On this day in 2002, former President Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
The peanut farmer and former governor of Georgia served one term as U.S. president between 1977 and 1981, following the debacle of Nixon’s resignation and Gerald Ford’s 29-month care-taking tenure. One of Carter’s key achievements in office was mediating the peace talks between Israel and Egypt in 1978. The Nobel Committee had wanted to give Carter (b. 1924) the prize that year for his efforts, along with Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin, but was prevented from doing so by a technicality; Carter had not been nominated by the official deadline.
The son of Earl Carter, a peanut warehouser who had served in the Georgia state legislature, and Lillian Gordy Carter, a registered nurse who went to India as a Peace Corps volunteer at age 68, Carter attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1946.
After marrying his wife Rosalynn, Carter embarked on a seven-year career in the U.S. Navy, serving submarine duty for five years. He was preparing to become an engineering officer for the submarine Seawolf in 1953 when his father died; Carter resigned his commission and returned to Georgia to manage the family peanut farm operations.
After serving on his local school board, Carter successfully ran for state senate, serving from 1963 through a first failed attempt at the Georgia governorship. Seeking solace in his Baptist faith, Carter ran again and prevailed in 1970. Though appearing to tacitly endorse segregation, Carter shocked many at his first inaugural address, proclaiming “The time for segregation is over,” then throwing his administration’s doors wide open to minorities and women.
Now a symbol of the “New South,” in 1974, just before his term as governor ended, Carter announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, thrusting himself out of obscurity through tireless and systematic campaigning to assemble a broad constituency. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, which had raised widespread concern about the power of the presidency and the integrity of the executive branch, Carter styled himself as an outsider to Washington, D.C.; a man of strong principles who could restore the faith of the American people in their leaders.
Carter’s plan for 1976 worked, as he and running mate Sen. Walter Mondale (D-MN) defeated Pres. Gerald Ford and Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) in a basic referendum on Nixon’s GOP, 297-240. What then ensued for Carter were four difficult years marked by headwinds at home and abroad. Stagflation, embargoes and the Iran Hostage Crisis combined to neatly comport with the re-purposed Goldwater trope that all Democrats were soft and ineffectual. In 1980 the Carter ticket was crushed by the made-for-television Ronald Reagan and his running mate George H.W. Bush, 489-49, and America, for good or ill, would never be the same.
Universally beloved as the “greatest former president in history,” to this day Carter still swings a hammer for Habitat for Humanity, kicks cancer’s ass, continues his commitment to justice, equality and fairness and remains deeply in love with his wife of 73 years, Rosalynn Carter.