Monday, October 3, 2011

A New Malaise Speech?

At about the same time in his Presidency as Barack Obama is now, Jimmy Carter gave his Malaise Speech.  Interestingly enough it was a young Bill Clinton, though uncredited, who had told then President Carter: “Mr. President, you are not leading this Nation— you're just managing the Government”. Though he never used the word malaise, he spoke of the crisis in confidence and essentially told the American people they were at fault.  Entire text here

Carter's Crisis Speech
On the evening of July 15, 1979, millions of Americans tuned in to hear Jimmy Carter give the most important speech of his presidency. After sharing some of the criticism he had heard at Camp David -- including an unattributed quote from the young governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton -- Carter put his own spin on Caddell's argument. "The solution of our energy crisis can also help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country," the president said, asking Americans to join him in adapting to a new age of limits.
But he also admonished them, "In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns." Hendrik Hertzberg, who worked on the speech, admits that it "was more like a sermon than a political speech. It had the themes of confession, redemption, and sacrifice. He was bringing the American people into this spiritual process that he had been through, and presenting them with an opportunity for redemption as well as redeeming himself." Though he never used the word -- Caddell had in his memo -- it became known as Carter's "malaise" speech.

And now President Obama may have given his own version of the malaise speech in a recent interview with Jim Payne at WESH-TV in Orlando.  His diminutive view of the United States continues to be the source for his “strive for mediocrity” approach to the US economy and our future place in the World. (see here   here  and here  )

“The way I think about it is, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades,” he said. “We need to get back on track.”

You can watch the entire interview and hear how President Obama dances around the shutdown at NASA, trying to say "we are in a period of transition". We are going to spend a decade not doing any space flights, as we plan for "improvements". And, we aren’t going to lose our edge.

Krauthammer on Obama's America's "getting soft" comment:
"[Obama is] compounding condescension, incompetence and narcissism all in one sentence".

Newt Gingrich recalls the Carter malaise speech and compares to Obama’s “Americans soft” moment. 
"We don't have a problem with the American people being too soft, we have a problem with Barack Obama just being plain wrong!".

PBS describes the results for Carter as
The op-ed pieces started spinning out, 'Why don't you fix something? There's nothing wrong with the American people. We're a great people. Maybe the problem's in the White House, maybe we need new leadership to guide us.'" Historian Roger Wilkins concurs: "When your leadership is demonstrably weaker than it should be, you don't then point at the people and say, 'It's your problem.' If you want the people to move, you move them the way Roosevelt moved them, or you exhort them the way Kennedy or Johnson exhorted them. You don't say, 'It's your fault.'"

I doubt that the media that is so strongly supportive of President Obama will act as the independent fourth estate and follow through as they did when Jimmy Carter was President.  They are too invested in his Presidency and his agenda. So this will probably never be seen on the front page of the New York Times, or the Strib.

The parallels between the presentations are remarkable and stark.  The theme that its America's fault rides in both.  Can we depend on the leadership and move forward with a misguided President who has such a low opinion of the American people? 

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