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Jimmy Carter: Outsider

2017-11-27

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  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
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  • Today we are talking about Jimmy Carter.
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  • His given name was James, but he liked to be called Jimmy.
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  • Carter was elected president in 1976.
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  • Until he campaigned for the office, few Americans knew who he was.
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  • But Carter said his lack of experience with the federal government made him the best candidate.
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  • After witnessing years of problems in the White House, many voters appeared to agree with him.
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  • However, Carter’s inexperience also became a problem.
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  • Some of the issues he faced were complex and, at times, they seemed overwhelming.
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  • After only one term, Carter failed to get re-elected.
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  • But in time, his public image improved.
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  • His years after leaving the White House are generally considered more successful than his time in office.
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  • Jimmy Carter was born in the southern state of Georgia.
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  • He was the oldest of four children.
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  • His father was a businessman.
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  • His mother was a nurse.
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  • The family owned a store, as well as a peanut farm and warehouse.
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  • Although the businesses did well, Jimmy Carter grew up very modestly.
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  • His family’s house did not have electricity or running water.
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  • But he was hardworking and wanted to be successful.
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  • As a boy, he saved enough money to buy four houses.
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  • He earned more money by renting them to other people.
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  • He also decided to attend college at the United States Naval Academy.
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  • And in time, he did so.
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  • Carter was an excellent student.
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  • And he became a fine Naval officer.
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  • As a midshipman, Carter worked on one of the country’s first nuclear submarines.
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  • He later taught nuclear engineering to other crewmembers.
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  • But Carter’s promising career in the Navy ended after only seven years.
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  • His father was dying. And the family farm was in trouble.
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  • Carter, his wife, Rosalynn, and their three sons, decided to return to Georgia and try to save it.
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  • The first years back on the farm were difficult.
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  • But in time, the business became successful again.
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  • Carter began to turn his attention to other issues.
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  • He became involved in his church, local school, hospitals and libraries.
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  • When he had a chance to compete for a position in the state senate, he took it.
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  • As a politician, Carter developed an image as an independent thinker who tried to save the government money.
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  • He also acted and spoke strongly against racial discrimination.
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  • In Georgia at the time, many voters did not agree with Carter’s support of racial equality.
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  • In 1966, even his own Democratic Party did not choose him to be its candidate to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.
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  • So Carter began campaigning for the office of state governor instead.
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  • In 1970, he was elected.
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  • As Georgia's governor, Carter was known as a social and political reformer.
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  • However, historian Robert Strong notes that Carter did not always work well with others in his party.
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  • Strong teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
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  • He writes that some Georgia lawmakers believed Carter was “arrogant.”
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  • He could appear to think he was morally right, and they were morally wrong.
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  • Carter’s difficulty in getting along with other officials proved to be one of the problems he would later face.
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  • But in the presidential election of 1976, many Americans seemed to like this quality.
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  • The little-known governor from Georgia defeated the sitting president, Gerald Ford.
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  • Carter won, in part, by saying that he was different than other politicians.
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  • He was, he said, a Washington outsider.
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  • Then suddenly, Carter was the biggest insider of all: the American president.
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  • One of the things Carter wanted to do was change the image of the president.
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  • Earlier leaders, such as Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, had increased the power of the presidency.
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  • Nixon had also been shown to be dishonest, and resigned from office.
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  • Carter promised never to lie to the American people.
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  • And on the day of his swearing-in as president, he purposefully tried to keep things simple.
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  • He walked to the White House from the U.S. Capitol building instead of riding in the back of an automobile.
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  • His wife, Rosalynn, wore clothes that she had worn in public before.
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  • The National First Ladies’ Library notes that her choice of clothing sent a message of "an old American value of thrift – or respecting money, and not spending it needlessly.”
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  • It's lawmakers, even when his party was in control of Congress.
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  • One result was that Carter could not advance many of his ideas for legislation.
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  • He appeared ineffective.
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  • Many historians point out that, in fact, Carter had a number of successes.
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  • He helped reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
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  • He took steps to make the federal government more efficient, and to improve the environment.
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  • He appointed a number of women and racial minorities to top government jobs -- an important move at a time when many were pressing for women’s rights and civil rights.
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  • And, in many cases, Carter supported human rights causes, both in the United States and around the world.
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  • But the public generally did not see Carter for his successes.
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  • Instead, many Americans blamed him for the country’s economic problems.
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  • Some also disliked the way he spoke to them.
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  • In one speech, Carter blamed the country’s troubles on what he called a crisis of confidence. Some listeners were offended.
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  • He also decided that the U.S. would not attend the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
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  • The move was meant to punish the Soviet Union for its involvement in Afghanistan.
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  • But many Americans believed the move mostly hurt young American Olympians.
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  • The administration also faced other problems.
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  • The president was never accused of wrongdoing.
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  • But other high-level officials were.
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  • So was the president’s brother, Billy.
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  • As a result, Jimmy Carter’s public image for honesty suffered.
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  • Then came the Iran hostage crisis.
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  • The conflict between the United States and Iran had a long history.
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  • One part involved the Shah of Iran.
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  • The U.S. government had supported his rise to power, partly because American interests wanted to control Iran’s oil.
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  • But the Shah severely abused his power.
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  • Many Iranians resisted. Some wanted a leader who would more closely obey Islamic teachings.
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  • In 1979, under pressure from those Iranians and others, the Shah fled the country.
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  • By now, he was suffering from cancer.
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  • So, as a humanitarian act, President Carter permitted the Shah to come to the United States for medical treatment.
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  • The move made many Iranians angry.
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  • In protest, a group of students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran.
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  • They took 90 people, including 66 Americans, hostage.
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  • Carter worked hard to get the hostages released.
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  • He tried diplomatic negotiations and economic restrictions.
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  • But his efforts did not work.
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  • Finally, he tried a secret military operation.
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  • He sent eight helicopters and a team of special forces to enter the embassy and rescue the hostages.
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  • But that operation failed, too.
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  • The weather was bad.
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  • Three of the helicopters crashed.
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  • Eight Americans were killed.
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  • And the public’s approval of Jimmy Carter dropped even more.
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  • After 444 days, the remaining hostages were released.
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  • In exchange, the U.S. government agreed to end some of its economic sanctions against Iran and promised not to interfere in the country’s affairs.
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  • None of the hostages had been seriously hurt.
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  • But the crisis was the final blow to Carter’s presidency.
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  • A few months before they were released, his effort to seek re-election failed.
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  • As president, Carter did not meet the high expectations he had set for himself.
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  • And he faced some unusually difficult situations.
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  • His presidency also suffered from his problems communicating effectively with Congress, the media, and the American people.
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  • But his four years as president did leave several marks on the office.
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  • For one, he showed that the U.S. president could help other nations and sides resolve their disputes.
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  • Carter’s best-known success as president was his help negotiating the Camp David Accords.
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  • The accords were a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
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  • Carter led the talks at Camp David in Maryland.
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  • Carter’s efforts to protect human rights overseas also influenced the foreign policy of later presidents.
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  • In time, his work as a defender of human rights has become his most important legacy.
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  • Several years after leaving the presidency, he founded the Carter Presidential Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
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  • The center “seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.”
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  • In addition to his work there, Carter has helped build houses for people who need them, written books, and negotiated with world leaders to take steps toward peace.
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  • In 2002, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
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  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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