More Carter apologias
I like E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column today, but I have to argue with this lead:
A weird malaise is haunting the Democratic Party.
That's a risky word to use, I know. It's freighted with bad history and carries unfortunate implications. So let's be clear: President Obama is not Jimmy Carter, not even close. And Obama's speech on Tuesday was nothing like Carter's 1979 "malaise speech," in which Carter never actually used that word. Obama gave a good and sensible speech that was not a home run.
It's true that Obama's speech was different from Carter's, but that's because Carter's speech was actually a home run! It's what Carter did after the speech that destroyed his approval ratings. Tell 'em all about it, Kevin Mattson:
It prompted an overwhelmingly favorable response. Carter received a whopping 11 percent rise in his poll numbers. The mail that poured into the White House testified that many citizens felt moved by the speech. One man wrote to Carter, "You are the first politician that [sic] has said the words that I have been thinking for years. Last month I purchased a moped to drive to work with. I plan to use it as much as possible, and by doing so I have cut my gas consumption by 75%."
In the end, Jimmy Carter did blow the situation, but it wasn't because of the speech itself. Rather, he blew the opportunity that the speech opened up for him. Just two days after July 15, Carter fired his Cabinet, signifying a governmental meltdown. The president's poll numbers sank again as confusion and disarray took over. Carter could give a great speech, but there were two things he couldn't manage: to govern well enough to make his language buoy him or to find a way to yoke the energy crisis with concrete civic re-engagement initiatives. Though Americans were inspired by the speech, many were still stumped as to what was expected of them. As Time magazine described it: "The President basked in the applause for a day and then set in motion his astounding purge, undoing much of the good he had done himself."