The New York Times
D. Gorton/The New York Times
© 1976 Newsday, Inc.
© 1976 Newsweek, Inc.
Robert K. Machover
NYK Maritime Museum
Naval Historical Center
NBC News Archives
The Paper of Record
Archival Playboy Magazine material © 1976 by Playboy
Political Communication Center, University of Oklahoma
Charles Rafshoon Photography
Rolin, Inc. d/b/a Stewart Webster Journal
The San Francisco Examiner
Andrei Sakharov Archives at Brandeis
Phil Stewart, Running Times
TIME Magazine © 1977 Time Inc. Reprinted by permission
Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
U.S. Naval Academy Archives
UCLA Film & Television Archive
Annie Mae Vaughan
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 The Washington Post. Reprinted with permission.
The Washington Post/James K.W. Atherton
The Washington Post/Harry Naltchayan
WETA Washington D.C.
Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University
WPA Film Library
WSB Television Newsfilm Collection, University of Georgia Libraries Media Archives
Additional Music, Night 1
"All God’s Chillun Got Shoes"
Performed by The Charioteers
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
"Anchors Aweigh" and "Bright Morning Stars Are Rising"
Courtesy of APM
"Happy Days Are Here Again"
By Milt Ager – Jack Yellen
Performed by Ben Silvin & His Orchestra with The Crooners
Courtesy of Naxos of America
By Forrest Richard Betts
Performed by The Allman Brothers Band
By arrangement with Unichappel Music Inc. and Forrest Richard Betts
Additional Music, Night 2
"It’s Only A Paper Moon"
Lyrics by Billy Rose and E.Y. Harburg; Music by Harold Arien
Performed by Jeanie Stahl
By arrangement with Unichappel Music Inc.
Dan T. Carter
Kenneth E. Morris
Leo P. Ribuffo
On-Camera Interview Subjects
Peter Bourne, biographer
Douglas Brinkley, biographer
Zbigniew Brzezinsky, national security advisor
Patrick Caddell, pollster
Chip Carter, son
Dan T. Carter, historian
Rosalynn Carter, First Lady
Elizabeth Drew, journalist
Stuart Eizenstat, advisor
John A. Farrell, journalist
Warren Fortson, lawyer
Betty Glad, political scientist
E. Stanly Godbold, historian
Hendrik Hertzberg, speechwriter
Leroy Johnson, Georgia State Senator
Bert Lance, budget director
James Laney, former president, Emory University
Walter F. Mondale, Vice President
Joshua Muraychik, political analyst
Betty Pope, friend
Jody Powell, press secretary
Gerald Rafshoon, media advisor
Dan Rostenkowski, U.S. Congressman
Gaddis Smith, historian
Roger Wilkins, journalist
Andrew Young, United Nations ambassador
For AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Marketing and Communications
James E. Dunford
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
© 2002 WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved
Jimmy Carter (archival): I promised you four years ago that I would never lie to you. So I can't stand here tonight and say it doesn't hurt. About an hour ago I called Governor Reagan in California and I congratulated him for a fine victory. I look forward to working closely with him...
Dan Carter, Historian: All his life he believed if you worked hard enough at it, understood the issues, mastered information then you would come out first. I said to him, "It must have been hard to turn over the keys to Ronald Reagan." And he said, "You don't know how hard it was."
Narrator: On January 20, 1981, after one of the most humiliating defeats in American political history, President Jimmy Carter returned home to Plains, Georgia, to what he called, "an altogether new, unwanted, and potentially empty life."
Rosalynn Carter: He really was better than I was when we came home, because I um, was so depressed about it that he was always trying to prop me up [laughs].
Narrator: Four years before, he had stunned the nation.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: Going from total anonymity, to being President of the United States in less than twelve months, is unprecedented in American history. If it weren't for the country looking for something in '76, Carter could never have gotten elected.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: He offered a biography of what we wanted to hear: a farmer, Main Street values, Plains - and he carried that message through, it was the right message at the right time.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Our commitment to Human Rights must be absolute.
Narrator: He had promised a new beginning. To heal the wounds of Watergate and Vietnam. A government "as good and decent and compassionate as the American people." But events would overwhelm him. An energy crisis. Inflation. An Islamic revolution. And 53 Americans held hostage 444 days. Carter came to be regarded as a good and decent man who was in over his head.
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: He's a very, very smart man. And very well intentioned. But feel, feel is very, very important in politics, especially in a president. And Carter just didn't have very much of it.
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: What he had was a moral ideology. And the issues where he proved successful -- the Panama Canal treaties, the Human Rights crusades, Peace in the Middle East -- those were issues where his moral ideology guided him.
Jimmy Carter (archival): In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families...
Narrator: "Carter was one of the more exasperating men ever to claim the White House," one journalist said. "His tenacity, so admirable, could shift to stubbornness; his religious faith to self-righteousness. His brilliant mind could be bound up by intricate details."
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: Many times the one argument that I would find would ruin a person's case is when he'd say, "This is good for you politically." He didn't want to hear that. He didn't want to think that way and he didn't want his staff to think that way. He wanted to know what's right.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: This is one of the most highly ambitious people you will ever meet. I mean you don't make it from Plains Georgia to the White House just on charm. But what makes him complex is he's got that kind of hubris and arrogance. And also this Christian humbleness. And that's the battle he's constantly finding himself in.
Narrator: "As a child my greatest ambition was to be valuable around the farm and to please my father," Jimmy Carter wrote of his boyhood in rural Georgia. "He was the center of my life and the focus of my admiration."
Dan Carter, Historian: I can't believe that Jimmy Carter ever felt lost. In the sense that he didn't know where his place was in the world. And a lot of that comes from his father, who, not only was a well-respected, powerful figure in the community, but I think had a real sense of who he was. And that certitude and self-confidence was something that his son, I think, absorbed unconsciously.
Narrator: By the standards of southwest Georgia, Earl Carter presided over a small empire. A staunch segregationist, he owned some 350 acres of land where he planted corn, cotton, and peanuts, employing more than 200 workers at harvest time. Five sharecropper families, who depended on him for their survival, lived year round at his farm in Archery.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: Earl was the boss in Archery. The workers were all black, the maids who did the cooking and took care of Jimmy were black, and at the top of the system was Earl Carter.
Narrator: From a position of privilege, Earl's children, Jimmy, Gloria and Ruth, became acquainted with the ways of the Jim Crow South. "More than anyone else in my family -- even my own father -- I understood the plight of the black families because I lived so much among them," Carter later wrote. He often ate and slept in the homes of his black neighbors. And played with their children.
Andrew Young, U.N. Ambassador: The interesting thing about the South is that we played together, black and white, when we were seven, eight, nine, ten. But then when you got to be a teenager, all of a sudden, ah, segregation set in.
Narrator: "One day, [my friends] and I approached [a] gate," Carter would later recall, "to my surprise they stepped back to let me go through first. It was a small act, but a deeply symbolic one. Things were never the same between them and me... A strong memory in my mind is coming home and my mother not being there," he wrote.
Dan Carter, Historian: There is a very deep tradition in southern society of the caretaker mother figure who is responsible not only for her family but outside of it as well. Well, those people exist in almost every southern rural community. But Miss Lillian took it a step further than that.
Narrator: Carter's mother, Lillian, was an avid reader, loved traveling, and was known to enjoy a sip of Bourbon. She put in long hours as a nurse at a nearby hospital and devoted much of her free time to helping sick neighbors, regardless of race.
Chip Carter, Son: She got paid in chickens and vegetables and that kind of things, because she really helped -- and felt called to help -- those that had less than her. And I think she instilled that in all of her children.
Rosalynn Carter: She was the only person in Plains who would take up for Abraham Lincoln if he was ever brought up. Today it's unbelievable to think about that, but back then it was just a way of life. And we never thought anything -- we never thought it was really wrong.
Narrator: Lillian set for Jimmy the example of service to others. Earl put the steel in his character.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He was very demanding. He expected his children to be the very best. And in some ways they all had that built into them.
Narrator: "I never remember him saying 'good job' when I did my best to fulfill his orders," Jimmy later said. "The punishments he administered remained vivid in my memory."
A short distance from the Carter farm was Plains, Georgia: population 600. The only place for miles to get a cup of coffee, a haircut, buy or sell goods. It is the place Jimmy Carter always called home. Where as a child he went to the all-white Baptist church on Sundays, and where he attended the all-white public school.
Dan Carter, Historian: Everybody knew that he was special. He was somebody different. Smarter than, worked harder than, did more than, ceaselessly working at improving himself even as a child.
Narrator: Jimmy made all A's. He played basketball, and joined the book lover's club. Read Shakespeare's King Lear, Ben Hur, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He dreamed of joining the Navy. His uncle, Tom Gordy, had excited his imagination with tales of adventures, and postcards and gifts from exotic faraway places. Earl encouraged Jimmy to pursue his dream.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: It was a way that many young southern men got the polish, got the education that would make them a part of either the local elite or the national elite.
Narrator: Jimmy reviewed the strict requirements of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and worried he wasn't good enough. He thought his feet were flat and rolled them over coke bottles to strengthen the arches. He thought he was too thin and went on a banana diet. He even went to a local college for two years to study the required courses. "He just wouldn't quit," Jimmy's Uncle, Alton would later say. "That boy just wouldn't give up on anything." In June 1943, at age 18, the farm boy from Plains was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis -- the first Carter ever to leave Georgia to pursue a higher education.
Rosalynn Carter: Jimmy's sister Ruth was my best friend and she had a picture of him on the wall in her bedroom. I just thought he was the most handsome young man I'd ever seen. One day I confessed to her that I wished she let me take that photograph home. Because I just thought I had fallen in love with Jimmy Carter.
Narrator: Rosalynn Smith was shy, a dedicated student, read the Bible daily and went to church on Sundays. Her mother once described her as a girl who could wear a white dress all day and keep it clean.
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: She was very bright. She was a reader. She liked to look at maps. She was always interested in seeing the world. And she always wanted to get away.
Rosalynn Carter: I went to a meeting at the church and I was standing outside, and Jimmy drove up with Ruth and her boyfriend, got out of the car and came up and asked me to go to the movie. He kissed me goodbye. I was thrilled to death. And then we started corresponding. And by the time Christmas came, I was swept off my feet.
Narrator: One month after his graduation from Annapolis, Jimmy and Rosalynn were married. She was 18, he was 21. The Carters began married life in Norfolk, Virginia where the Navy lieutenant first reported for duty. The children arrived in quick succession. Jack one year after their wedding, James Earl, or Chip, less than three years later in Hawaii. And a third, Jeff, born in New London, Connecticut. With her husband away at sea, Rosalynn found herself alone and in charge of all the affairs of the Carter household. "I felt inadequate and very lonely," she later said. "Sometimes I cried though I didn't let Jimmy know. He has no patience with tears, thinking instead that one makes the best of whatever situation and with a smile."
Rosalynn Carter: I learned to be very independent. I could take care of myself and the baby and do things that I never dreamed I would be able to do alone.
Narrator: Two years after joining the Navy, Ensign Carter was accepted into the submarine service. It was a way to advance rapidly in a highly competitive environment.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: The military was everything for Jimmy Carter. It's his training. He's never a minute late for anything. Punctuality means everything. His sense of order -- there's no sense of a mess around Jimmy Carter. It's a certain kind of person that works in a submarine. It takes a kind of mental discipline.
Narrator: While the rest of the officers lingered after dinner or settled in for a long game of bridge or poker, his shipmates remembered, Carter would read a book, solve a sonar problem, always something constructive. "I mastered the assignments that I had," Carter would say of his Navy career, "got the best fitness reports, and I never put in for anything that I did not get."
Archive Voiceover: She's coming up out of the deep. The Seawolf...
Narrator: After six years in the service, Lieutenant Carter earned one of the most coveted posts in the Navy: Senior Officer of the U.S.S. Seawolf, on the vanguard of America's nuclear defense program.
Rosalynn Carter: He always had one of the best positions in the Navy. And I think it gave him a lot of confidence that he could do whatever he wanted to do.
Narrator: In 1953, less than a year after he began duty on the Seawolf, Carter received a message from home. His father had cancer and was not expected to live long. Ten years had passed since Carter left Plains for a career in the Navy. Visits home had been rare. Father and son had grown distant. As he sat by Earl's bedside, Jimmy discovered a side of his father he'd never seen before. "Our long conversations were interrupted by a stream of visitors, black and white," Carter later wrote. "A surprising number wanted to recount how my father's personal influence and many secret acts of generosity had affected their lives."
