Obama’s Speech – The Carter Context

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
“The moral equivalent of war.”
Tonight President Obama will talk about the Gulf oil catastrophe, and, hopefully, overall energy and climate policy. A look back at President Carter’s fight over energy brings some context to this situation.
On April 18, 1977, 33 years ago, President Jimmy Carter gave a White House speech on energy and asked the country to change direction.

“Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.”

Carter said solving this energy problem would be “The moral equivalent of war.” Please, please read the speech, and its ten principles. It will help set the stage for understanding where we are today.

If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.
But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time.
That is the concept of the energy policy we will present on Wednesday. Our national energy plan is based on ten fundamental principles.
The first principle is that we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.

We failed to act soon. And we face an economic, social and political crisis that threatens our free institutions.
It turned out to be a very, very hard fight. The right’s new network of corporate-funded “think tanks” was setting up shop and beginning to spread their poisonous, divisive, anti-government propaganda. They didn’t like the idea of government trying to solve problems. The big oil giants certainly didn’t want government researching alternatives to their gravy train. We understand the right’s operation today, but people did not yet understand what was going on because the country had never been subjected to a destabilization campaign of this magnitude — from the inside.
You can really feel the effect of the right’s campaign when you read a speech Carter gave two years later. On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave what is called the “Crisis of Confidence” speech. It’s also known as the “Malaise” speech. I consider it to be one of the great speeches by a President. Carter again talked to the country about energy policy, pleading with people to take this seriously. He said, “The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.”
Well, we didn’t face them. Instead the country elected Reagan who immediately took the solar panels off of the White House, killed mass transit and alternative energy programs and steered the country on a path of toward dominance by the wealthy and big corporations – especially oil companies.
Now it is 2010, we have been at war in the Middle East for years, carbon in the air is raising the planet’s temperature and melting the Arctic ice cap, and … the oil in the Gulf. President Obama is giving his first Oval Office speech this evening and all of this is the broader context. Will he take on the entrenched interests that defeated Carter and brought us Reagan and later the two oil-company executives who invaded Iraq, encouraged buying Hummers and left us with a $1.4 trillion deficit?
As Carter said, “It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.”
Energy speech:

Crisis of confidence speech:

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Blogging from the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum

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I am at the Carter Center in Atlanta to observe the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum. The Carter Center brings together leaders of the world’s human rights effort for discussions to try to find policy solutions that can help lessen the problem of human rights violations and atrocities that occur again and again in the world. In the next couple of days former President Jimmy Carter will be speaking, as will Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Karin Ryan, Director of the Carter Center’s Human Rights Program writes,

“Why does the international community fail again and again to respond to these crises before they take on catastrophic dimensions?”

The ongoing Human Rights Defenders Policy Forums attempt to answer that question and find solutions.
This year’s conference brings together human rights defenders of different faiths, to discuss ways that the common traditions of faith in the struggle for human dignity can be utilized to provide new channels for approaching these problems. Karin again,

“What might be accomplished if the reawakening of faith that is taking place throughout the globe were accompanied by a heightened commitment to put a stop to human rights violations in many places where they are ignored?”

So I find myself in Atlanta to observe and write about this conference. Today’s discussions are off the record as the participants work to find common areas to discuss in the public conference of the next two days. This gives me a chance to write about what it is like to be here.
What is it like? The Carter Center is a very nice facility, with excellent conference amenities. It includes the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. (The museum includes a replica of the Oval Office and I hope I get a chance to sneak over and see it. I’ll let you know.) The conference takes place in an auditorium, with a horseshoe-shaped table for the approx. twenty international Human Rights Defender participants and ten or so organizational representatives. (There will be more over the next couple of days.) There are two rows of observer tables at the edges of the room, which is where I am. I have an earpiece for translation as people speak if needed. During the coffee break I spoke to a man who showed me the places where agents of his government cut him with a machete.
And that is what my first day as an observer is like. I flew here from California and landed in a nice airport. I am staying in a nice hotel. I am typing on a computer in the hallway of a very nice conference center. I carry in my head what is probably a widely-shared image of an ideal modern, civil life. I might not live that life (or even want to or think it is sustainable) but I feel that many of us reading this probably do share the image, because you are probably reading it on a computer in a modern society. In this Ideal Modern Life we have our jobs. We drive around in cars and go to shops. We consume and have our brand attachments. We watch TV shows and are entertained. We have houses and gardens. And somewhere else in the world these things are happening.
It is the 21st century and these things are not only happening, but the world’s ability to confront such problems seems to be diminishing. The forces of racial, religious, national, ethnic, ideological, economic and environmental division seem to be gaining the upper hand. This is a conference where Human Rights Defenders struggle to find ways to help keep them from continuing to happen. The people here come from places where these things happen, but part of their message is that these things can happen when the world does not make it enough of a priority to keep them from happening.
Over the next two days I will be blogging at the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge blog, and cross-posted at the conference’s own blog. I invite you to drop in. I’ll post summaries here as well, when I can, but mostly I’ll be posting there.
Blogging is a conversation. It is interactive. So please join this discussion and leave comments here – or better, leave them over at the Social Edge blog as the conference unfolds.

How Long Will The Right Let Us Love Obama?

Co-written with James Boyce, first published at Huffington Post.
Senator Barack Obama is a man to be admired, respected and liked. He is more than worthy of consideration for the Democratic Nomination in 2008 and if we were advising Senator Obama, and his equally impressive wife Michelle, our advice would be to run, and run now. A Vice Presidency certainly looks attractive on one’s resume, and a national campaign brings valuable experience.
Senator Obama is admired and he is loved. Look at the recent favorability polls and there he is, the Number One Democrat in America. But why? Why is a junior Senator, nationally a virtual unknown just two years ago, now at the top of the national favorability ratings? Is it because of his new book? His great 2004 Convention Speech? His appearance on Oprah? All of these, of course, but in fairness, does Barack Obama truly deserve to be the Democratic leader with the highest national favorability in a recent poll? Hardly.
With complete respect to Senator Obama, where are the long-time Democratic leaders who have dedicated their lives to the service of our country? Where are the other possible Presidential contenders? What about Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry? Where are Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid? Are they not leaders that deserve at the very least to have decent favorability ratings?
Why is Barack Obama “favorable” and not any of the better-known Democratic leaders? And why – of all people is Rudy Guiliani at the top of the list as the Number One leader in our country? The answer is simple, and dramatic.

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Kicking An 82 Year Old Man: The Right Attacks Jimmy Carter. Again.

[Co-written with James Boyce, originally at Huffington Post]
Jimmy Carter is not remembered as a great President. Most folks might even consider him a failure, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia. But why exactly do we hold one of the two Democratic Presidents of the last 38 years in such low esteem?
Isn’t this the man that held the country together in the years after Watergate? Didn’t he bring decency and honesty back to The White House?
Yes.
Isn’t it a great American success story for a man to come from such humble beginnings, serve in defense of his country and then ascend to the highest office?
Yes.
Isn’t it remarkable that back in 1979 he declared “The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.” Isn’t that leadership and vision?
Yes. But it was legacy destroying as well. Our memories of Jimmy Carter are memories laced with the poison of a right wing smear campaign because when Jimmy Carter encouraged us to face the facts of the energy crisis, he faced off against the Oil Companies and as the decades passed, it has become sadly clear that the nuclear physicist Naval Officer peanut farmer came out the worse for it. He was portrayed as naive and as a simpleton. He was routinely mocked. A good man’s legacy was taken down.

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