In an effort to restore integrity to the presidency, Americans elected Jimmy Carter in 1976. A nuclear engineer and devout Southern Baptist, Carter promised to continue the struggle against the forces of international communism but to insist on respect for human rights whether from Cold War foe or Cold War friend. During the campaign, he condemned Henry Kissinger for his secrecy and his penchant for power politics. Carter promised open covenants openly arrived at, recalling memories of Woodrow Wilson. The president's belief that he could make morality the basis of American foreign policy and simultaneously safeguard its strategic and economic interests was flawed. His emphasis on human rights alienated friend and foe alike and led to renewed charges of Yankee imperialism.
There was some bipartisan cooperation during the Carter years. Democrats led by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia and moderate Republicans led by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee banded together in Congress to ratify a new set of Panama Canal treaties that provided for the gradual transfer of sovereignty over the Canal Zone to Panama. The treaty was approved by a narrow margin of 68 to 32. If support for the pact was bipartisan, so was opposition. Nationalists led by Republican Governor Ronald Reagan of California and former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace argued that the treaty was just one more instance of America acting through weakness, surrendering part of its sovereignty, and opening the door to the communists. Despite Senate ratification of the Canal treaties, as well as the Camp David Accords, in which Carter persuaded the governments of Israel and Egypt to agree to "a framework for peace," the president quickly earned a reputation for ineptness that alienated both Republicans and Democrats. The Iran hostage crisis, deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union over human rights and the war in Afghanistan, and the Arab boycott and resulting oil shortage reduced support in Congress for Carter's foreign policy almost to zero.