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Sorry, Mr. President, You Blew It, The Night Belongs to Jimmy Carter

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Thirty-one years and eleven months to the day after another speech, Barack Obama made his first televised address to the American people since he assumed office. The circumstances precipitating this pivotal event in the Obama Administration are dire. Like it or not, the United States stands at the edge of the cliff and by arriving at this precipice, we have taken the remainder of the globe with us. So, I share with you words from a man to whom this night belongs:

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

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. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Is that not the way we feel today? The words you’ve just read were spoken by President Jimmy Carter on July 15, 1979. And here we are. We’re standing at the precipice. And last night, Barack Obama addressed the Nation.

Let’s revisit the “Malaise Speech:

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal Government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our Nation's life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don't like, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

Nothing much has changed, has it? James Earl Carter, with the guts and vision of a Prophet, laid out a road map to lead this country out of the 1979 quagmire. How did we respond? We elected a cowboy who forever changed the course of America by virtue of the team he selected to lead this Nation. From Ronald Reagan we continued with George H.W. Bush. And in that first Bush Administration the plan was hatched. After the inconvenience of 8 Clinton years, the Bush machine came back into power. And we all know how that turned out. Today, Republicans will have you believe that Barack Obama is the problem. In the meantime, the President and Democrats will have you believe that the GOP brought us to the cliff by their mismanagement and wanton spending of defense dollars. The truth? We did this to ourselves by not holding our government accountable.

Last night, Barack Obama spoke to the Nation. He has wasted his time and ours. All he delivered was another level of bureaucracy and gave us empty words. Until today I had hope for this President. I've consciously made excuses for a series of missed opportunities. Last night, he failed yet again. Last night he played the role of Pope, more than Leader. President Obama can't pin this one on George W. Bush. Last night, the President laid the foundation for an interesting 2012 election process. He need not worry about Jeb Bush running — he'll have plenty of opposition within his own party.

Until Americans pick up the gauntlet and hold their respective members of Congress to the bonfire, nothing will change. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or Democrat. They all brought us down because we let them do it. In my mind, last night belonged to James Earl Carter. He should get in front of a camera tonight, look square in the lens, and utter those dreaded words – “I told you so, beyothches!”

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  • Silas, your recollection of history is a bit skewed. Carter did nothing to get us out of the quagmire we were in and has gone down in history as one of our worst and most ineffective presidents. He was voted out not long after the speech in question and replaced with Ronald Reagan who did the hard work Carter would not do and had the vision which Carter lacked. Let’s hope we get that lucky this time.


  • “Holding our government accountable.” The legitimacy of our government, as set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution, rests on the consent of the people. But, in a representative system of government the practical answer to 100% consent, or “actual consent” by each and every person, is “majoritarian” rule, or the rule of the majority. Understanding that our legal system, not moral system, holds all non-consenting people to be bound by the proper decision of the majority. In other words, all the people are held to acquiesce and to obey the decisions of the majority, even those to which they did not give their actual consent. The important question that must be asked is: Does this practical solution to the effective functioning of a representative system create a moral obligation in conscience to obey the law?

    Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett (“Restoring the Lost Constitution”) sheds some further light on this question,

    “Only if it is legitimate can an existing constitutional system issue commands to the citizenry that bind individuals in conscience. Therefore, though some degree of acquiescence may be necessary to establish a command as positive law, more than acquiescence is needed to create a moral duty to obey such a command.

    “[Majority] consent legitimates lawmaking only on the assumption that individuals have rights and there are things no person or group can do to them without violating their rights. For a law is just, and therefore binding in conscience, if its restrictions are (1) necessary to protect the rights of others and (2) proper insofar as they do not violate the preexisting rights of the persons on whom they are imposed.

    “Without actual consent, liberty must be strictly protected. In the absence of actual consent, a legitimate lawmaking process is one that provides adequate assurances that the laws it validates are just in this respect. If a lawmaking process provides these assurances, then it is “legitimate” and the commands it issues are . . . . binding in conscience unless shown to be unjust.”

