Mr Carter described their relationship as “like one person acting in concert”. Asked about his foreign policy decision-making, he said he confirmed his judgment with “Rosalynn, Cy” – Cyrus Vance, his secretary of state – “Zbig” – Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser – “ and Ham” – Hamilton. Jordan, his chief of staff. As Time correspondent Hugh Sidey wrote in 1979: “Note the order.” Domestically, Mrs. Carter pushed her husband to appoint more women to important positions, and he did so, appointing five times as many women to the federal bench as all of his predecessors combined.
Known as Steel Magnolia, a nickname she liked, Mrs. Carter caused controversy when she participated (silently) in cabinet meetings. But she was enthusiastically welcomed there as an essential member of the political process. While most presidential aides view first ladies with suspicion, Carter’s top aides at the White House often wish the headstrong president would listen even more to his impressive wife, particularly in politics, where, as Mr. Carter has admitted, his instinct was better than his.
An achievement that has contemporary resonance: Mrs. Carter, along with Betty Bumpers, the wife of Senator Dale Bumpers, traveled across the country and persuaded 33 state legislatures to change their laws to require proof of vaccination for children can enter school. This gave rise to a joke in the late 1970s: wherever the first lady goes, children cry – for fear of getting vaccinated.
In 1980, Mrs. Carter thought her husband was “apparently pompous” in explaining why he would not make politically expedient decisions. As she recounts in her memoir, he said something like: “I will never do anything that would harm my country. » And she replied: “The thing you can do to harm your country the most is not to get re-elected.” »
When Mr. Carter lost, Mrs. Carter became depressed and wanted her husband to run for president again against Reagan. When Mr. Carter rejected the idea out of hand, it helped him reinvent the post-presidency by creating the Carter Center. They traveled the world together, “leading the peace,” as they put it, overseeing elections, launching impressive global health initiatives, and building homes for the poor. On the road, Ms. Carter took notes during important peace talks; at home, she established scholarships for journalists covering mental health issues and, as founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, did everything in her power to popularize a concept that barely had a name until In the 1980’s.
The Carters’ love affair spanned eight decades. When I was working on my biography, Mrs. Carter shared with me her husband’s letters from the sea. One from 1949 said:
When I’ve been away from you for so long… I feel alone and lost, and it seems like I’m not really living but just waiting to live again when you’re with me.
Rosalynn Carter kept these letters in a nearby drawer until the day she died.