Monday, July 15, 2013

Jul 15 (1979) Jimmy Carter Delivers Malaise: "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns"

On this day in 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered his "Crisis of Confidence" speech. Written by Hendrik Hertzberg and Gordon Stewart, it is often referred to as his "malaise" speech, though that word is never actually spoken. 

Carter spent much of the address blaming the problems of the day--energy, unemployment, inflation--on the American spirit. Whether true or not, a flurry of articles and op-eds afterward indicated that was not something Americans wanted to hear.

In a 2008 piece in US News & World ReportKevin Mattson provided a more seasoned reflection on its historical importance.

"What Carter really did in the speech was profound. He warned Americans that the 1979 energy crisis – both a shortage of gas and higher prices – stemmed from the country's way of life. 

'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,' the president said. 

Consumerism provided people with false happiness, he suggested, but it also prevented Americans from re-examining their lives in order to confront the profound challenge the energy crisis elicited... 

Despite [failures] Carter left behind a way of talking about the country's promise and its need to confront what is undoubtedly one of its biggest challenges – to solve the energy crisis in a way that takes seriously both our limits and our greatness."

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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.