Saturday, February 26, 2011
Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: The Prophetic Wisdom of President Carter's "Malaise" Speech
In the maelstrom of the Herman Cain Race Minstrel Affair, we have missed out on quite a few conversations. Last Monday was Presidents' Day--a day of rest, Popeye's Fried Chicken coupon redemption, and obligatory editorials ranking the "best" and "worst" Chief Executives. Of course the Right want to exaggerate the greatness of corporate pitchman turned President, Ronald Reagan. Others want to claim FDR as particularly noteworthy for his mastery of realpolitik because of how he saved capitalism from itself. The middle road and safe choice for the best there was and the best there ever will be are the trinity of Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson. Ultimately, there is no accounting for taste. But historians of the presidency do have their (least and most) favorites.
History is written in multiple drafts. For example, as the people of the Middle East challenge power and remake their societies some on the Right want to claim these events as the direct result of George Bush's dreams of empire in Iraq and a policy of preemptive war. Only the hindsight wisdom of history will determine if that narrative is correct or not.
In parallel, President Jimmy Carter left office as a President much maligned. In the decades which followed, he has become one of our eldest and most respected statesman. Looking backward from America's current malaise, economic crisis, lost hopes and dreams, and a zeitgeist which channels a belief that this country's best years are behind her, Carter's intervention seemed prophetic.
Where would America be in the 21st century if we had followed the plan outlined by President Carter's famous speech? How would Americans respond in the present if Obama channeled the real talk and raw honesty of President Carter? If President Obama looked us in the collective eye and spoke plainly about the mess we are in at the nadir of American Empire and how we can salvage our collective destiny?