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He saw that he had really built a community around himself. A lot of people liked him, and came to see him when he was sick, and when he died, came to his funeral. And what Jimmy realized, he didn't have a community for himself.
Peter Bourne, Biographer: He's actually said to me, "You know," he said, "I wondered at that time if I died, how many people would come to my funeral, or how many people would care if I died." And I think it made him, at a fairly fundamental level, examine what life is all about.
Narrator: Duty also weighed on Carter. Miss Lillian had no interest in the business, and Ruth and Gloria had married. His brother Billy, just sixteen, was "mad as hell" when told his older brother would be stepping in.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: He was a shining star in the U.S. Navy who could have gone very, very far. He dropped all that to emulate his father, to take over his father's business. I don't think there's any higher tribute a son can make to his father than to say, "Now that you're dead, Daddy, I want to stand in your shoes."
Narrator: When Jimmy told Rosalynn, she was furious. "She almost quit me," he later said.
Chip Carter, Son: Mom was kind of disappointed to be going back to Plains. She had worked a good bit of her life to get out of there. And they were going back to take over a business that wasn't doing very well.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Rosalynn had finally got out of the fly-speck village and had gotten to see the bright lights and big cities. Imagine being based in Hawaii, where you get a Pacific breeze and palm trees, and the smell of the Orient in the air. And now you're back in this, suffocating, mosquito-plagued humidity of Plains, Georgia. She pleaded with him not to go.
Peter Bourne, Biographer: She had seen a very nice life ahead of them and then he wanted to give that all up and go back and become a peanut farmer. And she was just really angry. And she literally did not talk to him the whole way back to Plains.
Rosalynn Cater: I pouted for about year [laughs]. Not really, but I was just the total mother and wife. It was tough for a while.
Chip Carter, Son: We loved it. Plains is a place where at six or seven, eight years old, you can go off by yourself. We spent every afternoon after school in the woods playing hide and seek and building forts and fishing and hiking and that kind of thing. It was just a great way to grow up.
Narrator: Only a year after their return home, the Carters were thrust into the turmoil sweeping across the South. In 1954, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools. White Southerners, organized into White Citizens' Councils, vowed to resist.
Rosalynn Carter: Jimmy was approached by one of the prominent businessmen asking him to join the White Citizens' Council. And he told him that it only cost five dollars to join, and that he would be glad to pay his dues. And I think Jimmy told him he could flush his money down the john. But anyway Jimmy refused to do that and we lost some customers.
Dan Carter, Historian: I won't say it was a profile in full courage, but it was not an act of discretion. You had to carefully think about it. And it required at the very least a kind of independence of thought, and in some respects a kind of courage to say, "No. This I won't do."
Narrator: Carter applied all his energies to peanuts. "[He] was always experimenting," Rosalynn later wrote, "trying new things, dreaming up something else he wanted to do." As the business expanded, he turned to Rosalynn for help.
Chip Carter, Son: Mom is not really the type to join the Stitch and Chat, and to sit around and be content with that. Part of their uniqueness is that they're partners in everything. And I think a lot of that started back then to make her a part of what was happening so that she would really have something to be proud of.
Rosalynn Carter: He asked me to come and keep the office. And I had a friend who had taught an accounting course in the vocational technical school and she gave me a set of accounting books. I began to study accounting. I began to keep the books. And it was not too long before I knew actually as much or more about the business on paper than he did.
Chip Carter, Son: I started working there when I was nine. We worked in the warehouse during peanut season. Peanut season was a very heavy time. Sometimes worked 50 hours straight. I think that he worked hard. He tried to instill it in his children. He obeyed his father and jumped when he spoke. We did the same thing.
Narrator: "I had to admit I was enjoying life," Rosalynn later said. The Carters went fishing, played golf, took frequent vacations. Jimmy served on the Sumter County Board of Education, taught Sunday School at the Plains Baptist Church, was scoutmaster, Vice-President of the Lions Club. But he had "come to the point of boredom," Rosalynn remembered. And one weekday morning in 1962, "he got up and put on his Sunday pants."
Rosalynn Carter: I was really shocked. I had no idea he was thinking about running for the State Senate.
Narrator: The campaign that launched Jimmy Carter's political career lasted all of 15 days. There was no money and no staff -- only family and friends, and his own determination. Though he would always play the reluctant politician, even by his first campaign, Carter was no stranger to politics.
Dan Carter, Historian: Politics was something he lived and breathed from the time he was a child. A kind of weekly -- daily even, during election season -- interaction. Barbecues. You gathered on the county courthouse grounds for speeches. He talks about going to rallies with his father, remembering them very well. And I think he came to see politics as something not alien, not something he had to make a decision to do, but was almost natural.
Narrator: "I received a startling education," he said, "one that set the tone for my future career."
Warren Fortson, Lawyer: Quitman County, historically, had been run by a man named Joe Hurst and Joe was not atypical for many, many small counties in the state, the poorer counties, you had one person who was a political power who just in effect kind of ran the county.
Narrator: Hurst was used to getting what he wanted, and in 1962 he wanted another Democrat, Homer Moore, to be elected Senator.
Warren Fortson, Lawyer: The ballot box was a liquor box, that had been taken and a hole cut in the top of it, so that you put your ballot over in there, after you -- and it sat up on the counter and you had to come up and mark your ballot right next to it with Joe and a bunch of his crowd watching, you know while you're doing it.
Narrator: Fraud was rampant: voters were threatened, ballots destroyed. Joe Hurst even stuffed ballots of dead voters into the Old Crow box. That evening, when the votes were counted, Jimmy Carter had lost. He decided to contest the election.
Dan Carter, Historian: By all accounts, even allowing for certain hyperbole in the memory of Mr. Carter, this required an extraordinary kind of doggedness, just keeping at it, keeping at it, and not giving up.
Narrator: Carter appealed to newspapers, filed for injunctions, took affidavits from voters. Miss Lillian kept saying, "Jimmy is so naïve, so naïve." There were threats against the Carters. Jimmy was followed. A stranger came by the Carter warehouse and warned Rosalynn that the last time anyone had crossed Joe Hurst, their business had burned down. "I was constantly scared," she later said. "Jimmy was frightened too." Two weeks later, a local judge agreed to hear Carter's case.
Warren Fortson, Lawyer: When it came time to open that box and recount it right there rolled up into a ball were all these ballots. And Judge Crow was a funny fellow. He chewed tobacco. And he had just cut off a little piece of tobacco and put it in his mouth and he was kind of putting it around. And I saw that and I saw him cut his eyes and stop chewing and then go back to chewing and sit back and right then is when I knew we had that thing won.
Narrator: On January 14, 1963, the morning after the traditional whiskey and barbecued wild hog dinner, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as a member of the Georgia Senate. He was one of 89 new legislators joining the Georgia Assembly. Many of them determined to change the old ways of Georgia politics.
Leroy Johnson, Georgia State Senator: I had the good fortune of being the first black to be elected to the General Assembly of Georgia in 100 years. Carter was one of those persons who came to the Senate at that time. And he was not a leader of the Senate. He was quiet. He was effective. He was deliberate and he made no waves.
Narrator: Carter opposed special interests and sweetheart deals. He worked hard and read every bill, staying away from drinking sprees and poker games.
Rosalynn Carter: In the last session of the state senate in his last year there, I was standing in the back of the senate chamber with him, and the lieutenant governor was going on and on and on, and it was bedlam, like the last day. And Jimmy said, "If I were lieutenant governor, this wouldn't be happening." And I thought, "Uh-oh. He's really enjoying this."
Narrator: In 1966, after two terms in the Georgia Senate, Jimmy Carter jumped into the race for Governor of Georgia. He ran well behind arch-segregationist Lester Maddox, famous for wielding an ax handle to keep blacks away from his chicken restaurant. Carter left his younger brother Billy in charge of the business, while the rest of the family went on the road.
Chip Carter, Son: I think I had 25 dollars a week for expenses to eat on and I had a gas credit card. And we came in every Saturday night and told what we'd been doing. It was a real education for all of us and we were doing it as a family.
Rosalynn Carter: I would come home and ask him questions that people had asked me while I was campaigning. And I didn't know the answers to. And he would give me the answers, so I could go back out and talk about issues. He had confidence in me to do the things that I needed to do.
Narrator: Carter promised better schools, better hospitals, better roads, and a more competent government. "It is hard to hear Senator Carter talk about state government and not be impressed by his integrity," one reporter wrote.
Dan Carter, Historian: You're not gonna turn the apple cart upside down, but you're gonna bring changes, you're gonna bring improvements in the South. And you are going to do it by applying good, sound business techniques to everything from the way you run your public institutions to the way you run your government.
Narrator: Carter took his message to every corner of Georgia. "We never stopped," Rosalynn recalled, "no matter what." By election day, he was closing in on the lead.
Chip Carter, Son: We went to bed thinking we were going to win. Had gotten up and gone to school the next day, being congratulated about my father winning the primary, and then Billy came to the -- about two o'clock in the afternoon, and told us that Lester Maddox had beat us by less than a half of a percentage point. So it was very disheartening.
Narrator: "We all felt sick," Rosalynn recalled. "We were 66,000 dollars in debt and Jimmy had lost 22 pounds." After all the miles traveled, the handshakes the long days, Jimmy Carter was right back where he started when he first ran for the Senate in 1962. Weeks later, with the loss still fresh in his mind, Jimmy went for a walk with his sister Ruth, an evangelical Christian and a spiritual healer. All of his life he had been a church-going Christian, but now felt that his faith had been superficial. "We are both Baptists," he said, "but what is it that you have that I haven't got?"
"Total commitment," she replied. "I belong to Jesus, everything I am."
"Ruth," he answered, "that's what I want."
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: At that point he decided that he'd always put Christ in his life first, and politics second. But that's been a struggle for him because politics is the ego and Christ is the humbleness.
Narrator: The "born again" Christian traveled North, to blighted neighborhoods in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as a "personal witness" for Jesus Christ.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: He would go door-to-door, getting people to witness Christ, take Jesus into their lives. I mean, can you imagine ten years later this man is President of the United States, and he's banging on doors, asking people do you want a Bible? Will you take God in your life?
Peter Bourne, Biographer: He wanted to understand theology. And so he began reading a lot of theologians and began to craft for himself a political theology that was compatible with his own personality.
Narrator: Carter found guidance in the writings of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: Niebuhr said, "The sad duty of politics is to bring justice to a sinful world." A Christian has to get involved in politics. He has to soil his hands as a politician or in an immoral society, in order to improve it.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Niebuhr taught him that there is good and evil in the world, that politics is corrupt, but it's honorable, as long as you kept your heart pure and your sense of morality pure.
Narrator: "I believe God wants me to be the best politician I can be," he said. In 1970, with renewed fervor, Carter ran for governor of Georgia a second time.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I have been campaigning almost 18 hours a day without stopping for eight months. I've seen almost every factory shift in Georgia and been in almost every store.
Rosalynn Carter: It was just kind of an obsession. He had lost so we had to win. And we worked as hard as we could.
Narrator: It would not be the amateur run of 1966, but a well-coordinated effort. Carter brought in two Southwest Georgia boys: Jody Powell as his personal assistant and Hamilton Jordan to manage the campaign. Advertising man Gerald Rafshoon would handle the media. Bert Lance, a banker from Calhoun, played the role of advisor.
Bert Lance, Advisor: It was a tough, tough campaign. And there were many who thought that Carter could not possibly win.
Narrator: Carter's rival for the Democratic nomination, Carl Sanders, enjoyed a commanding 20% lead. He had the backing of the Atlanta business establishment, and the support of African Americans, voting in greater numbers since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Carter went after Sanders with a vengeance.
Carter Campaign Ad (archival): Some candidates in this governor's race have large campaign contributions behind them. Big money, asking big favors. Jimmy Carter only has the people of Georgia...
Narrator: Carter portrayed Sanders as a tool of the Atlanta business establishment and himself as a hard-working everyman.
Carter Campaign Ad (archival): No wonder Jimmy Carter has a special understanding of the problems facing everyone who works for a living. Isn't it time somebody spoke up for you?
