Jewish World Review June 22, 2010 / 10 Tamuz 5770
Malaise All Over Again, Or: Is This Jimmy Carter's Second Term?
By Paul Greenberg
Surely it's just my fallible memory, but I can't recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as
Without actually using that French-sounding word, which may have been the one mistake he avoided in that overwrought and overthought speech, that beleaguered president got his message across clearly enough: He was the victim of a crisis of confidence on the part of the American people.
And if we would just regain our spirit, all the other crises his administration faced would go away -- from gas lines to hyperinflation to the general feeling that no one was in charge. It was really our fault that he was proving such a failure.
Strangely enough, We the People didn't buy all that, maybe because we expected a president of
As it turned out, the American people did have a lot of confidence in themselves; it was their president they lacked confidence it -- a feeling that would be borne out by Mr. Carter's defeat in the next presidential election a year later by
Having campaigned on a promise to give America a government as good as its people,
If I recall correctly, it took a couple of days for the full force of public opinion to set in against that speech, and then descend on the
Things happen much faster in these computerized, iPhoned, YouTubed times.
Dr. Carter's diagnosis of the American psyche -- a bad case of Malaise -- might have gone over well in a different country.
The end of every French movie I can remember seeing -- excuse me, the denouement -- has been: And They Lived Unhappily Ever After. And then everybody slowly drifts out of the movie theater sighing deeply, enveloped in a bittersweet self-satisfaction, absorbed in their own deep sensitivity. Ah, there's nothing like having one's cynicism borne out by events. Although it does tend to spoil the popcorn.
But that's just not the American way. We've got things to do, places to go, people to see, oil to trap, skim and vacuum. Lamentation just takes up too much good time that could be spent on, say, holding down a second job or playing in a garage band. Philosophy has never been our strong point; on the whole, we'd rather make money.
Rather than follow some ascetic creed, we prefer our faith on the positive side. He helps those who help themselves and all that. If we can't have a purpose-driven life, we'll settle for just a driven one.
But one thing we're not likely to settle for is a leader who analyzes instead of leads. Which may be the big reason the president's address Tuesday night fell flat as a flitter. Or as Mark Twain said of a different performance, it wasn't American, it wasn't un-American, it was ... French.
Our current president's much touted call to arms against the oil spill somehow managed to disappoint both left and right, and center, too. And even those who don't much follow politics. Talk about a comprehensive impact. Who says the man can't unite us?
Pragmatist or idealist or just innocent bystander, all seemed just a little miffed the morning after, or even the night before. The talking cure just doesn't seem to get it done this side of the Atlantic, or at least in flyover country, where introspection may be taken as just an early symptom of constipation.
Over here, we like our leaders chipper, especially when the roof is falling in. Think Churchill while the V-2s were raining down on
There is much to be said for having an actor in the
So we were all waiting for the president to say what he was going to do about this sea of oil headed into the Gulf, but he seemed so ... detached. Removed. Cool, man. As if this were somebody else's problem, really. Which is what brought poor, out-of-his-depth
So could we please just fix this oily little matter, Mr. President, which ain't so little after all, before we start gazing fondly at our navels? There'll be plenty of time for philosophizing after this well has been safely plugged. Till then, let's concentrate on Job No. 1. And git 'er done. Then we can go back to arguing politics. Till then, the country could use a president who leads, follows or just gets out of the way. Instead it's got this ... community organizer.
Wake up, Mr. President!
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.