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Jimmy Carter
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Domestic Politics under the Carter Presidency

  • Carter wanted to introduce a new style of presidency
  • Broke with tradition after his inauguration by walking with his wife along Pennsylvania to the White House
  • He had won the election partly because he was an outsider from a Southern state
  • His inexperience in dealing with a Democrat dominated Congress created major problems
  • He lacked a clear policy and this, and his lack of optimism, added to his problems in the future
  • He saw the present as one big emergency and the future as marked by a sharp diminution of promise of American life

Economic Policy

  • He used ‘demand side’ policies to stimulate the economy
  • These had been the basis of US macroeconomic policy since WW2 but high fuel prices and foreign competition caused the US recession from the early 1970s
  • This caused inflation and unemployment (stagflation)
  • Stimulating demand with increased consumer spending served to increase inflation and the purchase of imports such as cars
  • In the first years of the new Presidency unemployment dropped from 8% to 7%
  • Inflation kept rising though – 10% by end 1978 and 13% by 1980
  • Interest rates were 20%
  • Inflation rate boosted in 1979 because of the Iranian revolution and fall of the Shah
  • Also led to OPEC doubling the price of oil
  • 23rd October 1979 Carter given power by Congress to ration petrol
  • There was a nationwide reaction against a big-spending government
  • 1978 a referendum in California accepted proposition 13 to cut taxes
  • Other states followed

Changes in Government

  • Carter had some successes
  • Increased the number of people from ethnic minorities in government
  • Highest profile appointment was that of Andrew Young as US ambassador to the UN
  • Carter created the new Energy Department
  • 1979 divided the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) into the separate departments of Education, Health and Human Services

1980 Elections

  • Carter became first one-term President since WW2
  • Lost 1980 election for number of reasons:
  • Foreign affairs – US embassy staff in Iran taken hostage (not released till Jan 19810. He took responsibility for the failed military mission to free them
  • 1979 USSR invaded Afghanistan
  • Decision to boycott 1980 Moscow Olympics only added to his problems
  • Economy in recession – high interest rates, inflation and unemployment

Reagan

  • Carter’s opponent in the election
  • Conservative Republican
  • Former governor of California
  • Supported new approach to the economy – ‘supply side’ economics
  • Supported by fundamentalist religious groups - had grown in influence during 1970s
  • Most influential – the ‘moral majority’ pressure group run by Rev. Jerry Falwell
  • Backed also by women’s groups opposed to feminism
  • Led by Phyllis Schafly and the National Right to Life Committee
  • Latter had 11 million members by 1980
  • The election proved to be the biggest rejection of an incumbent president since Hoover’s defeat in 1932
  • Republicans won control of the Senate for first time since 1952
  • Gained 33 seats in the House
  • Main cause of this Republican landslide was the discontent with unemployment, inflation and the poor performance of the economy
  • Also the voters wanted a stronger foreign policy and decisive leadership
  • This election heralded a fundamental change in US domestic history
  • The two terms of Reagan’s presidency became known as ‘The Reagan Revolution’
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