In this article, Jimmy Carter is a remarkable figure in American history. He is the oldest living former president of the United States, having celebrated his 99th birthday on October 1, 2023. He is also the longest-lived president in U.S. history, surpassing George H. W. Bush in March 2019. But Carter’s longevity is not the only thing that makes him stand out. He has also defied all odds in his political and humanitarian career, overcoming challenges and setbacks with resilience and grace.
From Navy to Politics
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Carter was born and raised in Plains, Georgia, a small town in the rural south. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946 and joined the U.S. Navy’s submarine service. He served under Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy, and was selected for the nuclear submarine program. However, he decided to resign from the navy in 1953 after his father’s death and returned to Georgia to take over his family’s peanut-growing business.
Carter became involved in politics as a way of expressing his opposition to racial segregation and supporting the civil rights movement. He served as a Georgia state senator from 1963 to 1967 and then as governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975. As governor, he reformed the state government, promoted environmental protection, expanded educational opportunities, and appointed more women and minorities to public office.
A Surprise Victory
In 1976, Carter ran for president as a dark-horse candidate who was not well known outside of Georgia. He campaigned as an outsider who could bring honesty and integrity to Washington, D.C., and appealed to voters who were disillusioned by the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. He won the Democratic nomination and narrowly defeated incumbent Republican president Gerald Ford in the general election.
Carter’s presidency was marked by several achievements and challenges. He pardoned all Vietnam War draft evaders on his second day in office. He created a national energy policy that included conservation, price control, and new technology. He successfully pursued the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, the Panama Canal Treaties, which transferred control of the canal to Panama, and the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), which limited nuclear weapons between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
However, Carter also faced many difficulties at home and abroad. He confronted stagflation, a combination of high inflation and unemployment that eroded his popularity. He established the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Education, but faced resistance from Congress on other domestic issues. His foreign policy was challenged by the 1979–1981 Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held captive by Iranian revolutionaries for 444 days. He also dealt with the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island accident, a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania, the Nicaraguan Revolution, which toppled a U.S.-backed dictator, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which prompted him to end détente, impose a grain embargo against the Soviets, enunciate the Carter Doctrine, which declared that any attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf would be met by U.S. military intervention, and lead a multinational boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.
Carter’s presidency ended with a landslide defeat by Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.
A Legacy of Service
After leaving office, Carter did not retire from public life. Instead, he devoted himself to diplomacy and advocacy, founding The Carter Center in 1982 with his wife Rosalynn. The Carter Center is a non-governmental organization that works to advance human rights, democracy, health, and peace around the world. Carter has been involved in numerous missions to monitor elections, mediate conflicts, promote development, and eradicate diseases such as Guinea worm and river blindness.
Carter has also been a prolific writer and speaker, publishing more than 30 books on various topics such as politics, religion, history, poetry, and memoirs. He has received many honors and awards for his work, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts” and his “vital role in advancing democracy and human rights”.
Carter has also shown remarkable courage and faith in facing personal challenges. In 2015, he announced that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer and that he had only months to live. However, he underwent treatment and announced that he was cancer-free in 2016. He continued to teach Sunday school at his local church and participate in humanitarian projects, such as building houses for Habitat for Humanity. He also survived a fall in 2019 that required stitches and a hip surgery in 2020.
Jimmy Carter is an inspiration to many people who admire his humility, compassion, and dedication. He is a living example of how one can overcome adversity and make a positive difference in the world. He is truly the oldest living president who defied all odds.