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: He wanted to appeal to the large middle class, blue collar type, predominantly white, and most of these people are going to be segregationists.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He courted the racist vote. There were some radio ads that he ran in 1970. He said that "Unlike Sanders, I am not trying to get the" -- and he sort of slid over whether it was "block" or "black" vote. But it sort of meant the same thing.
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: Carter himself was not a segregationist in 1970. But he did say things that the segregationists wanted to hear. He was opposed to busing. He was in favor of private schools. He said that he would invite segregationist governor George Wallace to come to Georgia to give a speech.
Leroy Johnson, Georgia State Senator: The only solace that we got and received was the fact that in private meetings, he convinced us that if he was given an opportunity he would make things better. He always come up with this question of trust. Trust me. I believe in doing the right thing.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: If you are really trying to accomplish good moral ends, you may have to be a low life politician to get there. And he didn't probably like doing it that much, but he was willing to do it.
Jimmy Carter (archival): At the end of a long campaign I believe I know our people...
Narrator: On January 12, 1971, Jimmy Carter, age 46, was sworn in as governor of Georgia. In his inaugural address he revealed his true feelings on race.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I say to you quite frankly, that the time for racial discrimination is over. No poor, rural, weak, or black person should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity of an education, a job, or simple justice.
Leroy Johnson, Georgia State Senator: We were extremely pleased. Many of the white segregationists were displeased. And I'm convinced that those people that supported him, would not have supported him if they had thought that he would have made that statement.
Dan Carter, Historian: I do remember reading his inaugural address and thinking this is wonderful. We've got a governor in a deep south state who is stating emphatically not just that it's time to accept change, but that it's time to really move far beyond that and end all forms of discrimination. I suddenly saw him as part of this new generation of southern politicians who were moving beyond the divisions of racial politics in the 1950s and 1960s.
Narrator: The Carters moved into the brand new governor's mansion, on 18 acres in Atlanta's poshest district.
Jimmy Carter (archival): This is the first time our family has really been together for the last four years. Our oldest boy has just gotten back from the Navy. And I've been campaigning for four years, so we're looking forward to living as a family again.
Reporter (archival): Mrs. Carter, have you had any special problems?
Rosalynn Carter (archival): No, not really. We packed the clothes in the car last night. And really the only furniture we had to bring was one sofa, which is just a favorite old sofa that my children love.
Rosalynn Carter: Going from Plains, Georgia, to the Governor's Mansion was much harder for me than going from the governor's mansion to the White House. I had never, ever been in the governor's mansion. When Jimmy was in the state senate, I didn't come to Atlanta because I was working at home. I was just not part of the Atlanta political community. It was a really difficult experience.
Chip Carter, Son: She had to learn her own voice, how to project, how to make a speech, how to win people over, how to deal with legislators on her issues. She had to learn how to do all that.
Narrator: The people of Georgia came to meet the new first family, and fell in love with Amy, the Carter's three-year old daughter.
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: The public identifies with a small child, and Carter understood that and they kept Amy in the limelight. It made him human. He could be a successful politician, a successful governor, and a successful father, all at the same time.
Narrator: Carter appointed an unprecedented number of women and African-Americans, stimulated foreign investment, reformed the state's criminal justice and mental health systems.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I see unfair taxes and government waste and I see runaway spending...
Narrator: The centerpiece of his agenda was a radical plan to streamline state government -- with savings at every level.
Bert Lance, Advisor: Everybody had to pay for their own lunch. You know, we had to put two dollars into the kitty. Mary Beasley, who was his secretary at the time, would ask you want you wanted. And so you felt honored to be able to go and spend money for a dried out sandwich.
Narrator: The Governor's proposal to slash the number of government agencies provoked outrage.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I welcome confrontation with heads of departments. I'm willing to fight with anybody who opposes a recommendation...
Leroy Johnson, Georgia State Senator: I saw a completely different side of Carter. In the senate he was not assertive. As governor, he was assertive. He knew where he wanted to go, and he knew the direction he wanted to go in. And he wanted complete compliance.
Lester Maddox (archival): He's fighting for total submission and total control of the legislators and he's willing to use 100 million or 200 million or whatever it is...
Warren Fortson, Lawyer: Jimmy's character is such that he wants to get things done. He wants them done. And he has a tendency, I think, to run roughshod over anything that stands in his way.
Jimmy Carter (archival): We need to remember who pays the taxes and who pays our salaries.
Dan Carter, Historian: He had a tendency to take his case to the people and then try to force the legislature to follow him. He never, as Governor, broke what I think was an unfortunate habit of seeing personal politics, as kind of, that is with other politicians, as a kind of nuisance, something that had to be done, because you had to talk to these people. He never developed the interest in or really particularly good skills at working with individuals who may have disagreed with him.
Narrator: By the time his reorganization bill reached the Senate floor, Carter had alienated most of the Assembly. But his bill squeaked through, by a handful of votes.
Ben Fortson, Georgia Legislature: As I told the committee up there, he reminds me of a south Georgia turtle who's been blocked by a log. And he just keeps pushing, pushing, pushing straight ahead, he doesn't go around here until he finally gets a soft spot in the log and right on through he goes. He is a man of great determination and steel.
Narrator: Election season 1972, Jimmy Carter extended his hospitality to Democratic hopefuls. Barely two years in the Governor's Mansion, he already had his eye on the White House.
Chip Carter, Son: Every Democrat running for office came to Georgia. And every single one of them, Dad would ask to come and stay with him at the Governor's Mansion. And we realized that they were just people like him.
Narrator: That July, Carter led the Georgia delegation to the Democratic National Convention, hoping for the second spot on the ticket.
Rosalynn Carter: I'm over here in the box and I really can't tell what's going on so much. But, Jimmy comes over from the floor and kind of briefs me once in a while. It's the first time I've ever been to a convention and I'm just so excited about it.
Gerald Rafshoon, Media Adviser: I remember at the end of the McGovern speech at three o'clock in the morning, Hamilton Jordan and I were walking away from the convention hall, and I said, "You know, if Ed Muskie, Hubert Humphrey, Terry Sanford, Scoop Jackson, George Wallace, Ted Kennedy can run for president, Jimmy could run for president." And then of course we said, "And if these guys who are running these campaigns" -- like we met the people in the McGovern campaign -- "can run a campaign for president, hell, we could do that."
Rosalynn Carter: I called Ruth, I said, "Jimmy's going to run for p-p-," I couldn't even say the word, it was so... unreal to me.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I'm one of 15, 20 people in the country who were active in the Democratic party who have been mentioned for a place on the ticket...
Narrator: Carter's timing was perfect. For the next two years Americans would be gripped by the Watergate scandal. Disillusioned with politics, they were ready for a change.
Gerald Rafshoon, Media Adviser: It was nineteen-seventy... early '74. I went over to see him one night. Rosalynn was out of town. I went over to the Governor's Mansion. I said, "Lets just talk about what the themes would be." And he took a yellow pad and he wrote, "Fairness, not from Washington, not a lawyer, southerner, religious." These things were coming from Carter were the themes of the campaign.
Archival Footage: "Jimmy Who?"
"I don't know who he is."
"Jimmy Carter is a basketball player isn't he?"
Narrator: Carter officially announced his candidacy in December 1974. The one-term southern governor was a long shot.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Nobody knew him. It was like picking a name out of the phone book. I mean it takes a bit of hubris to think you're the best person to be the President of the United States, because you were a one-term governor of Georgia.
Campaign Song: "Once and for all, why not the best?"
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: It's a kind of arrogance run amok.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I want to see us once again have a nation, that's as good and honest and decent and truthful, and competent, and compassionate, and as filled with love, as are the American people...
John Farrell, Journalist: At that time character was a monumental issue. The country had been through a horrible time and Jimmy Carter represented honesty and decency.
Carter Campaign Ad (archival): I will never tell a lie. I will never make a misleading statement. I will never betray the confidence any of you has in me...
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Lyndon Johnson lied to us about Vietnam; Richard Nixon lied to us about Watergate. He's saying, "You know I'm not one of those turkeys who's messing things up, up there."
Narrator: Carter's campaign strategy was simple: run early and run hard. Before any other candidates even announced, Carter had traveled more than 50,000 miles, visited 37 states and delivered more then over 200 speeches.
Peter Bourne, Biographer: He was a wonderful speaker before small groups. He would get up and talk without notes with extraordinary passion. Almost like a preacher really having the spirit with him.
Narrator: It was a grassroots effort, financed on a shoestring.
Chip Carter, Son: We had all these stepping stones we had to do. We had to qualify for federal matching funds by a certain point. And we accomplished every one of them. And every time you accomplished one, it gave you more and more confidence.
Rosalynn Carter: We had our boys out, we had Aunt Sissy out, we had his mother, all going in different directions.
Chip Carter, Son: At one point in the presidential campaign we had 11 family members in 11 different states at the same time.
Narrator: The first test came in January 1976. With no delegates at stake, other candidates wrote off the Iowa caucuses, but Carter saw them as a way to surface early and gain the attention of the press. Iowa put Carter on the political map, and gave him momentum heading into a field of better-known Democrats -- Mo Udall, Birch Bayh, Sargent Shriver -- in the all-important New Hampshire primary.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: We had almost a month, between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, which gave us time to build on the win, both in terms of recognition and coverage, and in terms of raising just enough money to make it through New Hampshire and have a bit left over.
Narrator: Campaign volunteers from Georgia, the "Peanut Brigade," descended on the Granite State.
Chip Carter, Son: We were out every day, knocking on doors. We knocked on 60,000 doors in New Hampshire. That was probably almost every Democratic household that we could identify in the whole state.
Peanut Brigadier (archival): "Hello. Are you Mrs. Cobb? I'm Dot Padgett and I'm..."
Betty Pope, Friend: You'd say, "Mrs. Smith? My name is Betty Pope and I'm from Americus, Georgia." And if Mrs. Smith was there with her dog, I would remember that this beautiful lab came to the door with her. So I'd make a note, and I'd talk to her a little bit about Jimmy, and often it was, "Have you ever met him?" And of course, that's why we were there.
Chip Carter, Son: So we did get our name out. And I think that we surprised America when he won.
Walter Cronkite: Jimmy Carter took a long lead tonight in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He won the New Hampshire primary handily...
Jimmy Carter (archival): I remember when we couldn't find a microphone... [cheer]
Narrator: The next crucial contest was Florida. The leading contender, George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama, was an outspoken segregationist who had become a liability to the Democratic Party.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: We'd run a northerner that was right on civil rights, and George Wallace would steal a third of our vote and we couldn't get elected. Here came along a man from the South, with very good civil rights credentials, who just might be able to handle George Wallace.
Narrator: As a native son, Carter could appeal to white voters. He also had the support of African American leaders.
Chip Carter, Son: Martin Luther King, Sr., had endorsed us. Andy Young was on our team. Great civil rights leaders here in Atlanta were behind us, others that got to know us. It was a real asset to us.
Andrew Young, U.N. Ambassador: All of the liberals that I had worked with got nervous in a room full of black people. And Jimmy Carter didn't. He was very comfortable, very relaxed. When I talked with him, I realized that he read more; he was more disciplined, more organized; his personal life was more meaningful; his religion was really way down deep in the marrow of his bones. And I said, you know, "That's the kind of guy that ought to be running this country."
Narrator: Most candidates stayed away from Florida, confident the little known Georgian could be dealt with later.
Dan Carter, Historian: There really was an underestimation of Carter from the beginning in that '76 campaign. And he took advantage of that repeatedly. Carter in no way played the southern rube, but there was a little bit of this sneaking up on everybody. By decisively defeating George Wallace, he not only succeeded in doing what the liberals wanted him to do, but transforming himself into a really powerful, major candidate.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: What the liberals had not realized is that by the time of Florida, Jimmy Carter would have won Iowa, would have won New Hampshire, and would have this huge retinue of press following him around. And he was the man to beat.
Narrator: Carter's stamina seemed superhuman. "Behind that Huckleberry Finn grin," one reporter observed, "there is a perfectionist campaign machine that shuts down only six hours out of twenty four. State by state, the delegates kept adding up. By the time the Democrats convened in New York in July 1976, Carter had a lock on the nomination.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: The fact that Carter could unite the nation, North and South, and give us a clean shot for the Presidency. This was the culmination of my dreams.
