Obama's 'Malaise' Moment

Jerry Shenk

On July 15, 1979, during an energy crisis and at a time when Americans had stopped listening to him, President Jimmy Carter used national television prime time to make a speech to the American people. Though the speech was originally meant to address energy policy, it evolved, through "the most remarkable exercise in presidential navel-gazing in American history," into a dissertation on what the administration perceived as a "crisis of confidence." The national address became popularly known as Carter's "malaise" speech.

Carter made no reference to policy blunders and issued no apologies nor did he acknowledge his personal management deficiencies. The president emphasized confidence and Americans' lack of it. Carter's speech was one of the most extraordinary examples of subject-changing in recent history. After having had very little good to say about Americans, Carter ended his speech by imploring his listeners to "say something good about our country."

President Barack Obama's rhetorical Jimmy Carter moment came on September 29, 2011 in a statement to an NBC affiliate in Orlando, Florida. In it, Obama said: "[T]his is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track."

Obama has joined Carter in attempting to deflect attention from his own problems and deficiencies by placing the blame on the American people. According to this president, we're soft.

Then and now, the American people's "crisis of confidence" is not in themselves. Furthermore, though some Americans may be, productive Americans are not soft.  

Americans lack confidence in their leaders - leaders who, as Obama and Carter have done, continuously express their contempt for the people they govern.

A currently underused proverb suggests that the buck stops in the Oval Office. No amount of excuse-making and finger-pointing will change that.

On July 15, 1979, during an energy crisis and at a time when Americans had stopped listening to him, President Jimmy Carter used national television prime time to make a speech to the American people. Though the speech was originally meant to address energy policy, it evolved, through "the most remarkable exercise in presidential navel-gazing in American history," into a dissertation on what the administration perceived as a "crisis of confidence." The national address became popularly known as Carter's "malaise" speech.

Carter made no reference to policy blunders and issued no apologies nor did he acknowledge his personal management deficiencies. The president emphasized confidence and Americans' lack of it. Carter's speech was one of the most extraordinary examples of subject-changing in recent history. After having had very little good to say about Americans, Carter ended his speech by imploring his listeners to "say something good about our country."

President Barack Obama's rhetorical Jimmy Carter moment came on September 29, 2011 in a statement to an NBC affiliate in Orlando, Florida. In it, Obama said: "[T]his is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track."

Obama has joined Carter in attempting to deflect attention from his own problems and deficiencies by placing the blame on the American people. According to this president, we're soft.

Then and now, the American people's "crisis of confidence" is not in themselves. Furthermore, though some Americans may be, productive Americans are not soft.  

Americans lack confidence in their leaders - leaders who, as Obama and Carter have done, continuously express their contempt for the people they govern.

A currently underused proverb suggests that the buck stops in the Oval Office. No amount of excuse-making and finger-pointing will change that.