What got Carter elected is eventually what killed him. Americans were disgusted with Watergate, and Carter told the American people “I will never lie to you” and the people bought into it and that, among other things, got Jimmah elected.
Unfortunately for Jimmah, while many Americans were ready for new leadership, they also were sick of crime and taxes and America getting bullied by OPEC and the Soviets. Many Americans were also sick of the 70s “I’m okay your okay” mentality, and Ronald Reagan represented that backlash.
As for the economy, I think there’s only so much a President can and should do, but inflation and high gas prices seemed to be just spinning out of control, and as Truman said, “The buck stops here.”
In terms of foreign policy, Carter was a bonafide disaster. He cut off aid to long time allies because of human rights violations. While universal human rights should always be a pillar of American foreign policy, the correct way to pursue this is by being loyal to our allies AND encouraging them to do better. It’s not a perfect world.
The message that this sent to third world dictators who sided with the U.S. against communism was that they could no longer rely on us for help, and perhaps they should look to Moscow for new friendship lest a Marxist coup overthrows them.
The most notorious example of Carter’s failed international relations directive was in Iran. Carter turned his back on the Shah, a long time U.S. ally who shared a border with our arch-enemy, the USSR, and also a powerful force against the tide of anti-U.S. Muslim fundamentalist sentiment in the Middle East. This allowed the Khomeini regime to step in and overthrow him, take our people hostages and put the final nail in the coffin of the Carter administration with the embarrassing 400+ day standoff.
I do admire Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages, and cite this as yet more bad luck (my father hated Cater, but actually felt bad for the guy when the mission crashed in the desert). Nonetheless Carter put human concerns above real politick. We lost a valuable ally in the middle east who was replaced by an even more cruel regime, and one that has not only helped fuel more widespread anti-U.S. radical Muslim fundamentalism, but that has also supported terrorist groups in attacks on Americans. Also, because of Carter foolhardy vision, America faces the very real threat of a radical zealot theocracy that could one day launch a nuclear weapon at the United States or one of it’s allies.
You know, looking back, I do think the guy’s heart was in the right place, and a streak of bad luck really did hurt his Presidency. But when you combine bad luck with bad decisions, it spells disaster.