During Carter's term as President, he created two new cabinet-level departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He established a national energy policy that included conservation, price control, and new technology. In foreign affairs, Carter pursued the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), and returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama. He took office during a period of international stagnation and inflation, which persisted throughout his term. The end of his presidential tenure was marked by the 1979–1981 Iran hostage crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow (the only U.S. boycott in Olympic history), and the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state.
By 1980, Carter's popularity had eroded. He survived a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination in the 1980 election, but lost the general election to Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate. On January 20, 1981, minutes after Carter's term in office ended, the 52 U.S. captives held at the U.S. embassy in Iran were released, ending the 444-day Iran hostage crisis.
Carter and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center in 1982, a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization that works to advance human rights. He has traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations, observe elections, and advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations. Carter is a key figure in the Habitat for Humanity project, and also remains particularly vocal on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
All of us are familiar with the famous line attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Less famously, Conor Cruise O'Brien (contributing editor to The Atlantic magazine) described an intellectual as "someone who is prepared to admit when another has made a point in a debate."
On both counts it's fair to wonder whether our society has lost some of its capacity for instilling --or at least requiring--this kind of intellectual capaciousness, this (perhaps uniquely human but too often underemployed) ability to experience or understand life from another person's perspective. Can you imagine the talking heads on some of the cable TV channels and AM radio stations pausing in the middle of their heated exchanges and saying, "You know, Bill, or you know Sean, or you know, Tim__I think you have a point there." It doesn't happen, or at least it doesn't happen often. We are a society increasingly trained to hold on like bulldogs to a narrow way of viewing things. Perhaps it is in our sense of surety, founded or unfounded, that we find comfort.