U.S. President Jimmy Carter Psychohistory

About the U.S. President Jimmy Carter, history and a psychological analysis or psychohistory.

39th President



Two men and two women played important and divergent roles in shaping the man Jimmy Carter. His instinct for workable compromise, his ability to see both sides of an issue, his tolerance for dissent, his apparent waffling on some issues--all stem from a childhood spent reconciling the opposite views of his parents. His father, James Earl, Sr., was strong, domineering, and as racially bigoted as others in his time and place. He once stormed out of the house when Miss Lillian entertained a black acquaintance in the parlor. Jimmy always addressed his father as "sir" and remembers vividly to this day each of six peach-switch beatings he received from his father for various misdeeds. His mother, on the other hand, was gentle and racially tolerant. Her treatment of blacks as equals earned her the epithet "nigger-lover" more than once, although she was never physically harmed. Race relations presented another puzzle to young Carter. His playmates were black, but when he went to school he sat amid a sea of white faces.

Although Jimmy adopted the racial attitudes of his mother, his respect for his father stood firm. "I never disagreed with anything my father told me to do," Carter later recalled. "I sometimes thought he was telling me to do the wrong thing, but I'd never let him know it."

When Carter returned to Plains to take over the peanut business, he began to copy the elder Carter's life, right down to joining the civic organizations to which his father had belonged. Carter continues to emulate him in his drive, his abhorrence of time wasted, his contempt for welfare cheaters.

The main educational influence in Carter's life was his high school teacher Julia Coleman, whom he credited in his inaugural address. A polio victim, Ms. Coleman once served on a committee with Eleanor Roosevelt and was invited to the White House. She returned to Plains to give Jimmy his first glimpse of his future home. She also prepared his reading list and whetted his already voracious appetite for knowledge in a variety of fields.

The other male influence in Carter's life was Adm. Hyman Rickover, under whom he served in the navy. Carter tells the story that Rickover once asked him how he did at Annapolis. Carter replied proudly that he graduated 59th out of 820. "But did you do your best?" Rickover wanted to know. Carter, whose keen mind allowed him to skip through Annapolis with little study, confessed that he had not. From then on, Carter vowed to pour everything he had into any future undertaking. The Rickover experience formed the title of Carter's book and campaign theme, Why Not the Best?

All this drive, ambition, and emphasis on winning is tempered in the Carter psyche by his deeply felt religious beliefs, which seem to humble him at his proudest moments. His inaugural address, for example, emphasized his human frailties. He repeatedly reminds the people that only through them is he strong.

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