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Jackson: Everything starts with a dream.
Carter: My name is Jimmy Carter and I'm running for President Crowd: (cheering) Narrator: In 1976, a peanut farmer from Georgia had the audacity to believe that he could change the world.
Stuart Eizenstat: This is someone who, for public service served in the Naval Academy.
Andrew Young: That was not only a serious responsibility, that was a sacred responsibility.
Jimmy Carter: Every president faces that challenge of not starting a nuclear war that could lead to the killing of every human being on earth.
At this point, the vote looks very favorable to us.
(loud cheering) Narrator: He governed with purpose, unwilling to let the power of his position change his objectives.
Stuart Eizenstat: He served as a Governor.
Carter: I'll never tell a lie, I'll never make a misleading statement.
Young: No politician talked like that Brian Williams: He was decades ahead of his time.
Young: He wasn't interested in the politics.
He wanted to know what is right.
Eizenstat: He served as a President.
Jimmy Carter: I told you I didn't intend to lose!
David Letterman: The force that he actually does possess, is greater than any hundred men I know.
Jason Carter: He certainly told the truth at all costs.
Reporter: 'I've committed adultery in my heart many times,' Mr. Carter says.
Eizenstat: We had many victories.
Jimmy Carter: In support of human rights, the United States will stand firm.
Eizenstat: We had many defeats.
Crowd: (chanting) Narrator: In a few short months, his thriving Presidency would crash and burn in the Iranian desert, leaving Jimmy Carter's life's mission in fragments.
Carter: The responsibility is fully my own.
Amber Roessner: The press, by the end of the Carter administration, were pretty horrible.
♪ Jonathan Alter: He lost overwhelmingly, I mean, a blow out.
Reverend Tony Lowden: The country rejected him, but he still wanted to serve.
♪ Letterman: He is a handful of people that will be remembered for his behavior toward his fellow man.
Narrator: The result, a post-presidency, that would impact the lives of millions in ways that may never be matched.
Alter: This combined to create an epic American life story and to set him up to be the most misunderstood President in American history.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Letterman: The pride that goes into Habitat For Humanity, it's not a project, it's a home.
Garth Brooks: We're opening the Nashville build for Habitat.
Trisha Yearwood: So it is our honor tonight to introduce to you the hardest working volunteers.
Lowden: People from all around the country was here.
Garth Brooks: We get the news that... - They're rushing President Carter to the hospital.
Yearwood: --and they're saying, he probably won't be at the opening ceremony.
I know they have these fancy titles, but for us, we are honored to call them our friends.
Mr. Jimmy and Miss Rosalynn Carter.
(audience cheering loudly) ♪ (soft music) ♪ Brooks: Well, he's at the opening ceremony, and he gives one hell of a speech!
J. Carter: I got up this morning at home in Plains gettin' ready to go to church, and I fell down and hit my forehead on a sharp edge.
Lowden: He goes in, he gets 13 stitches, convinced the doctors to release him, and gets on a plane, and go and build 20 homes.
J. Carter: It took 14 stitches in my forehead, but I had a number one priority, and that was to come to Nashville to build houses!
Audience: (cheering) Rev.
Lowden: He was not gonna allow a fall to stop him.
That's who he is.
He don't allow anything to stop him.
Eizenstat: His strength was a steely determination based on a moral, ethical, and even religious basis to help people.
Letterman: It's impossible not to reflect on his presidency, knowing what you know about him today.
(saw whirring) Young: For the first time in 50 years, what you're doing here, somebody's trying to really understand his story.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ (soft piano music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Kim Fuller: When Jimmy Carter was a boy, Plains was much smaller, and the streets were dirt, one or two, maybe three stores, horses tied up downtown-- It was a very slow-pace.
The houses were sparse, it was just very rural.
Farm people, basically.
Alter: He was born in 1924, but it might as well been the 19th century.
Jill Stuckey: They moved into this house when he was about three or four years old.
Alter: No running water, no electricity, no mechanized farm equipment.
His father had a system that was just one step up from slavery, with sharecroppers.
Stuckey: He interacted with African-American sharecroppers.
They grew peanuts and cotton and corn and... ...all kind of things.
Chip Carter: I was too young to know my grandfather, but he had a reputation as a conservative narrow- minded racist.
A. Gillespie: James Carter Sr was a man of his time.
He firmly believed in the social hierarchy that put whites at the top of society.
Alter: His father was a white supremacist, but his mother, who was a nurse, who took care of Black patients for free.
Chip Carter: End up gettin' paid with a chicken or some eggs or vegetables.
Sam Donaldson: His mother Miss Lillian taught her son, that the way to go was not to be the typical Southerner still fighting the Civil War.
Young: His values came in large measure from his mother and also the Black men and women who raised him.
He was working on the farm, all of his life with poor Black people, whose education was all grounded in the Bible.
Mary Prince: Miss Lillian taught President Carter that everybody was equal.
Didn't matter what color their skin was.
