Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: The Prophetic Wisdom of President Carter's "Malaise" Speech

In the maelstrom of the Herman Cain Race Minstrel Affair, we have missed out on quite a few conversations. Last Monday was Presidents' Day--a day of rest, Popeye's Fried Chicken coupon redemption, and obligatory editorials ranking the "best" and "worst" Chief Executives. Of course the Right want to exaggerate the greatness of corporate pitchman turned President, Ronald Reagan. Others want to claim FDR as particularly noteworthy for his mastery of realpolitik because of how he saved capitalism from itself. The middle road and safe choice for the best there was and the best there ever will be are the trinity of Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson. Ultimately, there is no accounting for taste. But historians of the presidency do have their (least and most) favorites.

History is written in multiple drafts. For example, as the people of the Middle East challenge power and remake their societies some on the Right want to claim these events as the direct result of George Bush's dreams of empire in Iraq and a policy of preemptive war. Only the hindsight wisdom of history will determine if that narrative is correct or not.

In parallel, President Jimmy Carter left office as a President much maligned. In the decades which followed, he has become one of our eldest and most respected statesman. Looking backward from America's current malaise, economic crisis, lost hopes and dreams, and a zeitgeist which channels a belief that this country's best years are behind her, Carter's intervention seemed prophetic.

Where would America be in the 21st century if we had followed the plan outlined by President Carter's famous speech? How would Americans respond in the present if Obama channeled the real talk and raw honesty of President Carter? If President Obama looked us in the collective eye and spoke plainly about the mess we are in at the nadir of American Empire and how we can salvage our collective destiny?


Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks

Plane Ideas said...

The malaise was already in full bloom when even Carter observed it..

BTW the Black Community had already experienced it as well...Our deconstruction was in full effect as well...

fred c said...

President Carter had everything but charisma. He was brilliant, a nuclear engineer and XO of a nuclear submarine, and he was as honest as the day is long, but when they said charisma, he thought they said eczema, and he said, "I'll have none of that."

I had a client once that had charisma in spades. He seemed to float above the ground; he lit up any room; he was a great guitar player too. He wouldn't have made a good president though.

Carter was right, and we'd still do well to listen to him.

chaunceydevega said...


@Thrasher--When did the malaise begin? Johnson? Nixon? Or much farther back? Has the sky always been falling so to speak?

@Fred--Do we want charismatic figures or do we want competent leadership?

Plane Ideas said...


It had nothing to do with any white presidents it began after the civil rights era where our community did not dominate the openings created by that era..

What happened is that whites made some changes and we failed to take advantage of our leverage and efforts

Now folks like me have civil rights fatigue and whites have moved on...

It is imperative now that we refuel and get our house in order we are in a life support status all over the nation even our middle and upper classes are in a stagent posture..

My mantra now is AA=Altitude Attitude which is an unlimited human capital always present even in the hood and ghetto's of America..

Oh Crap said...

Thrasher mentions civil rights fatigue..I think that's on the right track when looking at the 70s and beyond. I think a lot of people got burned out after the 60s.

As it's said, people took their fros and made them in to jheri curls. A bunch of revolutionaries ended up in academia as professional pontificators. Then you had families like mine who were carrying on the work in the hostile suburbs, pioneering, "making inroads" blah blah. (This was also in part because life choices were still extremely limited and based solely on race.)

The other part of it is our work in the 60s laid the foundation for things like affirmative action which notoriously has benefitted Black men last. The Bakke decision was 78. Immigration reform and lifting of anti-Asian immigration quotas (limits) came along with voting rights in 65, implemented in 68. Vietnam ended in 75.

So there was a lot going on in the 70s.

On a personal level, I have concluded that it was not worth the personal cost. Our stories never made the papers. But we still carry on in the workplace, in the school, etc. And so it goes.

This is just what race people do.

CNu said...

Admiral Hyman Rickover was the original "establishment-empowered" energy visionary and Lt. James Earl Carter was his astute disciple.

No use crying over spilt milk now though, it's MUCH too late for any alternative vectors.

What comes now is collapse, period.

Kneegrows have demonstrated indomitable allegiance to unsustainable conspicuous consumption, mindless - but endlessly rationalized - pursuit of "grass-greener" and "ice-colder" lust - and in consequence of your service to the big house - will be granted commissions and enlistments in the last gasp Amerireich.

CNu said...

Do we want charismatic figures or do we want competent leadership?


you want your next hit of dopamine.

that's how "dopamine hegemony" works.

what'll be interesting is to see exactly how eichmannesquely murderous you're willing to be in order to keep it?

There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept...,

fred c said...

Competent leadership, but it's hard to get it when the electorate is so uncritical. (Trying to be nice again, I was thinking ignorant.)

So people would rather vote for the big-man-on-campus (Reagan), or the guy they'd like to see at their BBQ (Bush). It's rare that you get someone who is both competent and charismatic (FDR).

Plane Ideas said...

In the void it is critical that we make our lives significant and worthy..Many value our words and deeds..

In the midst of devolution and confusion our essence must make a difference..

I don't ask which way to go..I say 'follow me'......

chaunceydevega said...

@Thrasher. I totally agree on missed opportunities. But we are the miner's canary. How long would it take to make the types of transformations you/I wish black Americans had in the face of such deep centuries long white supremacy?

@Oh Crap. When I think of CR fatigue, I can't help but smirk at how the Movement lost steam as it turned North and then how white ethnics were able to cooptate the language of the black freedom struggle and then that got spun into the angry white man/victimology politics of the 1980s.

@Cnu. Martin Bernaise would be happy with how kneegrows spend all of their money outside their communities, would he not?

@Fred. When was the last time we had a competent President? Would we know it when we see it? Obama is competent inmao, but he is a tool of the corporate class in many ways. Does that make (in)competent?

CNu said...

That's Edward Bernays CD - and dayyum...,

It's only 6:15pm on a monday - and YOU TOW UP BRAH!!!!!!

mayhapst time to leave all aspects of blogging alone until after a few cups of coffee tomorrow morning...,

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

I am a poor negro who went to underfunded public schools. So I get a pass. Plus, ebonics is based on a different sense of phonetic emphasis. Thus, my spelling is correct.

Plane Ideas said...

I don't know that answer but I always keep hope alive..Plus the universe created young Black iconic souls like you and Oh crap..

That is a good thing in any era I would argue..