President Jimmy Carter's "Malaise"
Speech, July 15, 1979
This is a special night for me. Exactly 3 years ago, on July 15,
1976, I accepted the nomination of my party to run for President
of the United States. I promised you a President who is not isolated
from the people, who feels your pain, and who shares your dreams
and who draws his strength and his wisdom from you.
During the past 3 years I've spoken to
you on many occasions about national concerns, the energy crisis,
reorganizing the Government, our Nation's economy, and issues
of war and especially peace. But over those years the subjects
of the speeches, the talks, and the press conferences have become
increasingly narrow, focused more and more on what the isolated
world of Washington thinks is important. Gradually, you've heard
more and more about what the Government thinks or what the Government
should be doing and less and less about our Nation's hopes, our
dreams, and our vision of the future.
Ten days ago I had planned to speak to
you again about a very important subject -- energy. For the fifth
time I would have described the urgency of the problem and laid
out a series of legislative recommendations to the Congress. But
as I was preparing to speak, I began to ask myself the same question
that I now know has been troubling many of you. Why have we not
been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy
It's clear that the true problems of our
Nation are much deeper -- deeper than gasoline lines of energy
shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession. And I realize
more than ever that as President I need your help. So, I decided
to reach out and listen to the voices of America.
I invited to Camp David people from almost
every segment of our society business and labor, teachers and
preachers, Governors, mayors, and private citizens. And then I
left Camp David to listen to other Americans, men and women like
you. It has been an extraordinary 10 days, and I want to share
with you what I've heard. First of all, I got a lot of personal
advice. Let me quote a few of the typical comments that I wrote
This from a southern Governor: "Mr.
President, you are not leading this Nation -- you're just managing
"You don't see the people enough
"Some of your Cabinet members don't
seem loyal. There is not enough discipline among your disciples."
"Don't talk to us about politics
or the mechanics of government, but about an understanding of
our common good."
"Mr. President, we're in trouble.
Talk to us about blood and sweat and tears."
"If you lead, Mr. President, we will
Many people talked about themselves and
about the condition of our Nation. This from a young woman in
Pennsylvania: "I feel so far from government. I feel like
ordinary people are excluded from political power."
And this from a young Chicano: "Some
of us have suffered from recession all our lives."
"Some people have wasted energy,
but others haven't had anything to waste."
And this from a religious leader: "No
material shortage can touch the important things like God's love
for us or our love for one another."
And I like this one particularly from
a black woman who happens to be the mayor of a small Mississippi
town: "The big-shots are not the only ones who are important.
Remember, you can't sell anything on Wall Street unless someone
digs it up somewhere else first."
This kind of summarized a lot of other
statements: "Mr. President, we are confronted with a moral
and a spiritual crisis."
Several of our discussions were on energy,
and I have a notebook full of comments and advice. I'll read just
"We can't go on consuming 40 percent
more energy than we produce. When we import oil we are also importing
inflation plus unemployment."
"We've got to use what we have. The
Middle East has only 5 percent of the world's energy, but the
United States has 24 percent."
And this is one of the most vivid statements:
"Our neck is stretched over the fence and OPEC has a knife."
"There will be other cartels and
other shortages. American wisdom and courage right now can set
a path to follow in the future."
This was a good one: "Be bold, Mr.
President. We may make mistakes, but we are ready to experiment."
And this one from a labor leader got to
the heart of it: "The real issue is freedom. We must deal
with the energy problem on a war footing."
And the last that I'll read: "When
we enter the moral equivalent of war, Mr. President, don't issue
us BB guns."
These 10 days confirmed my belief in the
decency and the strength and the wisdom of the American people,
but it also bore out some of my longstanding concerns about our
Nation's underlying problems.
I know, of course, being President, that
government actions and legislation can be very important. That's
why I've worked hard to put my campaign promises into law -- and
I have to admit, with just mixed success. But after listening
to the American people I have been reminded again that all the
legislation in the world can't fix what's wrong with America.
So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even
more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right
now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.
I do not mean our political and civil
liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward
strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere
in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.
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
The confidence that we have always had
as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in
a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the
idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as
a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else
-- public institutions and private enterprise, our own families,
and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has
defined our course and has served as a link between generations.
We've always believed in something called progress. We've always
had a faith that the days of our children would be better than
Our people are losing that faith, not
only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve
as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people
we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been
part of the living history of America, even the world. We always
believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself
called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that
belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as
we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning
to close the door on our past.
In a nation that was proud of hard work,
strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God,
too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.
Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what
one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming
things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned
that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives
which have no confidence or purpose.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American
spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of
our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years
will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people
do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually
dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future
has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.
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.
These changes did not happen overnight.
They've come upon us gradually over the last generation, years
that were filled with shocks and tragedy.
We were sure that ours was a nation of
the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy
and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We were taught
that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always
just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the Presidency
as a place of honor until the shock of Water gate.
We remember when the phrase "sound
as a dollar" was an expression of absolute dependability,
until 10 years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our
savings. We believed that our Nation's re sources were limitless
until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign
These wounds are still very deep. They
have never been healed.
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. Washington,
D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our
Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for
honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false
claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.
What you see too often in Washington and
elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems
incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in
every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special
interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last
vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another.
You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice,
a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without
support and without friends.
Often you see paralysis and stagnation
and drift. You don't like, and neither do I. What can we do?