Lowden: And that's this whole... the seed that was sowed into him when he was a child.
Alter: And he really had a third parent, an illiterate Black farmhand named Rachel Clark.
♪ (soft music) ♪ Prince: Everybody in the neighborhood loved her.
You couldn't help but fall in love with her.
♪ And she would take President Carter fishin'.
♪ Jimmy Carter: When work was done, sometimes she'd smile at me and mention fish.
These journeys gave us ample time to talk.
Prince: He'll tell you right now that she taught him a lot.
J. Carter: I would listen to her words about God's holy way.
How when we deal with nature, we are stewards of the earth, and say the brave and strongest need not fight.
Those might have been the best days I have known.
Lowden: He was always sayin', she made one of the greatest impacts, in his life, ever.
This Black woman.
♪ Stuckey: Jimmy met Rosalynn when he was just three years-old, Rosalynn lived next door.
His mother helped birth Rosalynn.
Jimmy walked next door, and he peeked over the bassinet and looked at his future wife.
They grew up together.
They both liked to have a good time.
They loved music.
Rosalynn, especially loves politics.
that small town girl had no idea what she was in for.
♪ ♪ (soft music) ♪ Alter: From a pretty young age, he wanted to go to the U.S.
Young: There was something special for a kid from Plains, Georgia to get in the Naval Academy.
Eizenstat: Once he got in, he did very, very well.
He was in the top 10% of his class.
And here is an another racial issue-- Andra Gillespie: During the period in which Carter is at Annapolis, the first Black who was going to graduate from the Naval Academy matriculates.
Alter: A midshipman named Wesley Brown.
He and Carter are on the cross-country team together.
And Brown is harassed, hazed.
Carter, defends him.
Brown remembers that and mentions it in a book that he later wrote.
Carter is an outsider.
He's always been an outsider his whole life.
Eizenstat: Then he decided he wanted to step up and go into the submarine force, created by Admiral Hyman Rickover.
Brian Williams: Jimmy Carter, raised unter the tutelage of Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy.
That explains so much about Jimmy Carter, looking back.
Eizenstat: Rickover was as tough as nails.
I met him many times.
Rickover was extremely important in his life.
It taught him discipline, service to the country, no room for error.
When you work with Admiral Rickover, you are realizing every day, that you are developing the capacity to blow up the planet.
That was a sacred responsibility.
Stuckey: Between naval missions, the Carters had three boys.
Jimmy and Rosalynn were starting a family, and it was good, everything was really good.
And then it all changed.
Chip Carter: His father got very ill.
So we went to Plains on a hardship for a month, for dad to spend time with his father.
♪ (slow music) ♪ Sam Donaldson: The father died and that's why Jimmy Carter had to resign from the Navy, to run the peanut warehouse and run the business.
Chip Carter: They moved back to Georgia, but he was shocked.
(protesters shouting) Donaldson: It was the start of the great civil rights movement.
Dr. King: We must be willing to fill up the jails all over the state of Georgia!
Crowd: (cheering) A.B.
Jackson: We spoke up for what was right.
Blacks deserved the same treatment.
Young: The Black community, we were determined to fight segregation and discrimination, the same rights for everybody that white men get.
Andra Gillespie: They did so at the risk of being harassed, of having physical violence threatened, of having ketchup smeared on them, of having people try to put cigarette butts out on their person.
Young: You had to make a decision about what you were willing to risk your life for.
It wasn't an easy thing.
It was a life and death decision.
Reporter: Some 2,500 marchers stepped off.
Sam Donaldson: Southerners, the whites, the large number of them resisted it.
They wanted the Black people to be kept in their place.
Recording: "Well gentlemen, that's a beautiful sight to me, I don't know about everybody else, but that (inaudible)."
Alter: He tries and fails to integrate his church, but most of the rest of the time he is ducking the movement.
It's too dangerous.
There's an interracial farm near where he lived.
Klansmen and others would spray bullets across this interracial farm.
So, Carter and his family were fearing for their personal safety.
Young: You can be a liberal in Connecticut without gettin' your house shot up.
You can't be a liberal in the South without running that risk!
(crowd chanting) Sam Donaldson: People used to say Jimmy Carter was a wimp.
Jimmy Carter was not a wimp!
You, if you wanted one guy in your corner, when there's a real fight coming on, I want Jimmy!
Carter: I was very idealistic.
I was raised in an African-American culture, and I saw the devastating effect then of racial segregation.
I just wanted African-American and White children to go to school together.
That was the reason that I went into politics to begin with.
♪ ♪ (soft piano music) ♪ Chip Carter: It was the early sixties, we were all sitting at home.
He was putting on his suit in the middle of the week.
Mom asked, 'What are you doing?
We're not goin' to church.'
He said, 'Oh, I've decided to run for the State Senate.'
And he would announce that day, that was when she found out.
(chuckles) ♪ ♪ Alter: On election night, he won, and then he went to Atlanta as a Georgia State Senator.