Jimmy Carter (archival): My name is Jimmy Carter and I'm running for President. And now I've come here to accept your nomination....
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He'd pulled off a miracle. In the fall of 1975, he was barely visible as a candidate, below five percent in all the polls. And suddenly, six months later, he has the Democratic presidential nomination, and he is running 70% in the public opinion polls. That is a miracle. Now the problem was that he had his vulnerabilities, and they showed in the fall.
Narrator: In the summer of 1976, with a huge lead in the polls the Democratic candidate could relax. The press descended on Plains, eager to learn about the peanut farmer who might become president, and the remote southern town he called home.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: It was thought out and carefully planned by the campaign committee. As Jody Powell said, "Our campaign was not really about issues. It was about blue skies, where everybody knew each other and no pollution. That was it all the way." And so going into Plains you see blue skies, you see everybody in town seemed to love Jimmy, everybody was enthusiastic about him. So it was perfect.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: This was who he was. This is where he came from. The people in that town clearly saw him as one of them. That was a tremendous asset.
Betty Pope, Friend: When you're campaigning, every little picture in the paper, every little something, is free publicity. So we were trying to impress the people and trying to let them know what the real Plains was like. We went and took this empty depot and steam-cleaned it, and we brought furniture from our homes and pictures off the walls. Everybody just cooperated and wanted to help.
Narrator: Back home, surrounded by family and friends, Carter would display his best qualities.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: You would go to the church on Sunday and there would be Jimmy, and he'd have the lesson for the day. And he'd outline something. One time, he came out and he had underlined, "The Baptists believe in the separation of church and state." So he was safe on church issues. You might go out to the pond house and hear Jimmy Carter come out and say what he just heard from a group of experts, and like an A student in a seminar, tell you what everybody said with great clarity. And if you asked him a tough question, you got those cold blue eyes, and reporters would just shudder with delight. That look. And so you... you could see he'd be a tough son-of-a-bitch. So not only was he moral, and did he have all these people love him, but he would be tough.
Narrator: Carter's eccentric family provided color. Sister Gloria rode a Harley Davidson and was a born-again Christian. Sister Ruth was a Charismatic Christian and popular faith healer. And holding forth at his filling station across from the Depot was Billy, Carter's hard drinking brother.
Billy Carter (archival): My big advantage? Sam Donaldson was against me.
Betty Pope, Friend: Brother Billy... He was a sport. He was a very good businessman, and he was extremely colorful. And he was much brighter, much more learned and well read than most people think.
Chip Carter, Son: He read a book every day. And had over 20,000 in his library stashed up in his attic when he died. Billy ended up with a reputation and then he tried to live up to it.
Narrator: Of all the Carters, it was the irrepressible Miss Lillian who best reflected on Jimmy. Since her husband's death, she had lived life on her own terms. Always committed to helping the poor, she had joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in India.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: There's that wonderful story of Miss Lillian when one reporter, a woman from New York, came down to Plains, and Miss Lillian greeted her and said, "Welcome to Plains. You know, it's so nice to see you. Would you like some lemonade? How was your journey, your dress is beautiful." You know, poring on the southern hospitality. And the reporter jumped right in on Miss Lillian and said, "Now Miss Lillian, your son is running for president saying he'll never tell a lie. As a mother, are you telling me he's never told a lie?" She goes, "Oh well Jimmy tells white lies all the time." And the reporter said, well tell me what, what do you mean? What is a white lie?" And Miss Lillian said, "Well, remember when I said, welcome to Plains and how good it is to see you? That's a white lie."
Sam Donaldson (archival): Now, it's sometimes said that the parents are never really satisfied with what their children accomplish --
Lillian Carter (archival): I won't be satisfied until he gets in the White House.
Sam Donaldson (archival): Do you think he will?
Lillian Carter (archival): I know he will.
Sam Donaldson (archival): And then what are you going to do?
Lillian Carter (archival): I'm gonna stay at the Pond House and fish.
Jimmy Carter (archival): This election means a lot to our country...
Narrator: Carter began the fall campaign against incumbent President Gerald Ford with a fifteen-point lead.
Jimmy Carter (archival): ...We've been disappointed, disillusioned, we've been kept out of government. We've been embarrassed. Sometimes we've been ashamed...
Narrator: He returned to the themes of honesty and trust that had defined his primary campaign.
Gerald Ford (archival): Jimmy Carter will say anything, anywhere to be President of the United States.
Narrator: But as election day approached, he was pressured to take a stand on the issues.
Gerald Ford (archival): He wanders, he wavers, he waffles, and he wiggles. He isn't the man you want for President of the United States.
Bert Lance, Advisor: He was a moderate to the moderates, he was a conservative to the conservatives, he was a liberal to the liberals. And in fact, he was all of those things.
Jimmy Carter (archival): We are going to have a fair government once again, we are going to have a government that's open and not secret once again.
Joshua Muravchik, Political Analyst: His standard line, when asked about his foreign policy was, that he wanted to provide a foreign policy as good as the American people. Well, gee, that's great, but what in the world does it mean?
Jimmy Carter (archival): You can depend on me. You help me. I'll help you...
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: The gist of what he presented was that he would be a centrist Democrat who had liberal values in his heart, as well as the desire for frugality and thrift and efficiency in government. And so he could appeal to people from all parts of the Democratic party. But as Julian Bond said at one point, "The problem with this is, his support was an inch deep and a mile wide."
Narrator: Alarmed that support among liberal Democrats was eroding, Carter's young staff made a bold move.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: We did the Playboy interview to show that that being a born-again Christian was not a threat to more secular Democrats and young people.
Narrator: For five hours, Carter tried to explain his views on culture, politics and faith. Toward the end of the interview, exasperated at not being understood, he said, "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times."
Pat Caddell, Pollster: If you read the interview, the "lust in your heart" line was, to try to explain that he, too, was a sinner. But the language was -- and I would see this all the time, Carter used language that was germane to his world, like we all do, to our own cultural context.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: Here's a guy who is so moral that on the one hand he talks about, he's lusted after women in his heart, and he talks about shacking up, and he uses language that's going to really enrage and turn off a lot of people.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Do not underestimate what a crisis that interview and the "lust in my heart" caused Carter. It almost derailed the entire Carter campaign. They were in havoc over it.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: In retrospect it was kind of amusing. It wasn't very funny at the time. Trying to explain to people that Jimmy Carter was not some child molester, you know, I mean, or pervert.
Jimmy Carter (archival): The Playboy thing has been of very great concern to me. I don't know how to deal with it, exactly. I...
Narrator: By the time Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford met in the first of two presidential debates, Carter's lead had evaporated. The momentum belonged to Ford. Two weeks later he blundered.
Gerald Ford (archival): There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.
Debate panelist: Uh, I'm sorry, could I just follow, did I just understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence and...
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: We knew that this was going to hurt. That a lot of people couldn't see how a president would say that. It gave us about a week, as I recall, to pound away on this. And you could just feel people moving on that question. So what it did, I think, was rather than electing us, it stopped our slide.
Narrator: By Election Day, the polls showed a dead heat. It was not until 3 a.m. that the networks announced the winner -- by one of the closest margins in American history.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: I look back now, I just -- I'm amazed. Going from total anonymity, to being President of the United States in less than twelve months, is unprecedented in American history. If it weren't for the country looking for something in '76, Carter could never have gotten elected. He would never have been allowed out of the box.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: He offered a biography of what we wanted to hear; Farmer, Main Street values, Plains -- it was the right message at the right time. And it didn't happen by accident. Carter created that message, knowing that that's what would win the day.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I came all the way through, took 22 months, and I didn't get choked up until I... [he breaks down]
Cronkite (archival): This was not planned, this was not scheduled, and whether this is Carter's surprise for his inaugural, by golly Bob... How 'bout that...
Narrator: The morning of January 20, 1977, Jimmy Carter surprised the nation.
Chip Carter, Son: I remember I was out there walking. And you could hear Walter Cronkite over the loudspeaker saying, "The president is walking down the street!" It was a major moment of the Carter presidency symbolically. It was great theater.
Dan Carter, Historian: Here was this tremendous breath of fresh air. He was going to bring something new to Washington. Bring new people and new ideas.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Our commitment to human rights must be absolute. Our laws, fair. Our natural beauty, preserved...
John Farrell, Journalist: It was so different from what had come before. People were looking for something that was simple, something that was pure. And it just struck a cord in the American people.
Jimmy Carter (archival): ...more is not necessarily better. But even our great nation has its limits...
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: Jimmy Carter was exactly what the American people always say they want: above politics, determined to do the right thing regardless of political consequences, a simple person who doesn't lie, a modest man, not somebody with a lot of imperial pretenses. That's what people say they want. And that's what they got with Jimmy Carter.
Narrator: The Carter team arrived in Washington full of confidence, ready to take on the Washington insiders they had run against.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: I felt like the advance wave of the German army arriving in Paris in 1940. I mean, this is a Democratic city. And they were terrified. I mean, terrified. You could feel it in the air.
John Farrell, Journalist: They did not have a lot in common with the national political party. They did not have a lot in common with the Congress. They were a very close-knit band of brothers. And they were intensely loyal to Jimmy Carter. And they were pretty cocky guys as well.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: There was clearly some degree of suspicion and, maybe and a little bit of resentment that, "Here come these folks riding in here that didn't really pay their dues. They're not us. They're not our kind of folks." And all of a sudden they're in the White House, and "We'll show them that this town is tougher than they think."
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: His top people had no experience in Washington. And they were sort of contemptuous of Washington. Well, it's one thing to sort of run against Washington, but you have to live there and you have to govern there, and you have to work with the people who are there. And it really doesn't get you anywhere to have this attitude if you want to get anything done.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: You get things done by power. You get power from having public support. My argument was that in order to maintain power we would have to reinforce constantly the message of what we were doing.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Good evening. Tomorrow it will be two weeks since I became president...
Narrator: On February 2, Carter addressed the nation in a fireside chat on energy. The country had been through an oil scare in 1973. To head off a new crisis, Carter appealed directly to Americans to rally around a new program.
Jimmy Carter (archival): All of us must learn to waste less energy. Simply by keeping our thermostats, for instance, at 65 degrees in the daytime and 55 degrees at night, we can save half the current shortage of natural gas. If we learn to live thriftily and remember the importance of helping our neighbors, then we can find ways to adjust.
Narrator: Carter lead by example. He curtailed the use of limousines, cancelled magazine subscriptions, unplugged television sets, and put the presidential yacht Sequoia on the auction block.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: He turned off the air conditioners, and it was so hot in the White House, people would come in there -- [Laughs]. It was unbelievable. It would be a hundred above in there.
Narrator: To save on staff overtime, all White House functions would end at midnight. No hard liquor would be served.
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: Jimmy Carter is a Low Church Protestant, where it's a sin not to have a hard wooden bench to sit on in church. And he brought that simplicity to the White House.
Dan Rostenkowski, U.S. Congressman: We were all invited down to the White House every other Tuesday. We walked into the private dining room on the first floor just off the East Room. We looked at the table and there were these little finger-tip cookies, and... Tip O'Neill looked at me and he said, "What's this?" And I said, "Well I guess that's breakfast." So the President walked in and shook hands with everybody. And O'Neill looked at the President and he says, "Mr. President, you know, we won the election."
Narrator: Carter presented his agenda to the Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. Energy was Carter's number one priority, but it was competing with his long list of other legislation -- bills on hospital cost containment, urban policy, ethics in government.
O'Neill (archival): ...you've brought enough for four years work...
Narrator: There was nothing in the package to grease the wheels of government. When Carter struck from his budget 19 multi-million dollar water projects that had been approved by President Ford, Congressmen were furious.
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: He was absolutely right to take it on, these sort of boondoggles and unnecessary, really pork-barrel things. But he didn't know how to take it on. You have to build political capital, you have to build alliances, you have to make deals.
Bert Lance, Advisor: The quid pro quo was not in him. If you came to him and said, "Look, we can get so-and-so to vote for us," he would turn a deaf ear.
Narrator: "He never understood how the system worked," Tip O'Neill would later complain. "And although this was out of character for Jimmy Carter, he didn't want to learn about it either."
Dan Carter, Historian: If your job is to find the public good, to arrive at what the public good is and then to articulate it, and then you become the voice of the people. And when you do that, it becomes very difficult to compromise.