  • Interesting take on the situation.


  • That link pretty much sums it up, Dan (Miller). And while the Presidency of Carter may be a moot point, no one (even Dave Nalle) can discount the words he delivered from the Oval Office in his Malaise Speech. The bottom line remains the same. Presidents since Carter have talked a good game but no President has pulled the petroleum IV from our veins.

    President Obama’s speech was a bust. Those on the Right are going to malign him no matter what he says. Those on the Left have lost patience with the man they believed was their Savior. We have 2 1/2 years to go with this Administration. Congress is drowning in gridlock while sitting members formulate their respective strategies to hang on to their seats. They’ve painted the President into a corner choosing to ride out the storm until after the elections. Meanwhile oil continues to spew into the Gulf. But who cares? Pelicans and sea creatures don’t vote or make campaign contributions.

  • Silas,

    So what can/will we do? Thomas Paine is said to have commented, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” My sense is that President Obama can’t or won’t do any of these things, except by appointing study groups.

    Is there a solution? You say,

    Until Americans pick up the gauntlet and hold their respective members of Congress to the bonfire, nothing will change. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or Democrat. They all brought us down because we let them do it.

    I agree and am modestly hopeful that the bonfires are being lit; the kindling wood is there, but I question whether there are enough logs. If there are, we need to do more than toast marshmallows.

    In the meantime, how about a nice vacation?


  • He was voted out not long after the speech in question and replaced with Ronald Reagan

    If Silas’s citation is correct and that speech was indeed made in July 1979, then it was not until almost a year and a half later, in November 1980, that Carter was voted out of office.

    The former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once remarked, “A week is a long time in politics”. Using that yardstick, far from Carter being voted out “not long after” the malaise speech, it was actually a political eternity.

    So tying that speech to Carter’s eventual election loss is not very convincing.

  • Dan: Interesting take on the situation.

    Reagan seems to have had a nice taste in shoes.

  • Doc,

    They were made for walkin not kickin. Note the squared toes. He didn’t really have to kick ass in a physical sense.


  • Baronius

    Silas, I gather that you think that this was the most important speech of Hillary Clinton’s career.

    Dread, I agree that politics can turn quickly. I’ve been thinking that Obama could rehabilitate his image by fighting against a Republican Congress for two years. I’ve been reconsidering that, though. It would be tough to shake off a reputation of inactivity and blaming others in that scenario, if that turns out to be the negative image he gets.

  • John Wilson

    The deal that Obama drove with BP is spectacularly good. The $20billion escrow jumps the $27million cap that BP hoped to use and puts the money where BP can’t recover it by temporizing. And the $20billion isn’t even a cap.

    Who else could have negotiated a deal like this to help the gulf recover?

  • True that President Carter made the speech a year before the elections. True that the speech didn’t bring him down but it set the stage of events which did, in fact, take him down. Carter made his speech on July 15, 1979. The hostage crisis began in November, 1979. The period between July and November was volatile on a global scale. During the 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan referred to that speech many times in making his case to the American people. So, yes, in retrospect the Malaise Speech precipitated the end of Jimmy Carter.

    I used to believe that Barack Obama was thoughtful, intelligent and motivated. He’s still intelligent but I question his motivations. He remains thoughtful, but has become too analytical in his approach. What I see as the President’s immediate problem is his own staff at the White House. He needs more intelligent people at the helms of his departments and must refrain from relying on political hacks like Axelrod and Emmanuel. Barack Obama had an opportunity to make this a transformational Presidency. Instead, he has set back the cause of inclusive politics for a half century.

  • Hillary would be fighting against history. I believe I’m right in saying that, in the modern era (I mean since the inception of the Republican Party), there has never been a successful challenge to an incumbent president from within the incumbent’s own party.