His senatorial district in Georgia was thousands of people.
Jimmy Carter was starting to think of a constituency as a congregation.
Eizenstat: He believed in Christ's social gospel.
Alter: He could both achieve some of his secular goals on education and reforming Georgia state government, but also fulfill his own internal sense of mission.
♪ (mellow piano music) ♪ ♪ ♪ In 1966, he ran for Governor of Georgia.
And he ran as a kind of a, a moderate Democrat.
Eizenstat: This was very much a part of his Christian faith, of his moral and ethical code.
Lester Maddox: I'm not going to integrate!
(crowd shouting) Alter: He lost to a segregationist, Lester Maddox.
Lester Maddox: This is a great victory for the people of Georgia.
Alter: At that point, Carter was depressed and he had something of a crisis of faith.
In 1968, he went on two different Baptist missions in the North and he went door to door as a Christian missionary.
At one point, he even came upon a brothel, and he tried to convert the Madam to Christ.
He learned a lot about himself, his faith deepened, and he concluded that his mission from God was to be the best politician that he could be.
You know, at one point Carter said to me, 'I had a choice.
I could denounce segregationists, or I could be Governor of Georgia.'
And he chose the latter.
♪ (upbeat music) ♪ Jill Stucky: So now it's the end of the sixties.
The Carter's fourth child, Amy is born, and Jimmy found himself reenergized and ready to run for Governor-- --one more time.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ ♪ Carter: Come here, let me meet ya', I'm Jimmy Carter.
Man: Well yes, I recognize you.
Carter: Thank you, I'm glad to see you!
Tell me your name?
Man: Charlie Staiten.
Eizenstat: When he ran for Governor the second time, he needed to get conservative whites.
Roessner: He was running as an ultra conservative, on a somewhat redneck racist platform.
Eizenstat: He had to be very careful running for Governor, not to offend conservative whites, at the same time, as he had that balancing act.
Journalist: Campaign aides say Jimmy Carter has not had a schedule tighter than today's schedule this entire campaign.
Roessner: But behind the scenes, Carter was telling a lot of his anti-racist supporters, 'You're not gonna like a lot of what you hear me say.
I promise you're gonna love what I do as a Governor.'
Eizenstat: And then, when he was finally elected, it was like liberating him.
(supporters cheering) Carter: Well, I think um-- at this point the vote looks very favorable to us.
(cheering, clapping) At the end of a long campaign, I believe I know our people, of this state, as well as anyone could.
I say to you quite frankly, time for racial discrimination is over.
(smattering of applause) Jason Carter: He announced to gasps in the crowd... Roessner: Shocked his racist supporters.
Andra Gillespie: People had implicit expectations about how they thought that Carter was going to govern.
So when he makes this pronouncement at his inauguration, some people may have thought that that was a bit of a bait-and-switch.
Alter: His white supporters walked out of the inaugural celebration.
They felt betrayed by Carter.
Black Georgians who were in attendance, they turned to each other and they said, 'He said, what?'
Jackson: It meant a whole lot.
For him to make a statement like that, lets me know what kind of person he is, lets me know that I can trust him.
Jason Carter: My grandfather grew up knowing racial discrimination was wrong.
But feeling powerless in some ways to change the entire system.
But the first taste he got of real power, he began the process.
♪ Alter: He becomes a very progressive Governor.
Young: He put Martin Luther King's picture up in the state Capitol.
Andra Gillespie: The Ku Klux Klan comes to protest.
Sam Donaldson: ...in white sheets, marched and whooped and hollered outside.
So I looked at him and thought, well, this is not that kind of southerner.
Alter: He appointed Black judges for the first time.
He hired African-Americans for his office.
Basically, integrated Georgia government.
He has a reputation as being somebody who connects to the Black community.
Eizenstat: Frankly, none of us realized at the time, that he had his eye on higher sites, that is the Presidency.
Chip Carter: We were living in the Governor's mansion.
One of the cool perks of being a Governor is that he was able to invite candidates who were running for President to come by and spend the night in the Governor's mansion.
And we were able to sit around at night and talk to these candidates one-on-one.
Eizenstat: And as he talked to them, he said, "I know more than they do.
I have to implement these programs that they're passing."
Alter: He starts to think, "You know what I'm smarter than a lot of these guys.
I actually understand where the rubber meets the road in government.
Why shouldn't I run for President?"
Eizenstat: Rosalynn was totally taken aback.
So he took everyone by surprise.
Chip Carter: He brought us all in and convinced us that he could win.
Eizenstat: I mean, it was an unbelievable statement of self-determination and self-confidence.
Sam Donaldson: He held a news conference in 1974, in which he declared for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
And everybody sort of laughed.
Alter: There was a headline in the Atlanta Constitution, 'Jimmy Carter is running for WHAT?'
♪ Sam Donaldson: Jimmy who?
he wants to do what?
Man 1: Jimmy who?
Man 2: Jimmy who?