Dan Rostenkowski, U.S. Congressman: On one occasion when I was talking to President Carter I said, "Mr. President, you know, I've had three presidents before you and I'll have several after you. I'm telling you, from the vantage point of what I see in the legislative process, you will be able to do and what you won't be able to do. Now, you can accept that or not accept it." But Carter's attitude was members of the House and Senate are bad guys.
John Farrell, Journalist: Carter put O'Neill and the others like him in the same category with the corrupt Georgia court house pols that he had been fighting for much of his life. The same kind of back-scratching, featherbedding pol worrying about the next election, worrying about their public opinion polls, coming in and not doing what was right.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Often he wouldn't return phone calls of leading Senators. There was a kind of an abrasive attitude he had towards them. He never showed them the respect. So they all eventually got bitter and turned on him.
Dan Carter, Historian: Even if he had had a personality transplant. And he had spent three hours a night playing poker with Tip O'Neill, I don't think that would have made the difference. I mean, he was faced with an extraordinarily difficult set of circumstances which in part sprang not only from the political situation, but from his, the lack of a connection between his own views, and those of his party.
Narrator: "There will be no new programs implemented unless [they] are compatible with my goal of having a balanced budget by the end of my first term," he pledged. But liberal Democrats, eager to resume the social agenda of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, would not back away.
Stuart Eizenstat, Advisor: There had been an eight-year period when there had been no Democratic President. There were a lot of pent-up and legitimate desires by constituency groups for more investment in a whole range of programs. Although he sympathized with much of it, all of his instincts were to cut budgets, reduce the deficit dramatically. But he was always under pressure from the left to have more spending.
Narrator: At a breakfast meeting, Carter berated the Congressional Democratic leadership for adding $61 billion in new programs to his budget. "The Democratic Party needs to remove the stigma of unjustified spending," he said.
"Mr. President," Tip O'Neill reminded Carter, "the Democrats are the champions of the poor and the indigent."
Peter Bourne, Biographer: Carter thought that big social programs and large amounts of federal spending would bankrupt the country. He could see, I think, very clearly the way the world was going and that that old era had to be phased out.
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: Carter, looking back, was being very long-sighted in saying, you know, "We just don't have an open-ended, never-ending amount of money to spend. We have to get things in balance."
Narrator: Carter's commitment to fiscal restraint appealed to a growing number of Americans. "He brings to the [office] a refreshing habit of plain words and simple manners," wrote Newsweek. "A mind and discipline of tempered steel, and an insatiable appetite for work. Carter had entered the presidency with only 51 percent of the vote. By June, he enjoyed an approval rating of over 70 percent. Then, came an event that rocked the foundation of the Carter Presidency. It was called the Lance Affair. In July 1977, Carter's budget director, Bert Lance, was accused of financial improprieties at his bank in Calhoun, Georgia. A federal investigation cleared Lance of any illegal activity, but concluded he had engaged in "unsafe and unsound banking practices."
Jimmy Carter (archival): Bert Lance is a man of competence and a man of integrity and...
Narrator: Believing the affair was behind him, Carter stood by his friend.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Bert Lance enjoys my complete confidence and support. I'm proud to have him as part of my administration.
Narrator: Carter had miscalculated. To the press, the issue was ethics, not the law. Sensing a scandal, they went on the attack.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: There were a lot of journalists who very much wanted to prove that they could be as tough on a Democratic president as they had been on a Richard Nixon. There was a real desire to make sure that it was clear that they were going to pursue this every bit as aggressively.
Peter Bourne, Biographer: One of the things people like to go after more than anything else is what they perceive as hypocrisy. So that you're judged by the standards that you set for yourself. And certainly Carter's talking about "I'll never tell you a lie," emphasizing honesty, provided an easy opportunity.
Narrator: Carter's inner circle urged him to get rid of Lance. But he was torn between loyalty to his friend, and his own reputation. For weeks he allowed the Lance Affair to fester.
Reporter (archival): Do you feel you were drummed up?
Bert Lance, Advisor (archival): My statement speaks for itself. I have no comment about being drummed out. I said in my statement that I had to analyze and question what those circumstances...
Bert Lance, Advisor: The day that I resigned, I came home and I was spent. I lay down on the bed crying about the situation. Just from the standpoint of just having run out of any adrenaline or emotion of anything else. And so we had all that horde of media out on the front yard, that had been there constantly. I guess it was a suicide watch.
Reporter (archival): Any comment at all?
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: Looking back, he wasn't that big a deal. But what it did do at that time was give the first blow to the image that Carter was trying to project that his was a squeaky clean administration.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Whether my own credibility has been damaged I can't say. I would guess to some degree. An unpleasant situation like this.
Narrator: Carter's approval rating plunged 25 points.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: It would have been better for the President if we had brought that to an end sooner. It threw us off our stride. It made it harder for us to talk about other things, and sort of played into questions about whether we could lead and run the country.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: Until that moment, we had been driving the agenda. Everyone danced to our tune. After that, we danced to everybody else's tune. And that hurt us with the public, because now Jimmy Carter is not in charge.
Narrator: Only nine months in office, Jimmy Carter was a wounded leader, struggling to regain the confidence of the American people. He would succeed where others had failed. And face challenges no one could have imagined.
From the peanut fields of Georgia, all the way to the White House, Jimmy Carter had accomplished one of the greatest triumphs in American political history.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He'd pulled off a miracle. In the fall of 1975, he was barely visible as a candidate, six months later he has the Democratic presidential nomination, now that is a miracle.
Douglas Brinkley, Biographer: He offered a biography of what we wanted to hear; Farmer, Main Street values, Plains -- it was the right message at the right time.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I'll never tell a lie...
Narrator: He had promised the nation a new beginning. To heal the wounds of Watergate and Vietnam. A government as good and decent and compassionate as the American people.
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: What he had was a moral ideology. And the issues where he proved successful -- the Panama Canal treaties, the Human Rights crusades, peace in the Middle East -- those were issues where his moral ideology guided him.
Walter F. Mondale, Vice President: The one argument that I would find would ruin a person's case is when he'd say, "This is good for you politically." He didn't want to hear that. He wanted to know what's right.
Narrator: But the man who had pledged to restore honesty and trust to government would find his own integrity attacked when his friend and budget chief, Bert Lance, was accused of financial improprieties.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: Until that moment, we had been driving the agenda. Everyone danced to our tune. After that, we danced to everybody else's tune. And that hurt us with the public, because now Jimmy Carter is not in charge.
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: He's a very, very smart man. And very well intentioned. But feel, feel is very, very important in politics, especially in a president. And Carter just didn't have very much of it.
Narrator: Only nine months in office, Jimmy Carter was a president in trouble: the economy spinning out of control; growing energy crisis; his agenda stalled in Congress. But Carter's greatest test was yet to come. Half a world away, in Iran, when 53 Americans were taken hostage by Muslim Fundamentalists.
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: The whole world saw these people stomping on images of Carter, burning American flags, and the most rancid sort of disrespect and hatred of the United States, on television, around the world, all the time.
Rosalynn Carter: No one can know how much pressure there was on Jimmy. And I would say, "Why don't you do something?" And he said, "What would you want me to do?" I said, "Mine the harbors." He said, "Okay, suppose I mine the harbors, and they decide to take one hostage out every day and kill him. What am I going to do then?"
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: To react in a way that was strong and powerful would have set us off down a road that no man could say where it might lead.
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: Fairly or not, it came to symbolize the question of whether Carter was a leader, whether he was competent, whether he was strong.
Narrator: On May 22, 1977, before the graduating class of the University of Notre Dame, President Jimmy Carter unveiled a new foreign policy for the United States.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Being confident of our own future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of communism...
Narrator: Carter had come to office with no experience in foreign affairs, but was determined to make his mark. In his first year alone, he met more than 40 heads of state, resumed talks on diplomatic relations with China, and with the Soviet Union on arms control. He launched a new peace process in the Middle East. And signed a new canal treaty with Panama, transferring, after 75 years, ownership of the canal to the Panamanians. But it was a principle straight from his heart that would redefine America's role in the world.
Jimmy Carter (archival): We have reaffirmed America's commitment to human rights as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy.
Gaddis Smith, Historian: That was his greatest speech, standing up for our own values, and expecting, that the world would appreciate that -- that we would be (he didn't use this phrase, but it's an old phrase in American history) like the beacon on the hill, the beacon of freedom and liberty and democracy.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He will be remembered for putting on the agenda hereafter the whole issue of human rights. We now assume that the goal of a State is not only to protect its national security interests. It has an obligation to try to deal with human suffering where it has the ability to do that.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I feel very deeply that when people are put in prison without trials, and tortured and deprived of basic human rights, that the President of the United States ought to have a right to express displeasure and to do something about it.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: His idea is that every child is a child of God. And based on his faith, entitled to the stature and respect and the rights of what that means.
Narrator: Initially, human rights was applied aggressively to friend and foe. Carter asked Congress to withhold military and economic assistance from Latin American dictators -- in Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua -- and decried their human rights violations. Cold Warriors complained Carter was undermining American allies, paving the way for Soviet-backed guerrilla movements to seize power. But they applauded when in an open letter to Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov, Carter promised to seek the release of political prisoners held in Soviet jails.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: The human rights campaign was charging the Soviet Union with abuse of its own citizens. And they did not like that at all. And we now know, now that the Cold War archives are open, and from looking at Havel, in Czechoslovakia, or Lech Walesa in Poland, that it was the Carter's human rights policy that gave heart to the underground resistance movement.
Narrator: But the biggest challenge to Carter's human rights policy would come in the Middle East.
Jimmy Carter (archival): Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas in the world.
Narrator: Carter was aware of the brutality of Iran's secret police and of 2,500 political prisoners held in Iran's jails. But the Shah, installed to the throne in a U.S.-backed coup in 1953, had long been a trusted ally. New Years' Eve 1977, in Tehran, Carter reaffirmed America's support.
Gaddis Smith, Historian: Strategic considerations trumped human rights in Iran, because the perception of the United States was, first that Iran was a secure source of oil (and it certainly was an important source of oil), that it had one of the most powerful military establishments in the world, which was nonsense, but the Shah was saying he was going to have the second most powerful Navy. Iran, of course, bordered on the Soviet Union.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: There are circumstances where you have to have a situational morality. You cannot go in with the notion this is an absolute value, we're going to push it all the time.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I would like to offer a toast at this time, to the great leaders of Iran, the Shah and the Shahvanu, and to the people of Iran, and to the world peace that we hope together we can help to bring...
Narrator: One week after Carter's visit, anti-Shah demonstrations broke out. When Iranian secret police fired on the demonstrators and killed several students, religious leaders called the Shah's government anti-Islamic.
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: Iran was a very complicated situation. And the Shah was very useful to us. At the same time, something else was going on, something very powerful was going on in Iran. And as I recall, we kind of missed it.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor: We knew there was some resentment, and we knew somewhat of the history of the country, but we were not conscious, nor were we informed, of the intensity of the feelings.
Narrator: Since the days of Plains and Peanuts, the marriage of Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter had blossomed into a full partnership.
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: Some time before Carter became president, he realized what a valuable adviser to him Rosalynn was. She was a major player in the campaigns and she did have a good rapport with the people. She of course was ambitious in her own right. She wanted to be more than a fashion plate and somebody who gave teas.
Rosalynn Carter: The first year Jimmy was in office, I became so frustrated. Every night Jimmy would get off the elevator at the White House and I would say, "Why did you do this?" or why did you do something? And one day he finally said, "Why don't you come to Cabinet meetings? Then you'll know why we do these things." So I started going. It was always on my calendar. And I just listened. I didn't participate. But I listened. And then I knew why the decisions were made.
Narrator: The first child to live in the White House since the Kennedy years, nine year old Amy had the run of the place. She roller skated down the marble hallways, played in a treehouse her father built for her, even got a new dog, named Grits.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: She was the apple of her father's eye. President Carter hadn't spent a lot of time with his three sons when they were growing up so he tried to put a lot of attention and energy into Amy.
Narrator: In keeping with Carter's populist image, Amy was sent to public school. The media made much of the fact that her best friend was the daughter of the cook at the Chilean embassy.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: She was such a shy, intelligent girl. It was very hard, always having that media glare. And I think after the White House, she's tried her best to, stay out of the limelight.
