Update: This letter was published in the NewsPress on July 15, 2012.
On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered his since-dubbed “malaise” speech to the American people. It bears revisiting now because its essential themes have only become more compelling, its strains more urgent, its warnings more apt in today’s America. At that time, America faced a dire energy crisis due to disruption of oil supply from the Middle East, but Carter spoke more broadly about our nation’s condition.
He spoke with poignancy about Americans’ tendency to “worship self-indulgence and consumption,” to define our identity “no longer by what one does, but by what one owns.” The decline of the American spirit was evident in our governance as well. “We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own,” he said, but “our people are losing that faith, not only in government but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy.” This “crisis of confidence,” he said, resulted from “a system of government that seems incapable of action,” a “Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by well-financed and powerful special interests.”
The crises America faces today – among them, a collapsing economy, senseless militarism, restrictions on our freedoms, a degrading environment – require that we finally follow President Carter’s calls for action, that we put aside “fragmentation and self-interest” and embark upon “the path of common interest and restoration of American values.” We didn’t heed the president’s words thirty-three years ago. We must do so now.