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Unfinished Defeated Presidents Because They Never Quit

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Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA

Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California on January 9, 1913. As a result of struggling in poverty with his family, Nixon developed focus, tenacity and ambition early on and worked his way with brilliance through Whittier College and Duke Law School. While working as an attorney in Whittier, California, he married Thelma Catherine "Pat" Ryan in 1940 and had two daughters, Patricia and Julie. After serving as a Navy lieutenant commander in World War II, he was elected to the House of Representatives and then to the Senate in California. In 1952, Eisenhower chose Nixon to be his Vice-President, a position he held for eight years. Nixon lost to JFK by a razor's edge in the 1960 Presidential race, but in 1968 he ran again and became the 37th President of the United States. When he took office, Nixon inherited domestic mayhem of anti-Vietnam war movements highlighted by demonstrations and protests with college campus riots, burnings and bombings. Also, tensions between blacks and whites had escalated with explosive civil rights issues focusing on desegregation and busing. Despite the ravages of civil unrest and an unpopular war a half a world away, despite the Nixon caricatures, Nixon jokes, and stereotypes with the nickname, Tricky Dick, and despite an initial defeat to the presidency and losing the election for governor of California in 1962 by a wide margin, he became the Lazarus of American politics.

During his presidency, Nixon brought us together, ended US involvement in Vietnam, eliminated the draft, waged wars on cancer and drugs, enforced desegregation and established the Environmental Protection Agency. Most importantly, he traveled halfway around the world to meet the leaders of China and concluded an arms agreement with the Soviet Union. He was an ardent believer in decentralization, thus Nixon strongly argued that the best way to get people and nations to behave responsibly was to give them responsibility both domestically and internationally. In 1972, he was re-elected President by a historic margin such that no one could have predicted that he would be the first to resign from office two years later.

The event leading to Nixon's downfall began on June 17, 1972 when a break-in was discovered at the Democrats' National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington DC. News media and Congress linked the break-in to members of Nixon's re-election campaign. But Nixon and his staff denied any knowledge of the incident then committed illegal acts in an effort to cover up the truth. However, evidence slowly amassed that implicated the White House. Threatened with impeachment, President Nixon resigned in disgrace on August 8, 1974. On September 9, 1974, President Ford granted Nixon "a full, free and absolute pardon" for all offenses he might have committed against the United States. Afterwards he wrote his Memoirs and published books on political and world affairs. In his later years, he gained appreciation as an elder statesman and was always there as the sage advisor to Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr and Clinton during their administrations. He revisited China and traveled to the former Soviet Union. On April 22, 1994, Nixon died in New York City from complications of a stroke. Nixon left us with "A man is not finished when he is defeated; he's finished when he quits."

Gerald Rudolph Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr in Omaha, Nebraska on July 14, 1913. Because his biological dad was abusing his mother physically and mentally, she took her two-week old son by train to be raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two years after her divorce she married Gerald R Ford and they immediately started calling her son Jerry Ford. Ford attended the University of Michigan as a college football star majoring in economics and political science, then earned a law degree from Yale. After naval combat duty in WW II, the likable attorney returned to Grand Rapids. He was elected to Congress in 1948. He secretly married Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer Warren, a divorcee who had studied dance and been a model in New York City then worked as a fashion coordinator in Grand Rapids. They moved to Washington D.C. then eventually to Alexandria, VA and lived there until Ford entered the White House. He became House Minority Leader in 1965. In 1973, when Nixon's Vice President, Spiro T Agnew, was forced to resign for accepting bribes from building contractors while governor of Maryland, Nixon picked Ford as the new Vice-President. The following year, Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal and Gerald Ford became the 38th President of the United States. He was the only President who was never chosen by the American people to be either President or Vice President. After taking oath of office on August 9, 1974 President Ford said, "Our long national nightmare is over." Shortly thereafter, he granted Nixon a "full, free and absolute pardon." That act may have cost him the election of 1976. He explained his decision as a way to bring the country together and move beyond the turmoil of Watergate. Though few questioned Ford's integrity, many at the time were angered by his action. Nonetheless, he was convinced that this was right thing to do, the nation needed "A Time to Heal."