- I don't know who he is!
Woman: I heard he was a... a peanut farmer.
Steven Ford: I don't really remember hearing about Jimmy Carter, particularly as a candidate.
It was kind of mixed in with all the... ...the other Democrats.
Alter: When he first started running, they were running against much better-known Democrats.
Sam Donaldson: Some real powerhouses in the Democratic party, going to seek that nomination.
Alter: Senators who had real national profiles, were good candidates and had a lot of support.
So Carter, he was starting at 0% in the polls!
Sam Donaldson: Coming from the small southern state, everybody knew that he couldn't be the nominees of the party, only one person didn't get the message: Jimmy Carter.
(chuckles) Carter: I want the people of this country to know my character, my strengths and my weaknesses, my stand on the issues.
If I can measure up to what the American people want our government to be, I'll be elected.
♪ (soft guitar music) ♪ J. Carter: Jimmy Carter from Georgia.
I hope to be your next President.
Chip Carter: I think he had some advantages that other people didn't see.
Young: He talked to people like he was teaching his Sunday school class in Plains.
Carter: How many of you have mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers who are over 18 years old?
(kids laughing) Young: It was authentic, even in a Southern accent.
J. Carter: You could get me more votes than an adult, couldn't you?
Young: No politician talked like that.
Chip Carter: And my father would walk into a crowd of farmers and know the cost of fertilizer and herbicides, exactly what it was and how much you had to put out per acre, and he could make people laugh with that kind of stuff.
Alter: On the campaign trail, whatever town that supporter lived in, he would stay at their homes overnight.
Woman: I picture him him like one of us, one of the working people, one of the common people.
Alter: So, he developed a series of techniques at winning over small groups.
♪ Donaldson: The Peanut Brigade were a bunch of Georgians who dressed up, not as a peanut, but they would go out and knock on doors.
- Hello, are you Mrs. Carr?
- Yes, yes.
Young: I don't know how many Peanut Brigaders there were... ...people left Georgia, on their own money, and went up North.
♪ Chip Carter: Basically friends of my parents, that had a South Georgia accent, that was impossible to hide.
Woman: If we had snow on the ground like this, we'd be paralyzed for a week, we couldn't get out of house.
Sam Donaldson: In the old days, before internet, going door-to-door was still the way you got elected.
Chip Carter: It made a huge difference.
(crowd chanting) "We're number one!"
Alter: The big contest is going to be in Florida.
♪ Alter: He is facing former Governor George Wallace.
Andra Gillespie: George Wallace was Governor of Alabama.
He was an ardent segregationist.
Alter: And when Jimmy Carter beat George Wallace in Florida... (crowd cheering) Sam Donaldson: Now, attention must be paid!
(crowd cheering) Reporter: From 'Jimmy Who' to Jimmy Carter, serious contender for the White House in four months.
♪ ♪ (dramatic music) ♪ Gillespie: The Congressional Black Caucus was formed because the African-American members of Congress were finding that they weren't getting good committee assignments.
Young: It was our custom to meet with all of the candidates in a little room behind the Speaker's desk.
They didn't even want to meet with Governor Carter.
And they said, 'we're not going to support any Georgia cracker.'
And I said, 'I've agreed to meet with all of these crackers you've been bringing in here.'
When he came in, they asked him, 'How many Blacks do you have on your staff?'
And Carter didn't know, but had actually 27.
Well, every other liberal who had been there had one Black person on their staff, except for the most liberal person, who said he was looking for one.
That was what won them over.
Sam Donaldson: On the final Tuesday in June, there were three big primaries.
He won Ohio by 7,000 votes and mayor Daley and George C. Wallace in the house proclaimed him the nominee of the Democratic Party, and indeed he was!
Carter: My name is Jimmy Carter and I'm running for President.
(crowd cheering) Being from the South was not the handicap that many people thought it would be.
♪ (soft piano music) ♪ Brian Williams: Jimmy Carter was... ...America's cleanse.
We were showering off the film and the filth of the vestiges of Vietnam, the vestiges of Watergate-- Gerald Ford gave us the quote, 'Our long national nightmare was over.'
Roessner: The landscape of the news media was shifting in this particular moment.
After Vietnam, after Watergate, the working press is primed to be more investigative.
It's primed to be more adversarial.
Carter takes all of the news media, the traveling press, campaign journalists, down to Plains, Georgia.
Sam Donaldson: We were invited to meet Carter's family back in Plains.
♪ Roessner: He and his campaign staff saw Plains as such the perfect backdrop for his anti-establishment campaign.
They were attempting to like harness it for all they could.
Sam Donaldson: We had softball games.
I was on a team with all the reporters.
I was terrible.
(players shouting) And Jimmy Carter's team was the Secret Service, and they were strong and terrific.
(crowd shouting) It was a great time, it was a halcyon time in a sense.
The Carters were a typical American family, we thought, from the South and from the country and good people.
♪ Sam Donaldson: He had two sisters.