    So Obama has gained a reputation for inaction. There’s a grain of truth there, but it’s not altogether accurate, as one look at Politifact’s ‘Obameter’ is sufficient to show. He has actually been a very busy bunny.

    The last President also had a somewhat unwarranted reputation, which was that his invariable response to any given political situation was to (1) engage mouth (2) engage military (3) engage brain.

    Yes, it’s unfair, but we’re talking about perceptions, and once anointed by the media/blogosphere/GOP with a reputation for inertia, it’s going to be as hard for Obama to shake it off as it was for Bush to shake off his.

  • Re # 10 Who else could have negotiated a deal like this. . . .

    Al Capone?


  • I thought about what you said, and I have to concede you are spot on. It is all about perceptions. And though the President has been a busy bunny, in this country it’s all about perception. I understand that this President has no penchant for drama — but drama is what we crave. We don’t have a flair in our music any longer. There’s no creativity flowing in this age of cheap reality television. Our movies are homogeneous; our press is the same and in our boredom we look to politicians to fill the creative vacuum. So we have John Edwards’ legendary phallus; Tiger Woods’ propensity for gratification and Jesse James’ betrayal of America’s sweetheart. We’re so shallow.

    Now, back to the spill and the Pill (President). I spoke at length with a local newspaper publisher this morning north of New Orleans. He tells me that 17% of the income LA collects comes from the oil & gas industry. He told me that the locals have already been told the moratorium will continue for a minimum of 18 months as opposed to what is being reported. He went on to tell me that 100,000 people will be out of work — virtually overnight. Hurricane Katrina was Nature’s warning shot. This leak is the beginning of something cataclysmic in the Gulf. And that is something the mainstream media needs to seize and report.

  • Baronius, the Malaise Speech was the most important speech of Jimmy Carter’s career. The address by the President two nights past was of equal importance. There’s going to be a political shift in Washington before the November election — you can count on that. And, as I predicted, the rhetoric is being turned up among Democrats inside the smoke-free back rooms. Sally Quinn just did a piece in the Washington Post which strongly urges Hillary and Biden to switch roles. It won’t happen — however, it sets the stage for an interesting intra-party feud.

  • There may be a parallel here. Even those who like Venezuela’s el Presidente Chavez are unhappy.

    Here is an article from VHeadlines by Roy Carson, usually a big Chavez supporter, about the state of affairs in Venezuela. Maybe there is hope for someday. Among other things, the article says,

    Chavez shooting his mouth off without thinking has become part of the geography of what we know about Venezuela today despite the President’s Twittering and his legions of support-twitterers on the government payroll … and all the while, Affairs of State are mishandled on a daily basis either through abject incompetence on the part of family-related appointees and/or the inevitable outstretched backhanders sought for each and every bureaucratic exercise for which a lucrative bottle-neck can be introduced … despite what we believe to be Chavez’ heart-felt personal ambitions, the infrastructure has become shambolic.

    The article is worth reading.

    President Obama is not the only “leader” upon whom the admirers are turning.

  • John Wilson

    Jimmy Carter had the misfortune of following the deposed Nixon, beloved of the right, and so he earned the undying enmity of rightists, who created a knee-jerk reaction of disgust among the right which spilled over a little to other quarters. Any other time and Carter would have probably been just a middling president.

    That rightist hatred finally bore fruit in impeaching Clinton, to get even with the democrats. Residual hatred is still evident against Obama.

    But no amount of compensatory defamation of democrats seems to cleanse the Nixon image.

    Carter DID forge the ONLY middle east peace that has endured all these 30+ years: Israel-Egypt.

  • When I sat in the third row in Royce Hall at UCLA for Jimmy Carter’s speech about 10 years ago, followed by questions and answers, I formed a very positive opinion of him that nothing can shake. I have deep respect for Jimmy Carter. My only sadness is that his hands seemed to have been tied by whoever is the “invisible government.” (See Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda.” It is the instruction manual of how to manipulate the masses and be an invisible government).

