A frequent commenter on my blog once said "Oh, and agreeing with Carter on nearly anything is a sad state of affairs as I wouldn't trust him to bus tables."
We were discussing President Carter's statement last year that some of the opposition to President Obama was driven by racism. The way he said it might have overstated the current impact of racism, but to me it almost goes without saying that his basic point was right. Some of the opposition to President Obama was racist at its core.
I have thought about that and about President Carter's legacy alot. So I went back and read his famous "Malaise" speech. I mourn for this country that he did not achieve what he set out to do and how much better off we would have been had he succeeded
As I read it, his speech had two core messages. That we had lost our sense of national community and that we had to take radical action to reduce and eventually eliminate our dependence of foriegn oil.
These words are even more true today than they were in 1979 when he gave this speech.
"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.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else -- public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.
Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.
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.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.
As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning."
His message was simple if not easy
"One of the visitors to Camp David last week put it this way: "We've got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America."
And the first test of America's ability to rise to new challenges was energy. He proposed drastic actions to address what was already an energy crisis. He challenged American's to rise to the challenge, to take on a great cause. And we failed him.
Imagine what our country would be like if we weren't spending almost a Trillion dollars a year now on imported oil. What it would be like if we got 20% of our electricity from solar energy. Imagine how many jobs would have been created selling that technology to other nations instead of us buying it from Europe and China. If all of our houses and office buildings were more energy efficient and our cars got better gas mileage.
No, thats not what we did. President Carter, for many reasons, was a one term President. His successor turned back much of what President Carte had accomplished. He removed the Solar Panels from the White House roof. He stopped the next increment in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Like so much of his legacy, President Reagan's approach to the energy needs of this nation have left this nation with a huge burden.
President Carter was right then, we just didn't listen.
And we will pay the price for our short sightedness for a long long time.
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