One was a faith healer, and one rode a motorcycle.
And his mother, Miss Lillian-- Alter: Miss Lillian was a total inspiration.
She had a smile that lit up a room.
Chip Carter: Miss Lillian my grandmother was a vivacious woman who always spoke her mind, whether it made you feel good about yourself or not.
Roessner: And then of course, there's um...Billy Carter.
Brian Williams: (whistles) Billy-- Billy.
Sam Donaldson: His brother was right out of central casting.
He was a good ol' boy from the country.
He drank a lot of beer and made no... pretense that he was otherwise.
He ran a gas station, and he welcomed the press corps.
(Billy laughing) Kim Fuller: My daddy was the world's best-known alcoholic during that time period (chuckles).
Eizenstat: Billy really sort of lost, not able to get out of Plains, seeing his brother accomplish things that he couldn't do.
Kim Fuller: How the press dealt with Uncle Jimmy and the rest of our family was very hard.
Roessner: That was part of that shifting terrain of the news media.
Kim Fuller: We learned to mistrust the press.
Roessner: When Carter tried to make his family part of the image craft during that summer of '76, the press, you know, were foaming at the mouth like a pack of wild dogs in this moment.
They ran critical pieces about Carter's family.
Sam Donaldson: The Carters did interesting things and as reporters, interesting things to report on.
Roessner: The news media see Billy and his mom Lillian as like the source of a really great quote.
Sam Donaldson: I don't care who you were, you had to be a real snob to think it wasn't interesting to watch Americana.
Roessner: Carter, he took very deep offense about the critical coverage, but members of the news media would say that Carter politicized his family from the get-go.
And they were suddenly fair game as part of his campaign coverage.
That kind of 'set the stage,' so to speak, for that battle between the two parties.
Carter: So I had a very good relationship with the press... but I had to realize that they never were gonna treat me well because I was President.
They primarily were devoted to pointing out the things that I did wrong, or they thought that I could do better.
♪ (dramatic music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Woman: I don't think it makes any difference, whether he's a peanut farmer or not.
I mean, there's nothing wrong with peanuts as far as I am concerned.
(laughs) Carter: I'll never tell a lie, I'll never make a misleading statement, and I will never avoid a controversial issue.
Eizenstat: We came out of the Democratic primaries and the convention in 1976 with a 30% lead over Ford!
But it was the decision of several of his campaign aides, that he was not connecting with young people.
They thought he was too prudish, and he needed to find a way of connecting to younger voters.
So they recommended that he have an interview with Playboy.
I remember a reporter, called me on a Sunday morning when I was in the campaign office and said, "Do you have a comment about this "lust in his heart" statement?
And I said, "What?"
Reporter: 'I've looked on a lot of women with lust,' Mr. Carter says, 'I've committed adultery in my heart many times.
This is something that God recognizes I will do and God forgives me for it.'
Brian Williams: Wai-- wait a minute.
He's lusting where?
Roessner: The Playboy scandal, The 'lust in my heart' gaffe, it's a gaffe that wanes into a campaign and disrupts everything.
Brian Williams: Here is a born-again Christian, happily married man, lusting in his heart.
Roessner: The national press had been just like obsessed with, the role of Carter's religion on his campaign and on his way of governing.
So, when the Playboy interview was released, they like ate it up.
Reporter: Are you sorry that you granted it?
Reporter: Do you think it's been misunderstood?
Carter: Oh, I don't think it's hurting.
(car door slams) Roessner: Even Saturday Night Live parodies.
(audience applause) Jane Curtin: Do you think you were being too honest with the American people and do you still lust after women?
(audience laughter) Dan Aykroyd: Well, I don't think there's such a thing as being too honest, Miss Montgomery, and just prove it I'm gonna answer honestly how I feel right now.
I want to say that you're a very attractive woman.
(audience laughter) Rosalynn: He was trying to explain his Christian religion, but we have a good marriage.
If I was worried about my marriage it might bore you.
Eizenstat: And here it gets lost because he was quoting what I understand Christ said, which was, 'Every man has lust in his heart.'
And the key is not to convert that lust into something more tangible.
And that Playboy interview was the beginning of the wedge that the Ford people needed to bring us down to size.
And it really did.
Roessner: It cost them the double-digit lead.
♪ Sam Donaldson: The public polls were dead even.
♪ (soft dramatic music) ♪ Chip Carter: I remember election night, nobody knew what was going to happen.
Steven Ford: We were all as a family and friends, up on the second floor of the White House, gathered around the TV.
♪ Eizenstat: We're all up at the Omni Hotel, at 3:00 AM, when Cliff Finch from Mississippi, the Governor called and said, 'you're gonna win.'
And that put us over the 270 electoral votes.
We barely, barely won.
Steven Ford: There's a great picture of dad finally getting a little piece of paper, handwritten, with some of the final results.
Eizenstat: And we won by one-half of one percent.