As President, Ford presided over a period of steadily improving relations with the Soviet Union, reaching agreement on limiting nuclear arms. He was decisive using his power to veto more than 50 bills passed by a Democratic Congress. He established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee the country's civilian nuclear industry. However, his presidency was plagued by runaway inflation and high unemployment and by international tragedies. Although he oversaw the final pullout of American troops from Vietnam after years of bloody war, the last American advisors in Vietnam were forced into a desperate and chaotic evacuation and the Middle East oil crisis created an energy shortage. His greatest disappointment was the collapse of non-Communist Indochina. Following defeat by Jimmy Carter in 1976, Jerry and Betty Ford moved to California and built a home in Rancho Mirage. Gerald Ford died on December 26, 2006 at his Rancho Mirage home of arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease and cardiac arrest at the age of 93 years and 165 days, making him the longest-living President in history by 45 days over Reagan.

James Earl Carter, Jr was born in Plains, Georgia on October 1, 1924. He grew up on his family's peanut farm as a studious child and worked at his father's store. After completing high school, he studied engineering at the Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology (known as Georgia Tech today) and earned a B.S. degree as a top graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland in 1946. He married Rosalynn Smith, whom he had known from childhood on July 7, 1946. After rising to the rank of lieutenant in the Navy as a submariner, Jimmy became part of the nuclear submarine program and did graduate work in reactor technology and nuclear physics. He served as senior officer on the second nuclear submarine, the Seawolf. When his father died, Carter felt it necessary to return to Georgia to run his family's peanut farm against Rosalynn's wishes. He successfully expanded the peanut business to shelling, supplying and warehousing, and with hard work, he became prosperous.

He entered politics as a senator and was elected Governor of Georgia in 1970. Carter's most prominent contribution as governor was increasing efficiency by reducing the number of state agencies from 300 to 22. He appointed a number of blacks to state jobs and ordered that a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr be placed in the state capitol building, a gesture he felt was long overdue. He represented a new generation of southern Democrats and said "The time for racial discrimination is over."

In 1976, as a Washington outsider untainted by the insider politics of the Nixon era, Jimmy Carter captured the Democratic Presidential nomination. His earnest and soft-spoken oratory, deep religious faith, and down-to-earth policies impressed a jaded electorate, especially his vow that "I'll never lie to you," Voters believed him and he defeated President Gerald Ford in the election. When sworn in as the 39th President of the United States, in keeping with his roots as a farmer, he chose to walk in the inaugural parade rather than ride in a limousine. His greatest success as President was bringing the leaders of Israel and Egypt together for peace talks at Camp David, Maryland in 1979. Carter pardoned the Vietnam draft dodgers, decreased the federal budget deficit, deregulated domestic oil prices and formed a Department of Energy. Further, he improved bureaucratic efficiency and placed many women and racial minorities in senior government jobs. During his presidency, his troubles exceeded his successes. Carter never got along with Congress and he was blamed for high interest rates, inflation and a gas shortage. His accomplishments were completely darkened when the Iranians seized the United States embassy in Tehran and held Americans there, hostage. Carter's inability to release them by a failed rescue attempt costing the lives of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian or otherwise, frustrated the public, who rejected him overwhelmingly in the 1980 election. The American hostages were freed after 444 days of captivity just minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President.

After he left office, Carter used his negotiating skills to solve disputes in Somalia, Haiti and North Korea. He wrote several books, established the Carter Center at Emory University and the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta and worked for the Habitat for Humanity. In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime dedication to peace, democracy, human rights and social development. Today, Jimmy Carter remains with us in the news with his recent diagnosis of metastatic melanoma involving his liver and brain. He underwent surgery for a liver mass, radiation treatment to the four lesions in the brain and targeted immunotherapy with pembrolizumab. Pembrolizumab is an immune checkpoint inhibitor that targets the programmed death protein 1 (PD-1) receptor and its ligand, PD-L1, which can result in expansion of intratumoral T memory cells. Pembrolizumab has been approved by the FDA for unresectable or metastatic melanoma and more recently for patients testing positive for the PD-L1 protein with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. Jimmy Carter's best quote today is "America did not invent human rights. In a very real senseā€¦ human rights invented America."

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.


  1. Nixon, Richard. The Memoirs of Richard Nixon: Volumes I and II
  2. Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962
  3. Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972
  4. Ambrose, Stephen E. Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973 - 1990
  5. Ford, Gerald: A Time to Heal
  6. Carter, Jimmy: Keeping the Faith

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