Narrator: One Carter did not shy away from the glare of the media. Back in Plains, Billy capitalized on his brother's fame. He made money on the talk show circuit and marketed his own brand of beer. The president tolerated his brother's antics. "He enjoyed the popularity," he wrote, "and presented the other side of the Carter family, full of fun and laughter."
Narrator: In 1978 the first signs of a gathering economic storm were becoming visible. The stock market was at its lowest point in three years, the trade deficit growing, unemployment on the rise.
Jimmy Carter (archival): The most serious problem that our nation has is inflation. And it's getting worse. It's absolutely imperative that Americans commit themselves, all of us, to a common sacrifice to control this rapid increase in prices.
E. Stanly Godbold, Historian: Carter inherited a no-win economic situation. I see him as the last presidential victim of the War in Vietnam. Every war this country has fought once it is over the economy has to readjust to a peacetime economy. And what always happens is runaway inflation.
Narrator: Carter implored labor and business leaders to keep wages and prices down, and pressured Congress to cutback spending. But inflation kept rising, his words falling on deaf ears.
James Laney, FMR President, Emory University: He has this enormous determination to go after and do what he thinks ought to be done. The capacity to explain, persuade, inspire, mobilize, energize the whole country.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I do not have all the answers. Nobody does.
James Laney, FMR President, Emory University: That was far more tenuous and uncertain.
Jimmy Carter (archival): But I want to let you know that fighting inflation will be a central...
James Laney, FMR President, Emory University: He thought people would just follow, but that didn't happen.
Jimmy Carter (archival): and I want to arouse our nation to join me in this effort.
Narrator: There were growing doubts about Carter's leadership. The President, most Americans believed was too mired in details. Was ineffective with Congress. Had attempted too much, and delivered too little.
Stuart Eizenstat, Advisor: This is a classic case where first impressions often sets in with people. And the first impressions of that first year were too many things, lack of priorities, a lack of accomplishment. The fact is we actually had a good legislative record. But, we had thrown so much up that, in comparison to that, the accomplishments seemed to pale.
Rosalynn Carter: I would sometimes say, "Why don't we do this in your second term?" And he would say, "What if I don't have a second term?" And I think he felt that way the whole time that if something needed to be done, it needed to be done.
Narrator: With an approval rating of only 33%, Time Magazine concluded, "He has the potential for growing in the office, but he does not have a great deal of time left."
Nestled in the mountains of Maryland, Camp David was Jimmy Carter's refuge. It was the place where he and Rosalynn repaired to on weekends to get away from the pressures of Washington. In September 1978, Jimmy Carter would enshrine Camp David, and himself, in history.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: He had spent a lot of time studying the Middle East. He felt very deeply that we should try to find peace over there. And boy, he really bet his presidency on that.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He was already very low in the polls. He had practically nowhere to go but up. But he still, could possibly win a second term, and if he failed, that would certainly write him off.
Narrator: Since the creation of the State of Israel, every attempt to bring peace to the Middle East had failed. Refugees, land disputes, terrorism plagued the region. Four wars, the last in 1973, had left a bitter legacy of hate and mistrust. Everyone urged Carter to stay away from what seemed an intractable situation, but he would not be deterred. "I slowly became hardened and as stubborn as at any other time I can remember," he wrote.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: The Middle East for years had been -- and was then -- the place where you thought if we're gonna end up blowing up the world that's where it will start. If there's gonna be a nuclear confrontation between the super-powers, it's gonna come out of the Middle East. So finding a way to temp that down was to him extremely important.
Narrator: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat took the first step toward peace in November 1977 when he became the first Arab leader to set foot on Israeli soil. Carter seized the opportunity. The following September, he welcomed President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David to negotiate a treaty that would lay the foundations for peace in the Middle East.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He brought all of his skills and all the best sides of himself to the whole operation. And all of the potential in Jimmy Carter was out there at Camp David. It was really an extraordinary time.
Gaddis Smith, Historian: He had studied things so carefully. He knew the population of every village in the West Bank and Israel. Hard to think of a president in our history who had that much capacity to absorb and retain detail.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He made a mistake at the very beginning. He thought and told his aides, "You know, we're just going to bring together Begin and Sadat, and they'll talk and they'll get to know each other and they'll understand each other." Well, he got them there, and it turned out after the first three meetings they were practically never talking to each other and things were going downhill very fast.
Narrator: "It was mean," Carter later recalled. "They were brutal with each other." Face-to-face discussions became an impossibility. On day three, the expected deadline for an agreement Carter had accomplished nothing. "There must be a way," he kept saying, "there must be a way."
That night at dinner, alone with Rosalynn, he arrived at a solution. If the two men could not talk to one another, they would have to talk through him.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: He decided that essentially the Americans would draft the proposal and put the proposal on the table. You wouldn't have an Egyptian and an Israeli proposal. You would have an American proposal.
Narrator: "I must admit that I capitalized on this situation," Carter later wrote. "It greatly magnified my own influence." Carter devoted himself to drafting an agreement. With more than 50 issues to be resolved, the work was painstaking.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor: He was remarkably tenacious, persistent, persuasive, tough-minded, tough both with Sadat on some occasions, and with Begin on other occasions.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: That people trusted him as an honest broker came to play in a very magical and important way. He is seen as somebody who is not a cheat or a liar. He is somebody who puts his money where his mouth is.
Narrator: "My world became the negotiating rooms, the study where I poured over my notes and maps of the Middle East." he recalled. "Between sessions, I craved intense exercise and lonely places where I could think, and sometimes pray."
Rosalynn Carter: He had things scheduled after the first week, and I was going into Washington to do some of the things he was supposed to do. And when I would leave to go in, they would say, "Don't smile because everybody will think it will be all right. Don't look grim because they'll think it's failing." That was hard. It was from the depths to the heights all the time, at Camp David. One minute you would think it was going to pass and everything was so exciting, and then -- and another time it would be just hopeless.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: It always seemed to me that the odds were against success; it always seemed like a long shot, so I spent a good bit of my time thinking about: how are we going to deal with this thing if it collapses?
Narrator: Shuttling back and forth between Sadat and Begin, Carter began to put together an agreement. A framework for negotiations in the Middle East, which would address the fate of the Palestinians and the future of Gaza and the West Bank. And a separate peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Israel would return the Sinai territories occupied since the 1967 war. Egypt would recognize the right of Israel to live in peace. On September 14, day ten, Carter turned to the issue he knew could derail any progress made so far: the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the Sinai.
Peter Bourne, Biographer: Carter was unable to get Begin to make any concessions that would really have locked up an agreement, to the point where Sadat just got fed up and said, "Well, I'm going home." You know. "I'm just not going to wait and be here any longer," and literally sort of had his coat on and was out the door.
Narrator: Carter begged Sadat to stay, appealing to their friendship and mutual trust, and reminding him of Egypt's good relations with the United States. Sadat decided to remain at Camp David. Saturday, Sept 16, Brzezinki wrote in his diary: "The President is driving himself mercilessly. He has single-handedly written the proposed document for the settlements on the Sinai." Carter presented the formula to Begin. At first he called the demands on Israel "excessive," "political suicide." But in the end he relented, agreeing to submit the question of the Jewish settlements to the Israeli parliament.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: Jimmy Carter saw a picture of the three major participants on his desk. And he told his secretary to find out the names of Begin's grandchildren. And so then he wrote little notes, putting in the names of all the grandchildren. He went over to Begin and said, "You know, this is not just for us. This is for our grandchildren. And let me give this to you." And Begin was profoundly moved by this.
Narrator: The Camp David Accords were hailed as a monumental triumph of diplomacy, "With his brilliant success and inspired leadership, Carter has taken "a first, big step toward realizing the promise of his presidency," was the verdict of the press.
Jimmy Carter (archival): These negotiations provide that Israel may live in peace within secure and recognized borders. And this great aspiration of Israel has been certified, without constraint, with the greatest degree of enthusiasm, by President Sadat, the leader of one of the greatest nations on earth. [Applause]
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: There will never be a history in, in the Middle East written, without Jimmy Carter's name in the index. A hundred years from now, 200 years from now, people will be talking about the Camp David process that began in those Maryland mountains.
Peter Bourne, Biographer: Camp David was the plum of his administration. This was the crowning glory, and it enshrined him in history.
Jimmy Carter (archival): ...to these two friends of mine, the words of Jesus: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be the children of God." [Applause]
Narrator: Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to peace. Cape David became the touchstone for all future negotiations on the Middle East. Yet Carter's great success did nothing to improve his standing with the American people.
Walter Mondale, Vice President: There was something about how we had slipped in the eyes of the American people that prevented us from getting what should have been an enormous lift out of this incredible diplomatic feat. We thought, "Boy, this shows we can get things done. It does bring peace in a crucial area." And there was no movement at all. It was very dispiriting.
Narrator: At home, President Carter's leadership was in question. On the world stage he kept piling up accomplishments. In January 1979, he received Chinese Vice-Premier, Deng Xiaoping, in Washington to celebrate the establishment of formal relations between the United States and China. In June, he met Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev in Vienna, to sign the Salt II Arms Control Agreement. From there, it was on to Tokyo for a major economic summit.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: The country is having this terrible domestic problem and the president is somewhere out on the other side of the world. And it's not for a couple of days -- for weeks. And I remember getting on the phone and saying you people got to come home now.
Narrator: In one year, the American economy had spun out of control. Gasoline prices had more than doubled, mortgage rates pushed 20 percent. Unemployment kept on rising.
Bert Lance, Former Advisor: There were just so many forces at work. When inflation becomes rampant interest rates are high, and the business cycle is turning against you, it becomes almost impossible.
Narrator: Of all the problems facing the nation, most Americans now agreed, inflation was the most urgent. In the summer of '79, fueled by rising oil prices, it surged to 14 percent.
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: Inflation makes you doubt the future. When you have inflation you don't see as much building going on. You don't see as much investment going on. You don't see as much hiring going on. People weren't seeing their savings growing and as a matter of fact people were terrified that inflation would impoverish them in their old age.
Narrator: Carter acted decisively. To reduce the budget deficit and bring inflation under control he cut into social programs. "New realities," explained the White House, "must temper our nation's commitment to the poor."
Peter Bourne, Biographer: It stirred up a hornet's nest of opposition from the Ted Kennedy people, from the traditional FDR coalition. They were very, very angry.
Narrator: African American leaders felt betrayed, and vowed to wage an all-out fight on what they called, "Carter's immoral, unjust and inequitable budget cuts."
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: The leader who most encapsulated the goals that I wanted was Martin King, at the end of his life, saying to the country, "We have to do something about poor Americans. We're the richest country on the face of the Earth, and we've got to do something." Every time I vote for a Democrat I want that Democrat to have Martin's spirit about poverty in his soul. Jimmy Carter ran away from that.
Narrator: Across America, frustration was reaching a breaking point. In Levittown, Pennsylvania, truckers barricaded expressways to protest high fuel prices, setting off riots, which left 100 injured and led to more than 170 arrests.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: I thought in '79 was we were really headed down the tubes. I now thought we were in deep, deep trouble and I thought the president was becoming irrelevant.
Narrator: Polls showed Carter falling behind Ted Kennedy as the preferred candidate among Democratic voters, and even losing trial heats to the likely Republican nominee, Ronald Reagan.
Woman on the street (archival): I don't think he has control of the situation. I think he's a very religious man, a very nice man, but I just don't think he's capable of the job.
Man on the street (archival): A lot of people think he's shaky, you know, and I'm one of them, I think he's kind of shaky.
Younger woman on the street (archival): I think he's a real floundering leader, I don't see him as a leader, and I don't look to him for leadership.
Narrator: President Carter's approval rating was 25%, lower than President Richard Nixon's at the time of Watergate.
"It all seems to be falling down around me in the White House," he told a friend, "I don't know what to do."
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: I think he was losing some of that essential nerve that he has in such abundance. Just for a brief moment there it was really uh... I was heartsick and I felt so sorry for him.
Narrator: Carter groped for a way to reassert his leadership. One advisor suggested that he give a major speech on energy, and put the full blame of the economic crisis on the high price of Middle East oil.
Stuart Eizenstat, Advisor: When we drew the outlines up he was really quite disgusted. This is just more of the same. It doesn't address the basic problems. People will see this as pabulum. We need something more.
