What Obama could learn from Carter
Walter Shapiro argues that Barack Obama should take a page from Jimmy Carter's book, or at least his speeches. Somewhat counterintuitively, Shapiro argues that Obama should look to Carter's "malaise" speech for inspiration. That speech, as some of you know, never used the word "malaise," but did address energy independence, and was wildly popular when it was delivered in 1979. Historian Kevin Mattson tells the story well:
The speech worked. 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."
So: Leveling with the American people about the costs of fossil fuel dependence? Good. Firing your entire Cabinet and throwing the government into chaos? Not good.
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