Carter’s "Malaise" Speech

By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m not 25 because I’m old enough to remember some things. I remember Jimmy Carter. Today I was thinking about Carter’s famous “Malaise Speech.” (He actually never used the word “malaise,” that was spin attached later.) Two sources I have located for reading the speech are here and here.

To understand the speech you’ve got to understand the times. (There’s a good writeup on the context and background here.) The country had gone through the assassinations of JFK, RFK and King and the race riots. Also VietNam, Watergate, the Nixon Pardon, the “Church Committee” revelations of CIA assassination and government overthrow plots, and FBI spying and covert actions (more here) against Americans for political (always pro-right-wing) reasons. And, of course, the energy crisis.

But there’s another thing that, looking back now, it is much easier to see than it was at the time. Carter was being attacked in a new way, by the newly-formed web of right-wing organizations funded by a few extremely wealthy individuals, corporations and foundations, and employing many of the CIA’s covert-government-destabilization experts that Carter had fired following the Church committee hearings that exposed so much CIA wrongdoing. On top of the turmoil of the previous years the country was being subjected for the first time to a well-funded campaign of well-crafted anti-government and extremely partisan anti-Carter messaging. This kind of mean-spirited, harsh, extreme, cruel, mocking, ridiculing partisan attack that we’re so familiar with today was not something that the public had been exposed to on such a scale in the 1970’s. Until this time the country held together and worked with their leadership – you can feel so much of that attitude in Carter’s speech.

In the speech he says,

“As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions.”

Later, smug commentators would call Carter “naive.”

One of Carter’s areas of major legislative accomplishments was his comprehensive energy policy, and getting the Crude Oil Windfall Profits Tax passed to finance it. This made him some serious and wealthy enemies.

I discovered a great source for info on Carter here,

“Carter gained a reputation for political ineptitude, even though his actual record in dealing with Congress belied that image. His success rate in getting presidential initiatives through Congress was much higher than that of his predecessors Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and successors Reagan and Bush. One might expect a president with a majority in Congress to do better than presidents facing the opposition party majorities. But Carter was also close to Johnson’s success rates, and higher than Kennedy’s record. Carter did not like to bargain and remained arrogant and aloof, but at the end of the day, he usually wound up with much of what he sought from Congress. His major problem was that the perception of his leadership did not correspond with the reality of his performance.”

We know now where “perception problems” come from, huh? Especially when you go up against entrenched interests like the oil companies.