Rosalynn Carter: Jimmy had made several speeches on energy. He was trying to impress upon people the fact they needed to conserve and it just seemed to be going nowhere with the public. And so he just said, I'm not going to make the speech.
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: So he got on a conference call with his senior staff, and the way he put it very pungently, was, "I just don't want to bullshit the American people."
Narrator: Carter retreated to Camp David. For the next ten days, businessmen, labor leaders, governors, pop psychologists and clergy were called to the mountaintop to participate in one of the most extraordinary episodes of presidential soul-searching in American history.
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: Basically this was a kind of a self-psychoanalysis by Carter and the Administration. He sat up there and listened to the most scalding critiques of his presidency.
Narrator: "They told me that I seemed bogged down in details," Carter wrote. "That the public acknowledged my intelligence and integrity, but doubted my capacity to follow through with a strong enough thrust to succeed."
Within Carter's own staff, a fierce debate raged over what had gone wrong and what President Carter should say to the American people. Carter's pollster argued the President should address a subject deeper than energy or the economy -- that there was a crisis of the American spirit.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: The first time, we actually got numbers where people no longer believed that the future of America was going to be as good as it was now. Never in the history of American polling had that ever existed. That Americans ever if they believed it ever evidenced would say, "Oh, my children are going to have it worse than I am. The country's going to get worse. We already had our heyday. And that really shook me, because it was so anti, so anti-American.
Stuart Eizenstat, Advisor: I made the point, and Mondale made the point, that if there was a problem with the American spirit, it was because of the underlying problems of inflation and energy, not because there was something wrong with the American people.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: I argued that there were real problems in America that were not mysterious, that were not rooted in some kind of national psychosis or breakdown, that there were real gas lines, there was real inflation, that people were worried in their real lives about keeping their jobs.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: The vice president of the United States was looking at me, basically accused me of being insane. So, you had this real division. And then Jimmy Carter ended it by saying, uh, and this moment I'll never forget it. He ends the thing saying, he said, "I just wanted to hear what you all said. I've decided. I'm going to do everything that Pat said."
Jimmy Carter (archival): Good evening. This is a special night for me.
Narrator: On July 15 after a ten day retreat, Jimmy Carter descended from the mountains of Maryland to deliver the most controversial speech of his administration.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy. The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: The speech was more like a sermon than a political speech. And it had the themes of confession, redemption, and sacrifice. And he was bringing the American people into this spiritual process that he had been through, and presenting them with an opportunity for redemption as well as redeeming himself.
Jimmy Carter (archival): In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns.
John Farrell, Journalist: The speech unfairly was labeled "the malaise speech," because it talked about the fact that the country was in a difficult situation, which it was. But, Americans don't always want their public leaders to come to them and say, "Hey, we're in a bunch of trouble."
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: When your leadership is demonstrably weaker than it should be, you don't then point at the people and say, "It's your problem." If you want the people to move, you move them the way Roosevelt moved them, or you exhort them the way Kennedy or Johnson exhorted them. You don't say, it's your fault.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: The op-ed pieces started spinning out saying there's nothing wrong with the American people. We're a great people. Maybe the problem's in the White House. Maybe we need new leadership to guide us. It boomeranged on him.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: If you make a bold stroke like that you do have to think about how do you follow it up? What is day three and day four and day five look like? How do you translate that into additional steps? And we botched that.
Narrator: To give the impression of a fresh start, Carter asked his entire cabinet to submit their resignation. Five were accepted.
John Farrell, Journalist: By firing the cabinet the way he did Carter just telegraphed to the country that he wasn't up for the job. It was a sign of panic. It looked like this was a President who was thrashing about looking for other people to blame.
Narrator: Carter's approval rating dropped even lower.
"After all the Camp David meetings, the dramatic speech on July 15, and the cabinet firings, he is back where he began," one analyst wrote, "a chief executive rejected by his ultimate constituency, the American people."
Narrator: That fall, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party finally broke with the President, throwing its support behind Ted Kennedy. The Senator from Massachusetts would wage a brutal campaign for the Democratic Nomination.
For Jimmy Carter, nothing seemed to be going right. He collapsed while running a 10-kilometer race. It was taken as a sign of weakness. He became the butt of jokes when a story broke that he'd been attacked by a giant rabbit while fishing in Georgia.
Even the Carter family, once thought fun and colorful, was becoming a liability. Billy was investigated for accepting a bribe from the Libyan government. Furious, Carter distanced himself from Billy. "I have no control over my brother and he has no control over me," he said.
On November 4, 1979, it would all seem trivial. A few days earlier, 3,500 Iranian students had marched toward the American Embassy in Tehran, threatening to overtake it.
Narrator: The anti-Shah movement which had began in early 1978 had grown into a full-fledged Islamic Revolution. The Shah was driven into exile, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, became the leader of a new and mysterious, Islamic Republic.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor: I never had any illusions about Khomeini. I didn't have much familiarity with fundamentalist Islam. But I knew he would be a menace.
Gaddis Smith, Historian: If Carter had been more critical of the Shah, conceivably it would have been a little more difficult for the Ayatollah Khomeini to identify the United States as the great Satan, and to say everything that is wrong in Iran is basically the fault of the United States. Maybe the fact that the United States had been a significant player in Iran since 1945 was such that it was too late for Carter or anybody to change the deeply hostile nature of the Iranian revolution. But it might have made a difference.
Narrator: In the first few months of the revolution, Carter had worked to build a relationship with the Khomeini regime. But the history of U.S.-Iranian relations would soon catch up with him.
For months, the deposed Shah of Iran had wandered the Middle East, then Latin America. Ill with cancer, he asked permission to come to the United States for medical treatment.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: There were several of us sitting around the table, talking about whether the President should permit the re-entry of the Shah. We had people tell us that if we let the Shah in, there could be a real negative repercussion in Iran. But the Shah was sort of pathetically flying around the world. And here's this great country saying, "Well, we won't even let you come to one of our hospitals." He went around the room, and a lot of the people said, "Let him in."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor: I argued that he should be allowed in because we treated him as an ally in good times and I felt it was our responsibility to treat him as a former ally, but a friend in bad times. I felt American credibility was at stake.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: And he said, "And if then this revolution moves in a way to take our employees in our embassy hostage, then what would be your advice?" And the room just fell dead.
The Shah arrived in the United States on October 22. Two weeks later, Iranian students seized the American Embassy. Fifty-three Americans were to be held hostage until the United States returned the Shah to Iran.
Everyone awaited word from Khomeini. Seeing an opportunity to consolidate his revolution, the Ayatollah gave his blessing, calling the U.S. Embassy "a den of spies."
Jimmy Carter (archival): The United States of America will not yield to international terrorism or to blackmail.
Pat Caddell, Pollster: It was a defining event. This is the entire United States government captured, and held illegally under international law and being taunted everyday.
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: The whole world saw these images of these people burning American flags, stomping on images of Carter and the most rancid sort of disrespect and hatred of the United States, on television, around the world, all the time.
Narrator: "I would lie awake at night, trying to think of steps I could take to gain the [hostages'] freedom, without sacrificing the honor and security of our nation," the President wrote.
Carter rejected all military options as too risky. "The problem," he said, "is that we could feel good for a few hours -- until we found that they had killed our people."
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: He was determined to bring every one of those men back alive. You see the moralism of Carter, the Christianity affecting his foreign policy making. His belief in each human life having a great sanctity to it. His not wanting to have blood on his hands.
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: Successful statesmen have to balance risks, and sometimes, sometimes a risk to a relatively limited number of lives, down the road saves many, many more lives.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: To react in a way that was strong and powerful would have set us off down a road that no man could say where it might lead. People have a hard time remembering that this was before the Cold War was over. And the possibility of a superpower confrontation in and about Iran had always been there. And now, under these circumstances, it was much higher.
Narrator: The dangers of the Cold War were driven home when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan Christmas Day, 1979. Three years earlier at Notre Dame Carter had declared the United States, "free of that inordinate fear of communism." But Soviet-American relations had soured. Afghanistan was the final blow.
Frank Reynolds (archival): Have you changed your perception of the Russians in the time that you've been here? You started out, it seemed to a good many people, believing that if you expressed your good will and demonstrated it that they would reciprocate.
Jimmy Carter (archival): My opinion of the Russians has changed most drastically in the last week than even the previous two and a half years before that. It's only now dawning upon the world the magnitude of the action that the Soviets undertook in invading Afghanistan.
Gaddis Smith, Historian: I think he had learned that moral affirmation by itself didn't necessarily get very far. I think he felt that events had built up and conspired against him, as they had; and that the Soviet Union was indeed a real threat.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I've cut Soviet access to high-technology equipment and to agricultural products. I've limited other commerce with the Soviet Union.
Narrator: Carter leveled sanctions against the Soviets, boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow, and withdrew his Salt II Treaty from the Senate floor.
Encouraged by Carter's new toughness, Cold Warriors who had organized into the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, arranged a meeting at the White House.
Joshua Muravchik, Director, Coalition for a Democratic Majority: There was a quite high powered delegation of the leaders of CDM, who at that point included Jean Kirkpatrick, who was still a loyal Democrat.
People went into the meeting thinking he'd say there's a threat to world peace that requires an American response and I know you are the kind of people who will give me your support because you've been saying this about the Soviet Union all along. Instead, Carter came in and sort of gave the group a lecture. He said that he understood this group was interested in human rights and that was great, and he supported human rights. We were all terribly disillusioned and I think that almost all of our group -- either publicly or in the privacy of the voting booth -- decided we were going to vote for Reagan.
Reporter (archival): The Iran Crisis: America held hostage. Good evening, the 100th day of captivity for 50 Americans...
Narrator: As spring 1980 approached, the hostages had grown into a national obsession. Their memory kept alive by millions of yellow ribbons.
Reporter (archival): After 100 days, the hostages are still in captivity and the nation shares their ordeal.
Narrator: No stone was left unturned trying to bring them home. While Secretary of State Cyrus Vance dealt with Iranian government officials, Hamilton Jordan met secretly with anyone who held out hope.
"Our lives became a seesaw of emotions as scheme after scheme fell apart," Rosalynn later recalled. "Every time we saw [the hostages] on television, I counted [them]."
Rosalynn Carter: No one can know how much pressure there was on Jimmy to do something about that. And I would say, "Why don't you do something?" And he said, "What would you want me to do?" I said, "Mine the harbors." He said, "Okay, suppose I mine the harbors, and they decide to take one hostage out every day and kill him. What am I going to do then?"
Elizabeth Drew, Journalist: Fairly or not, it came to symbolize the question of whether Carter was a leader, whether he was competent, whether he was strong.
Narrator: By April pressure was growing intense and the situation increasingly hopeless. "We could no longer afford to depend on diplomacy," Carter was forced to conclude. "I knew from an intelligence report that there was little prospect of the hostages' release for the next five or six months... I decided to act."
It was called Desert I. It required six C-130 transport planes, a 90-man rescue team, two C-141 Starlifters, eight helicopters, and nearly impossible logistics.
Betty Glad, Political Scientist: It was a highly risky operation. The CIA even talked about the number of people, including the hostages, who might be killed. But it was doing something.
Narrator: South of Tehran, in the Iranian desert, the rescue mission turned into a disaster. Two helicopters failed, another crashed into a C-130 in a sandstorm.
Eight men died in Desert I. Three more were severely burned.
Jimmy Carter (archival): It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed. The responsibility is fully my own.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: I sort of thought at the time, "Well, people will give the president credit for trying." But I also realized that now the chances of being able to get those people out anytime in the near future was very, very slim and that from a political standpoint that was going to be a heavy burden to bear.
Narrator: In August 1980, President Carter survived the challenge from Senator Edward Kennedy for the Democratic nomination. The campaign had been bitter and divisive, but in the end, Kennedy had seemed too liberal and too tainted by scandal.
Stuart Eizenstat, Advisor: The attack from the left was extremely debilitating and the fact that we had a divided party going into the general election in 1980 against Ronald Reagan was an additional albatross beyond the hostage crisis and beyond inflation.
Ronald Reagan (archival): Jimmy Carter's administration tells us that the descendants of those who sacrificed to start again in this land of freedom may have to abandon the dream that drew their ancestors to a new life in a new land.
Narrator: Republican candidate Ronald Reagan launched his campaign on Labor Day with a broadside attack delivered before an audience of working class Americans.
