The Crisis Of Confidence

34 years ago, today, the United States was coping with skyrocketing inflationary economic pressures, and high fuel prices. People in some states were also experiencing long waits to fill up their gasoline tanks. The 39th President, James Earl Carter was ready to deliver an important, televised speech to Americans.

Carter’s “The Crisis of Confidence” speech became one of the most misunderstood and panned speeches of modern history. The press and pundits dubbed it the “Malaise Speech”, even though the word “malaise” does not appear in it.  In the speech, Mr. Carter took a critical view of his administration and the state of the nation.  He also sounded the alarm to the public about potential consequenes of their own actions.Carter-malaisespeech

The backdrop of the United States of the times must be taken into consideration. Within the recent historical history around 1979, many events were still relatively fresh in the minds of the public:  the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War debacle, and the Watergate crisis.  As mentioned earlier, the fuel crisis and inflation were making Americans feel tense, too.

In his speech, President Carter said that the root of the nation’s problems was an erosion of faith in the nation’s future.  Even though Carter was a devout evangelical Christian, he claimed the crisis of faith was not a crisis of faith in God, but was, instead, diminished faith in the country and in themselves. He said, “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.”

To constructively help the fate of the nation, Mr. Carter suggested several things for the public to practice. “I’m asking you for your good and for your nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel…. I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure nation.”

Public reaction to the address was overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, the nation did take the President’s advice and practiced the conservation measures.  The tone of the speech resonated well with the public.  His poll ratings increased after the televised speech.

Carter-LivingPresidentsUnfortunately, the public later misinterpreted the shakeup in his Cabinet. The political elites and the media used the Cabinet shift as leverage in their dislike of Carter. Their attitudes trickled down to the public at large.  Many people soon had the opinion that the President was shifting blame from himself to his administration and the public.  This loophole enabled Carter’s political enemies to misname the speech and to engage historical revisionism.  Despite his detractors, the speech was an extraordinary success. It was the speech that should have changed the nation.

While the message was a very accurate depiction of the national condition of the day, pundits thought that Carter’s tone was too pessimistic. The misnomer, “malaise” became a talking point for Carter’s Republican opposition.  In the re-election campaign, Ronald Reagan was able to spin his own approach with a dismissive, sunny mood.  The malaise wording played into Reagan’s hands, enabling the defeat of Carter in his re-election bid.


The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks that President Carter’s message is still relevant today.  To hear the original “Malaise Speech” go here:

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Controversy, History, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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