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Regan V Carter

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The election of 1980 was a key turning point in American politics. To present day, American’s still have strong feelings and opinions about their former President, Jimmy Carter. The result from the 1980 election, led to the appointment of Ronald Reagan as the 40th President of the United States of America, and the Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time in twenty-five years. There are several reasons behind the animosity of American’s towards Jimmy Carter at the time and in present day. Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party were preferred over President Carter and the Democratic Party due to international and domestic issues that were occurring at the time of the 1980 election. The international issues were centred round the Iran Hostage situation, the Panama Canal Treaties and President Carter’s actions towards the Soviet Government. On the home front, the President was under scrutiny by the public due to his political pardons and his handling of the economy including high inflation rates and high unemployment. President Carter was also under scrutiny from conservative political and religious groups as to his �liberal’ policies that he had enacted during his term in office. In addition to the previous mentioned topics, the personality traits of Jimmy Carter were also examined during the 1980 election.

Jimmy Carter came to office after the presidential election of 1976, which followed the resignation of President Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Carter’s campaign had him depicted as a Washington �outsider’ and a reformer, which connected to the American public following the incidents of the Nixon administration. Carter was the first presidential candidate elected directly from the Deep South since 1948.

On President Carter’s first full day in office, he fulfilled his most controversial campaign promise. Carter granted a full presidential pardon to all Vietnam-era draft resisters. The director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars called it �the saddest day in American history.’

Carter was faced with specific economic problems, a rise in interest rates, and a rapid inflation along with growing unemployment. Jimmy Carter inherited an economy that was slowly emerging from a recession. During the 1976 presidential campaign, Carter had criticized President Ford for his failures to control inflation and alleviate unemployment. In spite of this, by the time of the 1980 election, inflation and unemployment were significantly worse than those during the Ford presidency.

During the early months of 1980 the most serious domestic problem was inflation. The runaway price of oil triggered by the Iranian revolution had brought rapid increases in the inflation rate throughout the world. In the first quarter of the year, the wholesale price index had increased more than 25 per cent in Italy, Great Britain, and Japan, and more than 13 per cent in West Germany, where for decades the control of inflation had been a prime consideration. Our rate of increase, at 20 per cent, was slightly better than most. Still, what we shared the problem with others did not help us; we had to do something about inflation in the United States.

The annual inflation rate rose from 4.8 per cent in 1976 to 6.8 per cent in 1977, 9 per cent in 1978, 11 per cent in 1979, and hovered around 12 per cent at the time of the 1980 election campaign. Carter had vowed to eliminate federal deficits; the 1979 economic year totaled US$27.7 billion; however the 1980 economic year deficits totaled nearly US$59 billion.

The wavering economy was due to a certain extent to the energy crisis that had begun in the early 1970s. The inflation rises resulted predominantly from escalating prices for energy, especially oil. The president warned that Americans were wasting too much energy and that domestic supplies of oil and natural gas were running out and that foreign supplies of petroleum were subject to embargoes by the producing nations. Oil prices rose dramatically, which led to long lines at petrol stations, tainted the nation’s love affair with large vehicles and threatened the “freedom” of the open road. Carter could do little to help the situation which further enraged the American population. Carter saw the energy crisis as a crisis of the spirit of America and on July 15 1979 gave a nationally televised address to the nation;

I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.... I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might. ...

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. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation...

I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel.

Ronald Reagan used the energy crisis as a platform for his campaign “Our problem isn’t a shortage of oil; it’s a surplus of government.”

Inflation rises coincided with the rise of the unemployment rate. With approximately 8 million people out of work, the unemployment rate had leveled off to a nationwide average of about 7.7% by the time of the election campaign, but it was considerably higher in some industrial states. Business leaders and the public alike placed the blame for the sky rocketing unemployment rate on the head of Carter, claiming that he did not have a sound strategy for controlling inflation, without causing an increase in unemployment. During a televised debate, Reagan struck a blow at Carter’s handling, or lack there of, of the economy; “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

John Patrick Diggins, summarises the national reasons as to why the American public elected Reagan over Carter in 1980, in Ronald Reagan, Fate, Freedom, and the making of History;

The American people elected Reagan to relieve the country from the frustration of the Carter presidency, particularly the…high gasoline prices, and high inflation and interest rates.

President Carter was faced with a collection of international issues before and during the presidential campaign of 1980. The Republican



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