Ronald Reagan (archival): The Carter record is a litany of despair, of broken promises, of sacred trusts abandoned and forgotten.
Roger Wilkins, Journalist: Reagan was the very formidable fellow. The combination of his beliefs, which were not numerous, but they were clear, and his acting skills really made people sit up and say, "This is, this guy means and believes what he's saying."
Narrator: Carter trailed Reagan by more than 20 points. With the Soviets in Afghanistan, the hostages in Iran, and the economy in shambles, he was vulnerable.
Bert Lance, Former Advisor: We were still going through tough economic circumstances. People were hurting. Interest rates were higher, unemployment was higher, inflation was greater.
Carter Campaign Ad (archival): When you come right down to it, what kind of a person should occupy the Oval Office? Should it be a person who like Ronald Reagan has proposed...
Narrator: Unable to run on his record, Carter went on the attack portraying Reagan as trigger-happy cowboy with his finger on the nuclear button.
Carter Campaign Ad (archival): "Occupation forces" to Rhodesia, and a destroyer to Ecuador to deal with a fishing controversy?
Pat Caddell, Pollster: We didn't have any cards to play because there wasn't any cards to play. We were now trapped by events, trapped by a government that couldn't come up with any ideas, and, and basically we were frustrating the hell out of people. But, they still trusted Jimmy Carter not to blow the world up. And that was our only hope.
Narrator: On October 28, 100 million viewers, the largest audience ever to watch a presidential debate, tuned in. The candidates were running neck and neck.
Jimmy Carter (archival): ...very high medical bill then the insurance would help pay for it. These are the kind of elements of a national health insurance important to the American people. Governor Reagan again, typically is against such a proposal.
Moderator (archival): Governor?
Ronald Reagan (archival): There you go again. When I opposed Medicare...
Pat Caddell, Pollster: He had won it in the first half-hour, by not being crazy. What had happened was you could see the shift in the beginning of the debate, over 90 minutes was a sense of he's not dangerous. That's all he had to do.
Dan Rather (archival): Today, the vigil of the hostages lengthens to one whole year...
Narrator: The Monday before election day played like a nightmare for Jimmy Carter.
News Voices (archival): Leads to this massive humiliation... spelled out conditions for the release of American hostages, now ending their first year in captivity. And the four conditions are the same as those set down as a...
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: A good portion of that weekend leading up to it and all day Monday, Americans were literally having their nose rubbed in this embarrassing, irritating, humiliating situation.
Narrator: Carter campaigned all day and into the night, in Mississippi, Oregon, Washington. He arrived in Seattle at 3 a.m. -- the last rally, the last speech.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: I had stayed on the plane, to finish up something. Before I could get off the phone rang. And it was Hamilton Jordan and Pat Caddell back in Washington. They had seen the tracking polls from that day, and they said, "It's basically over."
Jimmy Carter (archival): The people must decide this election. For your sake and for the sake of your children. Vote. Vote, for yourselves. Tomorrow vote for yourselves, vote democratic, help us, god be with you.
Jody Powell, Press Secretary: I went to hear his speech, thinking that I was the only person there who know that basically the election was over. And that -- we had that we had lost.
Narrator: It was a landslide. Carter won only six states. For the first time in 28 years the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate.
On the last day of his presidency, Jimmy Carter stayed up through the night. A deal with Iran had been reached. The release of the hostages was imminent. A crew from ABC News stood by to record the historic moment.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: He wanted to get these hostages home on his watch. And this was not about getting re-elected anymore. This was about getting this done because he felt so deeply about it. We were in the Oval Office around maybe two in the morning. And nothing happening. Dead silence.
But we got to the time where it was nine in the morning and we had to be at the inaugural. The new president was coming in at 11. And finally we all started running off. And we still had one officer back there with a phone, the hotline, in case there was any news.
Reporter (archival): Is there any word about the hostages? Have they taken off?
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: And he was in contact with Carter all the way up the inaugural route and on the platform. So if there was anything that was positive or negative he'd hear about it.
And of course the story was that Khomeini released them the minute after Reagan was president.
Narrator: January 20, 1981, 3,000 people gathered at the old train depot in Plains to welcome the Carters home.
Betty Pope, Friend: There was a sea of umbrellas, out there in the public, standing in the cold and the rain, waiting for him. And it was a bittersweet day.
Chip Carter, Son: I think they reacted just like anybody else would, that just been rejected by 200 million people. It was one of the toughest times they've ever been through, I think.
Rosalynn Carter: He really was better than I was when we came home because I was so depressed about it that he was always trying to prop me up.
Narrator: The Carters faced trying times. Not only had their dreams been shattered, but the business they had spent a lifetime to build was more than a million dollars in debt.
Betty Pope, Friend: There were some hard days that followed. They were withdrawn. They just wanted to go home and rest and make things better. They needed a healing time.
Narrator: Carter was only 56, was already labeled "a has been," "a shooting star with not even a tail left to fizzle."
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: The things that they had once loved about him, his piety and his simplicity and his kind of moral goodness, they now despised as weakness and moral superiority. They just couldn't stand him.
James Laney, FMR President, Emory University: It wasn't just that he was unpopular. People avoided him. This is hard to say and hard to believe today, people didn't want to associate with him.
Narrator: "It seemed astounding," Rosalynn observed, "that after years of important events and decisions, the most important thing could be whether the brick walk we were building from our house to the street was crooked or straight..."
Chip Carter, Son: Dad had a woodworking shop and spent quite a lot of hours out there, working with a piece of lumber. He can make a piece of lumber sing. And a lot of it's just because of the meticulous care that he puts into everything he's done.
Dan Carter, Historian: If there was ever a individual who the maxim of the idle -- "an idle mind is the devil's workshop" -- Carter would perfectly exemplify that. He's one of these people who simply never rests, and never has, I think. So the question was not whether he was going to do something after he left the White House. The question was what was he going to do.
Narrator: The Carters settled in to write their memoirs, and to make plans to build a presidential library. But Carter had little enthusiasm for building what he called "a monument to myself."
Rosalynn Carter: One night I woke up and Jimmy was sitting straight up in the bed. This is after we'd been home about a year. And I said, "What's the matter?" I thought he was sick because he always sleeps all night, even in the White House. He can turn things off and go to sleep. And he said, "I know what we can do at the library. We can have a place to resolve conflicts." And so that was the germ of the idea for what became the Carter Center.
Narrator: Inspired by his success in the Camp David Accords, Carter envisioned a place where he could host world leaders and mediate civil wars and political disputes.
At a cost of 28 million dollars, the Carter Center would span 35 acres, include an arboretum, a lake, and room enough for a staff of more then 100.
James Laney, FMR President, Emory University: When he set up the Carter Center, he shared with me his vision and I thought, oh no that, that's so grandiose. Frankly, I was embarrassed for him. He was at the nadir of popularity.
Andrew Young, U.N. Ambassador: Jimmy Carter was told that it would be impossible for him to get into the Naval Academy. He was told that it would be impossible for him to get elected governor. And when he announced for the presidency, even the Atlanta Constitution had a headline saying, "Jimmy is running for what?" So all of his life, he had done the impossible. And this was just another challenge.
Narrator: Carter's political resurrection began unexpectedly with a quiet act. Just a few miles from Plains, building houses for the poor through an organization called Habitat for Humanity.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Carter became surprised at the success of Habitat. He loves to build. He's a carpenter; it's his hobby. So, it fit naturally to his own inclination. Then he started getting great press.
Narrator: In the summer of 1984, when he and Rosalynn led a busload of Georgians to New York City to rebuild a tenement on the Lower East Side, it was front page news in the New York Times.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: It was in stark contrast to kind of the so called greed decade of the 80s to see somebody not looking to make big speaking fees, not looking to sit on corporate boards. It's just something about an ex-president being so humble, in blue jeans, with a hammer, sleeping in cots and building houses for the poor. It's an image seared on our imaginations.
Andrew Young, U.N. Ambassador: When you're there as a private citizen, and when you're there because of your faith, there's something nice and fresh and humble about that. And it's a language people understand.
Narrator: Four years after his humiliating defeat, the image of Jimmy Carter the failed president, was giving way to Jimmy Carter, the committed Christian in the service of the poor.
Ronald Reagan (archival): So it is when we dedicate this center, Mr. President, we dedicate an institution that testifies as does your life itself to the goodness of God and to the blessings he bestows upon those who do their best to walk with him.
Narrator: In 1986, at the inauguration of the Carter Center, President Reagan expressed the growing respect many now felt for the man they had once rejected.
Through the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter would launch his new career as an elder statesman, monitoring elections throughout the world.
Jimmy Carter (archival): I examined the documents myself in the presence of election officials. They were patently counterfeit. They had nothing to do with the actual documents...
Narrator: His prestige restored, he returned to the role that had given meaning to his presidency: Peacemaker.
James Laney, FMR President, Emory University: Carter has a profound, almost innate commitment to peace. It's in his bones. He really believes Theodore Roosevelt's adage that one should walk softly and carry a big stick. But don't be afraid to walk into the lion's den. And he does that. He's done it repeatedly.
Narrator: In Haiti, Carter convinced military strongman Raoul Cedras to step down in favor of the democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: Carter believes that there's goodness in all people. And that even the biggest sinner, today's brutal dictator can take Christ into their heart and be born again tomorrow. They can be saved.
Jimmy Carter (archival): We are very glad to be back in Haiti. A country obviously dedicated to peace, human rights and democracy.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: So even Cedras who was considered a brutal thug by the US government, Carter felt that he could appeal to his sense of what is right and what is wrong. This caused Carter a lot of criticism, coddling dictators around the world.
Narrator: In May 2002, Jimmy Carter went to Cuba: the first American president to visit the island in over 40 years.
Jimmy Carter (archival): [In Spanish] As the more powerful nation, the United States should take the first step.
Narrator: In an address broadcast throughout Cuba, he defied President George W. Bush, by calling for an end to the decades old U.S. trade Embargo.
Jimmy Carter (archival): [In Spanish] I hope Congress will act soon to end the trade embargo.
I don't know what's going to happen with...
Narrator: But he also challenged Cuban President Fidel Castro to institute democratic reforms.
Jimmy Carter (archival): ...I think it would be very good if your officials would decide to publish the entire document and let there be a free and open debate in Cuba.
Narrator: In his travels throughout the world, Carter has championed the cause of the poor and disenfranchised.
Dan Carter, Historian: He speaks, often eloquently and angrily, about the growing gap between rich and poor, and black and white. This very cautious and conservative, fiscally responsible President -- you hear him sometimes now and you think we've got the last socialist in America.
Narrator: With the Carter Center, President and Mrs. Carter have created programs to fight disease -- river blindness, guinea worm -- and alleviate hunger.
Chip Carter, Son: They have so much to give, and they feel like so many people depend on them. And they'll come in and see somebody that has nothing, and think, "Hey, I can change that life."
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: Being a good post-president doesn't retrospectively make you a better president. What a post-presidency can do though is to illuminate which aspects of a president's character were real and which were phony. All of his strengths -- perseverance, dedication, integrity, those have all turned out to be very, very real.
Bert Lance, Former Advisor: He never lied to the American people. He kept the peace. He brought the hostages home without loss of life. All the things he said he was going to do. It was a time when we needed that sort of person as president, that people could put some faith and trust in.
Douglas Brinkley, Historian: What was Carter? He never had a kind of nutshell program. He had no interest in either the new deal tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, or the New Frontier tradition of John Kennedy, or the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. He never crystallized a great agenda of what he wanted to do. He simply tackled issues as they confronted him one by one by one.
Rosalynn Carter: We have not had time to look back and regret things, although I still the country would be better off if Jimmy had been President for another term. But then if he had been President for another term, we might not have had the Carter Center.
Walter Mondale, Vice-President: He's been at it full-time, around the clock, with that same dedication, that same laser-like concentration, until finally now the American people are seeing all of this happen, and people say, "Hey, here's a really good man."
Hendrik Hertzberg, Speechwriter: I think history is going to look at him in a kindlier light than his contemporaries did. His values, his devotion to peace and human rights, keep on resonating in a way that his failures and weaknesses don't.
Slate: On October 11, 2002, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Nobel Committee cited Carter's "untiring effort" to resolve conflicts peacefully and to advance human rights throughout the world.