At a critical moment in Jimmy Carter's presidency, he gave a speech that should have changed the country, instead it led to his downfall and ushered in the rise of the Conservative movement in America. Kevin Mattson gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the weeks leading up to the speech, a period of great upheaval in the US: the energy crisis had generated mile-long gas lines, inciting suburban riots and violence, the country's morale was low and Carter's ratings were even lower. The administration, wracked by its own crises, was in constant turmoil and conflict. What came of their great internal struggle, which Mattson conveys with the excitement of a political thriller, was a speech that deserves a place alongside Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" or FDR's First Inaugural. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle play important roles, including President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, and speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg, within the administration, and Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, and Ted Kennedy, without. Like the best of political writing, Mattson provides great insight into the workings of the Carter White House as well as the moral crisis that ushered in a new, conservative America.
Watch the speech: http://millercenter.org/scripps/archive/speeches/detail/3402
The 1979 "national malaise" speech that defined Jimmy Carter's presidency though he never used the word "malaise" gets its due in this contrarian homage. Ohio University historian Mattson (When America Was Great) considers the speech which expressed Carter's own crisis of confidence, bemoaned Americans' loss of faith in government and deplored the country's selfishness and consumerism to be a thoughtful response to the problems of the day that initially won public acclaim, before political opponents caricatured it as a gloomy scolding. Following the speech from its bizarre provenance in an apocalyptic memo by pollster Pat Cadell through its honing during a messianic "domestic summit," the author sets his colorful study against a recap of the gasoline shortages, inflation and Me Decade angst that provoked it. He interprets it as a tantalizing road not taken: with its prescient focus on energy, limits and sacrifice, its "humility and honesty," it was, the author says, the antithesis of the Reagan era's sunny optimism. Mattson makes Carter's maligned speech a touchstone for a rich retrospective and backhanded appreciation of the soul-searching '70s.