Spirit of ’79

Posted by Rob Walker on July 16, 2008
Posted Under: America,Olde News,Politics

So I’m clawing my way back from a computer snafu that’s cost me a lot of time the last two days (and that may have cost me a few lost emails, just so you know).

But somehow I got sucked in this morning to spending half an hour watching Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence” speech from 1979. It’s been getting some attention lately because of his comments about the energy crisis. But the whole thing is kind of fascinating — the passion of his tone is pretty startling, he seems flat-out pissed sometimes. (On the other hand, his fist-pumping is pretty ineffectual.)

Anyway, one little sound bite:

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. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Cut to: The 1980s!

Anyway, the energy stuff is interesting, not so much because of his specific policy proposals, but because of the force of his argument that it’s a real crisis, “a clear and present danger,” etc. He’s practically yelling at that point.

Quite a performance. But let’s face it, Americans didn’t want to be lectured in 1979, any more than they do today.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

here’s another interesting recent reference to Carter’s speech:

http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/07/the_gops_carter_moment.php

#1 
Written By discoczech on July 16th, 2008 @ 6:26 pm

I have seen a few blogs conjure up Carter’s speech. Almost every site views this speech as a great example of presidential leadership. However, the context of the speech’s delivery has been removed.

Viewed in the context that it was given, this speech exemplifies all that was wrong with the Carter administration. In the late 1970s, the Western nations experienced a second oil shock. In the US, gasoline prices cleared the $1 price mark for the first time. A decade prior, the same gallon of gasoline cost less than 25 cents.

The events in Iran appeared to baffle and confuse the Carter administration. The Americans could not understand the events that transpired in Iran. Unfortunately, we would be similarly confused in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. However, those countries had little bearing on the price of one of our most essential resources.

Nixon’s failed economic policies caused the dollar to collapse by the end of the decade. Since oil was priced in dollars, the price of oil began to rise. The gold bugs came out in force too as investors abandoned the dollar. The Saudi oil minister openly talked about pricing oil using a mixed basket of currencies.

The Carter administration proposed no bold initiatives to wean the US off oil. US oil production had peaked in the early 1970s, and, by the late 1970s, we had come up with no big idea other than to drill for oil in Alaska. Carter managed to get the windfall oil profit tax passed. Most people considered this idea another dumb economic idea from the era (see also Nixon’s price controls).

Instead of big ideas and bold leadership, Carter appeared in a sweater and told the American people to turn down their thermostats. The sweater image is perhaps eclipsed only by Dukakis’ tank photo as one of the worst presidential images ever. Carter looked more like your grandfather giving you a scolding about your profligate way than a leader who could guide America through a crisis.

Then, as now, the American people yearn for leadership from their elected government officials. Yet, then as now, we are offered nothing more than conservation tips that can be easily found in your weekly community newspaper.

Do not hold up the Carter speech as a dollop of truth. Instead, hold it up as another administration bereft of ideas and bankrupt of leadership.

#2 
Written By bevo on July 17th, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

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