What Were Jimmy Carter’s Failures?

Carter failed to capitalize on his early successes, form alliances with Congress and connect with the American people. He also failed to understand how government operated and the importance of compromise. Few presidents have started their term under such favorable political conditions as Carter. With Democrat majorities in both houses, he fulfilled most of his campaign promises within a few months of taking office.

Despite early successes, Carter failed to form alliances with Congressional leaders and secure passage of key legislation. He overlooked high-ranking party members and filled his cabinet with political outsiders who failed to develop working relationships with legislators. He further alienated Congressional leaders by refusing to compromise his ideals or negotiate differences. He refused to engage in “back-door” deals and vetoed bills that he considered wasteful spending. Congress reacted by gutting his tax plans, overriding vetoes and blocking energy initiatives and welfare reform plans.

Carter also failed to translate his early successes into support from the American people, often appearing smug and condescending when he spoke, even to supporters. When he delivered his “malaise” speech during the energy crisis of 1979, he seemed to be scolding the public and blaming them for the crisis rather than proposing solutions or espousing policy. Asking Americans to drive slower, set thermostats lower and do without Christmas lights did little to inspire confidence. After foreign policy failures such as the prolonged Iranian hostage crisis and botched rescue attempt, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, many Americans saw their government as weak, ineffectual and no longer commanding respect.