Steven Ford: Dad realized he wasn't gonna win the election, you know, the air kind of got sucked out of the room, and you can just see his disappointment, because he knew the election was over.
Carter: I told you I didn't intend to lose!
(crowd cheering loudly) ♪ (soft dramatic music) ♪ ♪ Chip Carter: After the election, we went down to the coast of Georgia to spend some time.
And I walked up to dad in a chair, reading some briefings that he was gonna do later that day.
I told him I was bored.
So he told me to go to Washington and run the inauguration for him.
Reporter: Mr. Carter called this the People's Inaugural, but it was also was his, and he clearly enjoyed it.
Reporter: Mr. Carter had spent the night at Blair House, just across from the White House, and he emerged a few minutes later.
He was in a jubilant mood.
Chip Carter: I told him that some of my friends and I had decided it'd be really cool for him to walk at the inauguration, out on the street, which would be the first President to do that.
And he said that as long as nobody knew it was going to happen.
♪ (soft music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Brian Williams: The simple act of holding hands with Rosalynn, coming down Pennsylvania Avenue, Americans had changed.
This was clearly a new President.
Chip Carter: It was a big deal.
♪ (hopeful music) ♪ (crowd cheering) (crowd cheering) ♪ ♪ (crowd cheering) ♪ ♪ ♪ Carter: I want to thank... my predecessor, for all he has done... to heal our land.
Steven Ford: First line of his speech and dad and mom were there.
'I want to thank my predecessor for all he did to heal our land.'
And I thought that spoke to who the man was.
That he could turn and thank my dad before he said anything else.
Carter: Thank you very much.
(crowd cheering loudly, loud applause) ♪ Sam Donaldson: He took office, very popular, and he knew what he wanted to do.
He was very sure of himself.
Maybe some people would say, 'too cocksure of himself.'
Eizenstat: 70% of his legislation was passed, equal almost to Lyndon Johnson's.
J. Carter: I'm very glad to sign now, House Resolution 4876, that provides opportunities for the American people to go back to work.
Young: When he showed up to the White House, Carter read every bill that they'd put on his desk.
Eizenstat: He was criticized for reading too much.
Alter: Carter was holding 5 or 6 hours of meetings a day.
Brian Williams: He felt a near messianic mission about the job.
Sam Donaldson: Carter started out looking like someone heading for a great four years.
Alter: He was always looking over the horizon.
He doubled the size of the national park system.
Eizenstat: The Department of Education was his creation.
Young: He was the first President to introduce us to the dangers in global warming and climate change.
Alter: He signed 14 major pieces of environmental legislation.
Eizenstat: He also transformed our entire transportation system with deregulation.
Brian Williams: The national speed limit, 55 miles an hour, hugely controversial.
It has saved millions of pounds of carbon in the air.
Eizenstat: He doubled the number of African Americans and other minorities on the federal bench and in senior positions in the administration.
Donaldson: His greatest accomplishment was in foreign policy.
Jason Carter: He never fired a bullet as President, never dropped a bomb as President.
♪ Eizenstat: He, not Nixon, is the one that normalized relations with China.
Alter: With China, this bilateral relationship became the foundation of the global economy.
Sam Donaldson: In 1978, he drove through the Panama Canal treaty against opposition from Conservatives and Republicans.
Alter: He approved giving management of the canal back to Panama.
This prevented a major war in Central America.
Sam Donaldson: The big one, of course, was Camp David and the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
This attempt by Jimmy Carter to shepherd a peace treaty, it was an unheard-of thing, because at that time, there was no such thing as peace in the Middle East.
But Carter still thought he could do it.
Eizenstat: Camp David and the Egypt-Israel peace agreement were the single most important diplomatic achievement by any President personally in our history.
(crowd clapping) Sam Donaldson: But also, he made some mistakes.
Carter: I've spent a lot of time deciding how I can be a good President.
Sam Donaldson: He wanted to attack the energy problem.
And so he talked to the country, wearing a sweater by a fireplace.
Letterman: I have memories of him in a sweater, suggesting we put the thermostat down to 70.
I think we all knew that, that was not going to end well for the President.
Alter: People laugh at that, you know, 'Oh, he looks like Mr.
Brian Williams: In this case, 'Jimmy Cardigan.'
Alter: He turned down the thermostat, so that members of Congress were sometimes shivering when they were meeting Carter.
Eizenstat: Miss Lillian said, "Dammit Jimmy, I am cold!
Turn this thermometer up!"
And we all said, 'Hallelujah!'
Carter: I know that we can meet this energy challenge.
If the burden is born fairly among of all our people.
Donaldson: Some of his inability to push his programs in the right way, caught up with him.
For instance, he wanted to cut down on the carbons that were coming from fuel from automobiles.
He wanted a 50 cent gasoline tax.
Alter: He is not seen as being an especially warm politician.
Not a backslapper, not a schmoozer.
