Malaise Reprise?

The Gulf oil spill is frequently compared to the Exxon Valdez.  A more appropriate comparison would be to the Tehran hostage crisis or OPEC’s oil embargo.  

Neither Presidents Obama nor Carter could fully “control” the situation, the dynamics in each beyond Washington’s control; each situation inherently unique; each bearing the potential for political catastrophe.  Each situation the result of unintended consequences, in Tehran the entry of the Shah into the U.S. for medical care and in the Gulf an overreaction to the Valdez spill pushing oil production out of land based drilling to the Gulf.

Both Presidents faced severe economic conditions.  Neither President established policies viewed generally as consistent with recovery. Initial economic policies of both failed.   Both Presidents viewed as “outsiders”, in Carter’s case an electoral reaction to the Nixon / Ford administrations.  In Obama’s case a promise to change the nature of politics in America and establish a new era of transparency and accountability.

Both Presidents guilty of a  “deer in the headlights” look, on occasion. Both clearly reacting to not leading public opinion.   Both clearly frustrated with the advent of uncontrollable circumstance.  Both Presidents staggered by the scope of the problem and the inability to effectively address it.  Both Presidents sharing a consistent world view.

President Obama has sowed criticism far and wide denigrating those that disagree with him and his policy initiatives.  This criticism began with his “clinging to guns and religion” comment during the campaign and pops up again and again related to Tea Parties, demonstrations, Republicans and specific individuals standing  in opposition. 

Seventeen months into the Obama administration the President and his minions still blame President Bush while at the same time using Bush behaviors as justification for Obama behaviors.  John Podesta of the Center for American Progress even blames President Bush for the Gulf disaster despite clear evidence of gross incompetence and cozying up to the oil companies in the Obama administration.

President Carter eventually blamed “malaise” although that word was never used in his speech and was labeled by the media.   the context of his speech on July 15, 1976 was the impact of the oil embargo and his attempt to re-define energy policy.  He reviewed a long list of criticisms directed at him and his administration.  He  engaged in an outreach tosolicit  opinions from all sectors of society.  The criticisms were focused mainly on his leadership abilities.  (

Some of Mr. Carter’s statements in the speech could easily be said today:

  • “Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal Government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our Nation’s life.”
  • “The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide.”
  • “What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action”
  • “The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”
  • “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.”

But ultimately the contextual fault was not Mr. Carter’s; “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.” 

One  criticisms Mr. Carter endured came from a southern Governor: “Mr. President, you are not leading this Nation — you’re just managing the Government.”  Mr. Carter eventually blamed the “mood” of the nation, distancing himself from his part is creating that “mood”.  His answer to the “mood” was yet more  policy recommendations!  Mr. Carter simply did not absorb the fact that his  leadership failureshad helped to create  the mood he identified as the fundamental problem?  Mr. Carter did notconnect with  the fact that weak leadership was the critical point of connectivity in support of the problems he faced.   

Among Mr. Carter’s reasons for the lack of confidence were: Vietnam, assassinations and  Watergate, he was correct, I remember it clearly.  These  events did indeed shake the nation’s confidence.  But it was, in essence, a “not my fault” message.  The same  attitudes and tactics display themselves today. 

Undeniable  parallels exist to  to Mr. Carter’s speech  There is a consistency of world view between the two Presidents.  Can  Mr. Obama’s “malaise” moment be far away?

 Does malaise  occur when we begin to reject the never ending excuses and blame  aimed at the prior administration?  Does Mr. Obama reach the  epiphany that  blame and finger pointing is the worse demonstration of weak kneed leadership failure?  Does malaise begin to occur when the media finally confesses that the President did not do everything possible in the Gulf?  Does it arrive  in November?

The crisis of confidence is growing can “the speech” be far away. The one thing we know for an absolute certainty is that there will be a speech. It will be a good one.  It will solve nothing!