"The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation."Jimmy Carter - July 1979

It was the Energy Crisis of 1979. 

As gas lines stretched for blocks across America. President Jimmy Carter prepared to address the nation on energy. After a panicked call from his pollster Pat Caddell, Carter cancels at the last instant, disappearing from the public eye. Rumors abound of a health crisis, or, that he's losing an emotional crisis. After 10 days pass, he reemerges with a speech to address the energy crisis and economic issues. 

The speech became known as the "malaise speech," though Carter never used that term. It became one of those "Katrina Moments", that marked the beginning of the end for a President's leadership. Writing about the "Malaise Speech" in, "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?", author Kevin Mattson offers this account: 

"The diagnosis he laid out was harsh: '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.' He decried how 'two-thirds of our people do not even vote,' how there was a 'growing disrespect for government,' and how 'fragmentation and self-interest' prevented Americans from tackling the energy crisis. It was an indictment of America's civic spirit. Carter used the speech to articulate a realist style of leadership, charged with the warnings about limits and humility. He shared responsibility by confessing his faults. He recognized the wounds left over from Watergate, Vietnam, and the assassinations of the 1960s. At one point, though he didn't have to, he said, 'This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.' "

Initially, the reception to Carter's speech was positive: Approving phone calls poured into the White House and thousands of messages of support. Like so many events surrounding the luckless Carter Presidency, it was a short-lived respite. Days later, Carter fired several members of his cabinet, changing the narrative from prophetic rhetoric to the clumsy staff change that followed. Carter blew a great opportunity. 


The Great Recession and its aftershocks have been with us for 5 years. 9/11 is more than a decade in the past. Many feel tired and fatigued by the implications of the events and are simply weary. With so much energy squandered over the government shutdown, the battles over health care, and with the toxic political landscape, optimism seems in short supply. 

We do have an alternative. We can listen to what our hearts are telling us, and take massive individual and collective action. We can choose empowerment, and say we have had enough of hearing our best days are in the rearview mirror. 

"First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans." - Jimmy Carter - July 1979

The malaise we face today is driven by disillusionment. But the fading of the mirage of leveraged economic security is forcing us to figure a way into tomorrow. It might not seem the best way to have to do so, but in the end, our nation will find a way out of today's angst, just like we did in the eighties.

In a phrase that undoubtedly haunts author Rahm Emanuel, a crisis is a horrible thing to waste. No matter what the bomb throwers say, we do not need a revolution. We only need to believe in life, to believe in why we are here. Tired and full of "malaise" perhaps, we may be not having the greatest day or days. yet, but the future still is calling. All we have to do is toss our cap over that wall, and lead ourselves and others to follow it. 


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