    For example, Jimmy Carter, like every president since its inception, has not stopped funding the School of the Americas. That is where our tax dollars train people how to be terrorists.

    President Obama seems to be yet another puppet of this “invisible government” Edward Bernays proposed. I lost my faith in Obama as soon as I saw he was keeping Gates on (from the Bush administration) to keep running the wars.

    John Wilson is astute when he praises Carter for forging the only Middle East Peace Agreement that has endured 30+ years.

    At Royce Hall, Jimmy Carter talked about his philosophy of being a mediator. He said that international conflicts are over the exact same issues as a dispute between a husband and wife. Only the scale is larger.

    Jimmy Carter sews seeds of peace.

    What about each of us who are commenting on this article? What are we each doing to improve our own personal relationships – our relationships with our immediate family and with our Mother Earth?

  • Lynette, I’m all for sowing seeds of peace. And President Carter did accomplish something monumental in the Middle East. However, that peace no longer prevails and our Middle East obsession is not grounded in faith or peace but in petroleum.

    We can imagine a peaceful world. It’s not happening. We can sit around the campfire singing folk songs while passing around a joint but that won’t do it, either. We’re at a pivotal point in our evolution. It’s going to be painful. It may be riddled with violence. We will not emerge unscathed.

  • Mark

    What are we each doing to improve our own personal relationships – our relationships with our immediate family and with our Mother Earth?

    Well, I planted a spiral of sunflowers in time to take advantage of the runoff and harvested a mess of wild asparagus seed to plant along a friend’s ditch system. Not a bad morning.

  • After all this I think I’ll watch Hair now. Let the sun shine in.

  • Silas,

    This guy is just your speed. If you watch this (it is an hour)…you will love me. Try to stay gay though as I’m married at the moment. 😉

    (Hint: can I say any more strongly that you need to watch this without wrestling you to the ground and taping your eyelids open?)

    (You need to watch this too Roger, you didn’t yet. Consider yourself lucky that you are getting another nudge as it is very much worth watching for you.)

    Okay, enough rough-housing as you males call it. Time to go paint my toenails pink (or sumpthin).

  • Thanks, Cindy, I’ll check it out tonight. I’m working on a piece right now for the culture section. Need to step back from politics for an afternoon.

    Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads out there, and a special thank you to the mothers that birthed them.

  • Sounds like a good thing, Cindy. I expressed though my reservation about the US when I commented on Greece.

    You didn’t respond.

  • 24 (I think I did, today. Have a look. It’s the bible thread.)

  • Hey, Cindy, did you see the news that they’ve invented a female condom with teeth to prevent rape? I hear tell pharmaceuticals want to call it the Coulter Condom.

  • I was talking about America’s individualistic viewpoint, unique history which espouses looking no further than one’s own immediate circumstances.

    That’s OK, Mark doesn’t respond either to key points. He just does his usual hit & run. I’m used to it.

    To complicate matters, we are more subject to generational changes and responses – more so than the Europeans. And that’s part of the problem. We take our eye of the ball and find ourselves responding or reacting only within a very limited scope. Again, the problem is ours is a very limited horizon (and consequently, a very limited scope of thought and action).

  • 27 America’s individualistic viewpoint

    I did get that Roger, thus my suggestion that you watch that video. (as you will see)


  • I will. I wish though you’d present your POV in your own words.

  • So many other people put what I think into better words than I can. Really the analysis that guy makes is very interesting. He is just right for you and Silas. Especially Silas…as he says he is not a Marxist, but a radical Keynesian.

  • Er…Chris Hedges says that, not Silas. In case that wasn’t clear.

  • OK, I’ll give it a listen and will comment.

  • Yes, Cindy. Great stuff. I’m halfway through it.

  • Top-notch analysis, Cindy, from cultural standpoint.

    Two memorable points: neo-feudalism and eradication of the working class.

