We always rise above malaise

Two and one half years into his presidency, on July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter made what is arguably his most famous address, the “Crisis of Confidence” speech that preceded an attempt at a national energy policy with a quarter hour lecture about the national spirit.

Dubbed by critics as the “malaise speech,” though it did not use the word “malaise,” it was an expression of frustration at inaction and inability to get Carter’s proposals through Congress.

During the lecture portion of the speech, Carter lamented the problems of spirit as being more important than gasoline lines or the recession of his time.

Americans had lost the faith that their children’s future would be brighter than their own, that people saw a Congress twisted by special interests where “every extreme position is defended to the last vote.”

Carter faced double-digit inflation and the second OPEC oil crisis at the time.

Now, President Barack Obama is evoking that speech in recent days, calling the issue “cynicism” instead of a “crisis of confidence.”

After his health care law passed and became the fragmented, costly and fraught-with-unintended-consequences law it was predicted to be, Obama has seen his second term, 18 months in, become a stagnant time fraught with peril, much as Carter was 18 months into his only term.

When one considers that nothing of the energy policy that Carter proposed in his “Crisis of Confidence” talk came to be (the nation continued to be dependent on oil imports until fracking technology unlocked a new treasure trove of natural resources since about 2007), it’s telling that the speech is one of the most memorable moments of Carter’s presidency.

Memorable, that is, until November 1979, just four months down the calendar, when Iranian terrorists (we didn’t call them that at the time) took hostages at the American embassy in Tehran and held Carter hostage for the remaining 444 days of his presidency.

Unlike Carter, Obama has shown a marked propensity to twist his own message.

“If you’re fed a steady diet of cynicism that says nobody is trustworthy and nothing works, and there’s no way we can actually address these problems, then the temptation is to just go it alone, to look after yourself and not participate in the larger project of achieving our best vision of America,” Obama said in a recent speech in California.

Yet, he chooses to go it alone, saying boldly that he’ll enact his policies through executive order if Congress cannot or will not act.

At least the U.S. isn’t suffering from double-digit inflation and runaway interest rates as we did during the final years of Jimmy Carter.

And, despite Carter’s worry that the nation couldn’t be unified, it kicked him out of office in a landslide to elect a president who eventually shrunk government and won the Cold War.

Americans do respond to crises of confidence and cynicism.

Their next opportunity occurs during the mid-term elections in November.