Donaldson: He has a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate, but they're not going to do his will, because he doesn't know how to massage them, he doesn't know how to talk to them, he doesn't know what to do with them.
For instance, Carter's first State Of The Union message, the Speaker of the House, the great Tip O'Neill, wanted some extra seats.
Carter said, 'No'.
Alter: He sold the yacht that Presidents had used to schmooze members of Congress.
Carter was an outsider and consistently made decisions that were not in his political interest.
Young: He'd get angry with you, when you tell him the politics of the situation.
He wasn't interested in the politics, he wanted to know what is right.
But doing right in politics, doesn't always mean getting reelected.
Kim Fuller: He is who he is, and you can't take that out of somebody who is as strongly principled a person as he is.
I think people wanted him to change with the, with the wind and he, he couldn't do it.
Eizenstat: The last year was extraordinarily difficult.
I mean, it was like all the forces were coming together against him and against us in the White House.
Iran, as a result of the Iranian Revolution, the world market lost five million barrels.
Cars were still half-full and topping off.
I mean, I personally had to wait 30 minutes at my Exxon station, near my house to get into the White House to try to solve the gas-line problem.
It was in many ways, the beginning of the end of the Presidency.
♪ Eizenstat: Well, let's first say why were the hostages taken to begin with?
Jimmy Carter was the last holdout of all of his advisors in agreeing to let the Shah of Iran who had fled the Khamenei Islamic radical revolution, come into the United States for cancer treatment, because he said, "I'm afraid that if we let him in, hostages are going to be taken and then what are you gonna advise me to do?'
Alter: Jimmy Carter's instincts were telling him, do not let the Shah in!
Eizenstat: Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller had organized a lobbying effort to make it appear improper, not to let a dying Shah, a dying ally come in.
Alter: But when it became a humanitarian issue, when he was told that the Shah could not be treated in Mexico, where he was, which was a lie.
So Carter agrees to let him in to New York hospital for treatment.
Eizenstat: And he called the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and tried to get assurance that if they understood this was only for medical treatment, not to rehabilitate him to come back and take power.
And he hoped that he would get approval.
And they said, 'Well, we'll do the best we could'.
Khomeini used this as a way of gaining power.
A way of solidifying his standing.
Alter: And just days later, hostages are seized in Iran.
Eizenstat: The hostages became pawns in an internal Iranian power game.
But it was all ignited by allowing the Shah in to begin with.
News Anchor: Good Evening, the U.S. embassy in Tehran has been invaded and occupied by Iranian students.
The Americans inside have been taken prisoner.
The action against the embassy may or may not have been ordered by Iran's religious leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Sam Donaldson: We all thought, a few days, because the government of Iran, the civilian government said, we'll work this out, don't worry.
Well, they couldn't work it out.
The Ayatollah said, 'No, you won't work it out.
We'll keep them right here.'
(crowd chanting) Carter: The actions of Iran have shocked the civilized world.
(crowd chanting) We have done nothing for which any American need to apologize.
The United States of America will not yield to international terrorism, or to blackmail.
(mild applause) Eizenstat: He felt he had to do everything he could to get them out, but it did in fact, personalize the crisis very much to him.
And when he said to the hostage families, 'My first priority is to get your loved ones out, safe and sound', it also sent a message to Khomeini that there was not a threat of military force.
Sam Donaldson: When the hostages were taken, all the networks did specials.
(crowd chanting) Carter: --to secure as quickly as possible their safe release.
Donaldson: Only Roone Arledge, the President of ABC News had sense enough to say, 'I'm gonna own this story.
We're gonna do it every night, every night, until this is over.'
Letterman: It was the beginning of Ted Koppel's Nightline.
It...started out tonight as Day 1, and then you'd run down to Day 3, Day 6, Day 100, whatever it was.
Alter: The program became compelling and really must-see TV.
Donaldson: Every night, the media was reminding people of the humiliation that the United States was undergoing, but Carter kept trying diplomatically to work it out, and months went by.
Roessner: I don't think that Carter really recognized the power of televised news and those images to potentially destroy an administration.
Journalist: Mr. President, sir, does it seem to you, that if you cannot resolve this crisis soon, it may cost you your renomination or re-election.
Carter: The political connotations of the holding of our hostages is not a factor for me.
Alter: The first mistake is letting the Shah in, and the second mistake is not listening to Rosalynn and others who suggested that he take some kind of military action.
He was worried that the hostages would be killed, if he did that.
Carter: We continue to pursue these specific goals, if possible, to avoid bloodshed.
Brian Williams: In 1979, I was a White House intern during the hostage crisis.
One night, I was giving West Wing tours after hours.
I started down the hallway to the cabinet room, when I was stopped by a Secret Service agent.
He put his hand up and said, 'I can't, I can't let you through here, there's something going down in the desert.'
♪ (low sombre music) ♪ ♪ Eizenstat: I was called by the White House operator at three o'clock in the morning.
I said to Fran, my wife, I said, 'This is the end of the presidency.'