  • Cindy,

    The video you posted doesn’t make the express point for adopting the language of class struggle. However, the following article from the author’s blog makes that point amply.

    All in all, good find, Cindy.

  • I am so happy you saw that, Roger. He expounds upon the experience of what commodification is like at the individual level in a way I constantly fail at. (so far)

  • Yes, the This Country Needs a Few Good Communists article…it came after the video you watched and the book on which that video was based. Maybe he is moving past radical Keynesianism?

  • He ain’t no Keynesian, Cindy, not even a radical Keynesian. A Keynesian presupposes the integrity of government in order to be able to rein in on abuses in the private sector and control the business cycles. This is an illusion he doesn’t entertain.

    BTW, the comments section on his site is something else. Real sharp people in there. Invited one of them to check out our discussion group. She’s a sharp cookie.

  • Roger,

    I am going by what he said in the video. He specifically said he is not a Marxist, but a radical Keynesian. I think he may only be, of late, considering other ideas.

  • I will have a look at the site.

  • For the comments, that is.

  • John Wilson

    Keynes, Keynes, Keynes. Has anyone actually read Keynes, or do you only read ABOUT Keynes?

  • Cindy,

    The thread I’m talking about follows the linked article. I’ve already posted a few comments and we’re having a conversation.

  • randy anderton

    Hey Dave, are you sure the cowboy was the great president History and opinions change humans are remakably slow at seeing trouble and even slower yet at admitting and solving the problem. Ronald Reagan bankrupted california and then he started his god fearing agenda on a global scale as americas representative to the world He sold weapons to IRAN that turned out real well for us We wasted billions of dollars on sandanistas contras and freedom fighters in several south and latin american countries. Oh yeah he won the cold war not the polish people the germans the pope the hungarians etc etc…all ronnie boy. Then he laid out his absolutely brilliant plan to just say no to drugs.A trillion dollars plus and by the way still counting,later and its brilliance shines like a beacon of hope.Millions of young(and old) men and women incarcirated for marijuana or cocaine destroying their lives because ronnie said so.I should stop now but there is plenty more like the fact that at the time he left office the debt had doubled and the deficit was astonomical in fact he had spent more money than all previous presidents before him COMBINED.Yeah what a man.Don’t fight poverty, disease housing problems or child abuse.Sorry but in my humble opinion Ronald Reagan would”nt make the sweat off of James Earl Carters Ass

  • Can’t pin all the blame on Reagan, randy. We’ve got a propensity of backing the wrong political leaders on foreign soil. Yes, the Reagan Administration made their share of mistakes. And much of what has transpired has a direct connection to the Nixon years. But, here’s the bottom line, it all goes back to LBJ. His Progressive agenda was delivered at a hefty political cost. He knew it. He predicted it. And he said it would a few generations before the dust settled. What we have are “settling” pains. What LBJ failed to understand is the rapid technological advances which would be made after 1965. He had no inkling of where we would be at in 2000.

    The time for tit for tat in politics is over. Americans need to check their ideologies and parties at the door and come to the table with real solutions in real time. For the last few days I’ve been very concerned about Hamid Karzai and his so-called government. We have a real problem in Afghanistan and it begins with Karzai and his drug-peddling brother. Believe me, if a stray bullet made its way to him, I would not mourn the loss. We have too much invested in the region. We are sinking with no hope of rescue. It’s time for our Commander-in-Chief to make a tough decision. If we stay in the region, Karzai must go. If not, then we pull out, cross the border into Pakistan and make the life of Hamid Karzai and his minions a living hell.

    This morning I was thinking that Osama bin Laden and Bill Clinton share one mantra: It’s the economy, stupid. Clinton knew it and ran with it. bin Laden knows it and planned the destruction of the World Trade Center to send the message. In the meantime the Bush Administration and cowards in the Democrat Party didn’t get the message. And the only people to blame for that is us.