First of all, we must face the truth,
and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in
each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith
in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence
to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true
challenge of this generation of Americans.
One of the visitors to Camp David last
week put it this way: "We've got to stop crying and start
sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start
praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House,
but from every house in America."
We know the strength of America. We are
strong. We can regain our unity. We can regain our confidence.
We are the heirs of generations who survived threats much more
powerful and awesome than those that challenge us now. Our fathers
and mothers were strong men and women who shaped a new society
during the Great Depression, who fought world wars, and who carved
out a new charter of peace for the world.
We ourselves and the same Americans who
just 10 years ago put a man on the Moon. We are the generation
that dedicated our society to the pursuit of human rights and
equality. And we are the generation that will win the war on the
energy problem and in that process rebuild the unity and confidence
We are at a turning point in our history.
There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about
tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest.
Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp
for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one
of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos
and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
All the traditions of our past, all the
lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point
to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration
of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our Nation
and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we
begin to solve our energy problem.
Energy will be the immediate test of our
ability to unite this Nation, and it can also be the standard
around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win
for our Nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again
of our common destiny.
In little more than two decades we've
gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost
half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that
are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has
already taken a tremendous tool on our economy and our people.
This is the direct cause of the long lines which have made millions
of you spend aggravating hours waiting for gasoline. It's a cause
of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face.
This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic
independence and the very security of our Nation.
The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide.
It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts
and we simply must face them.
What I have to say to you now about energy
is simple and vitally important.
Point one: I am tonight setting a clear
goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this
moment, this Nation will never use more foreign oil than we did
in 1977 -- never. From now on, every new addition to our demand
for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation.
The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will
be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed as we
move through the 1980's, for I am tonight setting the further
goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one-half by the
end of the next decade -- a saving of over 4 1/2 million barrels
of imported oil per day.
Point two: To ensure that we meet these
targets, I will use my Presidential authority to set import quotas.
I'm announcing tonight that for 1979 and 1980, I will forbid the
entry into this country of one drop of foreign oil more than these
goals allow. These quotas will ensure a reduction in imports even
below the ambitious levels we set at the recent Tokyo summit.
Point three: To give us energy security,
I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds
and resources in our Nation's history to develop America's own
alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from
plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the
I propose the creation of an energy security
corporation to lead this effort to replace 2 1/2 million barrels
of imported oil per day by 1990. The corporation will issue up
to $5 billion in energy bonds, and I especially want them to be
in small denominations so that average Americans can invest directly
in America's energy security.
Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation
helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination
and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit
legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this Nation's
first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal
of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year
These efforts will cost money, a lot of
money, and that is why Congress must enact the windfall profits
tax without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions
of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign
oil, these funds will be paid by Americans to Americans. These
funds will go to fight, not to increase, inflation and unemployment.
Point four: I'm asking Congress to mandate,
to require as a matter of law, that our Nation's utility companies
cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade
and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant
Point five: To make absolutely certain
that nothing stands in the way of achieving these goals, I will
urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board which, like
the War Production Board in World War II, will have the responsibility
and authority to cut through the redtape, the delays, and the
endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects.
We will protect our environment. But when
this Nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will
Point six: I'm proposing a bold conservation
program to involve every State, county, and city and every average
American in our energy battle. This effort will permit you to
build conservation into your homes and your lives at a cost you
I ask Congress to give me authority for
mandatory conservation and for standby gasoline rationing. To
further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion
over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems.
And I'm asking you for your good and for your Nation's security
to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation
whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to
obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel.
Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common
sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism.
Our Nation must be fair to the poorest
among us, so we will increase aid to needy Americans to cope with
rising energy prices. We often think of conservation only in terms
of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way
of rebuilding our Nation's strength. Every gallon of oil each
one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more
freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own
So, the solution of our energy crisis
can also help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country.
It can rekindle our sense of unity, our confidence in the future,
and give our Nation and all of us individually a new sense of
You know we can do it. We have the natural
resources. We have more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi
Arabias. We have more coal than any nation on Earth. We have the
world's highest level of technology. We have the most skilled
work force, with innovative genius, and I firmly believe that
we have the national will to win this war.
I do not promise you that this struggle
for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of
our Nation's problems, when the truth is that the only way out
is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead
our fight, and I will enforce fairness in our struggle, and I
will ensure honesty. And above all, I will act.
We can manage the short-term shortages
more effectively and we will, but there are no short-term solutions
to our long-range problems. There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice.
Twelve hours from now I will speak again
in Kansas City, to expand and to explain further our energy program.
Just as the search for solutions to our energy shortages has now
led us to a new awareness of our Nation's deeper problems, so
our willingness to work for those solutions in energy can strengthen
us to attack those deeper problems.
I will continue to travel this country,
to hear the people of America. You can help me to develop a national
agenda for the 1980's. I will listen and I will act. We will act
together. These were the promises I made 3 years ago, and I intend
to keep them.
Little by little we can and we must rebuild
our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and
we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only
if we tap our greatest resources -- America's people, America's
values, and America's confidence.
I have seen the strength of America in
the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come,
let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure
In closing, let me say this: I will do
my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard.
Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country.
With God's help and for the sake of our Nation, it is time for
us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together
to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our
common faith we cannot fail.
Thank you and good night.