Anchor: Eight Americans taking part in the rescue operation were killed in an aircraft collision on the ground, in the Iranian desert.
Eizenstat: And when we came in very early, the next morning, this was one time when you could really see he was ash white.
It was...it was an enormous personal blow.
He had sent the bravest of the brave to this very difficult, complex hostage mission.
It was a long shot, but it pained him greatly to know that these men had died.
Carter: It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation.
It was my decision to cancel it... Brian Williams: When we saw the gruesome truth, the grainy pictures of the carcasses of our aircraft and the carcasses of our beloved young service members.
Sam Donaldson: You just feel it tipping.
Not only couldn't we do it diplomatically, but the greatest military power on earth couldn't seem to get its act together.
Eizenstat: General Jones, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told me that Jimmy Carter said before the rescue mission started, if this mission succeeds, it will be your success as the military.
If it fails, it will be my failure as Commander-In-Chief.
And General Jones said, 'that's exactly what he did.'
Carter: The responsibility is fully my own.
Sam Donaldson: And people began to turn against Carter and there was nothing he could do about it.
Brian Williams: Jimmy Carter was portrayed as being weak, especially when you saw this former Hollywood actor and Governor and what he was selling.
Roessner: For Carter, what he comes up against in '80, is a paragon, a god of showbiz politics.
Alter: An actor who has some kind of natural connection to his audience.
So Carter was completely overwhelmed by Reagan when it came to, you know, what were later called 'the optics.'
Brian Williams: I think even folks who didn't follow politics closely knew this would probably be the end.
(crowd cheering) ♪ Alter: The hostages came home safely on the day Reagan was sworn in.
Carter negotiated their release.
(crowd cheering) Rev.
Lowden: There was tears in his eyes when he got the news that the hostages had been released.
To him that was personal.
Alter: So, his priority, peace was achieved.
Carter is all about peace and human life.
So, from his perspective, the policy was successful, even though, you know, it contributed to his defeat.
Carter: I kept our country at peace, thank goodness!
♪ (soft music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Eizenstat: When he lost, the next morning, as we all...were down, he said, "Get your chins off the ground, lift them up, we're gonna have the best transition out of any President."
♪ He used every second he was President to do something constructive, up to the last minute.
Jason Carter: My grandfather used the power of the Presidency to do good.
Letterman: We wouldn't be having this conversation if he wasn't a good President.
Chip Carter: You know, when he left the White House, he would often talk about what he was gonna do next.
Garth Brooks: He and Miss Rosalynn were smart enough to see that they had 30 years of their lives left.
How are we going to do something even more important than the President of the United States?
Sam Donaldson: He set up his Carter Center and worked on world peace.
Brian Williams: No one had ever spoken up for illnesses in Africa like river blindness, like Guinea Worm.
Chip Carter: You know, he's gonna stop Guinea Worm.
I mean, how does anybody even dream about doing that stuff?
Jason Carter: They've reduced it by 99.9%, but he is not satisfied until it's completely finished.
Eizenstat: The remarkable work that the Carter center did in curing two African diseases was part of the faith he had.
This was an opportunity for him to show this in Africa, it was part of the whole civil rights thing at home.
He was trying to apply that lesson abroad.
Carter: I had a number one priority, and that was to come to Nashville to build houses.
(crowd cheering) Roessner: Through the work that he has done with Habitat for Humanity, he preached a commitment to a lifestyle that's not materialistic.
♪ (inspirational music) ♪ ♪ Letterman: Now, I've only been on one build site with them.
Everytime I was on a break, they didn't seem to be on a break.
(chuckles) Carter: You're gonna be surprised at two things this week, if you haven't been here before.
One...how hard you're gonna have to work.
And the second thing you're gonna be supprised at, is that you'll get a lot more out of it, then you put into it!
♪ (inspirational music) ♪ Brian Williams: No President we had ever seen, earnestly took up a hammer and nails, of fulfilling the Christian act of building shelter for his fellow citizens.
And in that sense, he really did, I think, try to echo the biblical characters that he was teaching about every weekend.
Jackson: President Carter has a faith, that I don't think I ever seen in anyone else.
Because he lives it.
Young: I'm always feeling guilty around Jimmy Carter.
Because, he reminds me of how much I have left undone.
Lowden: President Carter realized, that, in spite of what people want, he have a covenant with his Savior, and that is to continue to serve.
Eizenstat: There's a beautiful circle of life.
♪ The fact that he was born in Plains, he was raised in Plains, ♪ he chose to go back to Plains, not to New York, not to Atlanta-- is the circle of life.
Carter: I have done some good things but, I don't consider myself a hero.
Chip Carter: I hope that in future years, he's looked at as someone who tried to treat everyone with respect, dignity.
To let others be heard.
And I think when he gets to heaven that, that God's going to say, 'Well done!'
♪ (inspirational music) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: In Their Own Words is available on Amazon Prime Video.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: In Their Own Words was made possible in part by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.