Ed Driscoll

It's Deja Malaise All Over Again


“When a loyal leader on your own team says there is a “crisis of confidence” surrounding your signature initiative, you’ve got trouble,” Roll Call notes:

That’s the phrase Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland used repeatedly Tuesday morning to describe the rollout of the new health care law as she questioned Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the health agency tasked with overseeing the law’s implementation.

“I believe that there’s been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, the canceling of policies, and sticker shock from some people,” said Mikulski, who has generally been a strong ally of the administration.

She cited a news report that 73,000 people in her own state are getting cancellation notices, “so there has been fear, doubt and a crisis of confidence” — and she’s worried people, particularly the young, won’t enroll as a result.

A “a crisis of confidence,” you say? I’ve heard that phrase before — and so have you, and so has Roll Call, even if they can’t or won’t make the connection. As Steven Hayward of Power Line, who wrote the magisterial two-volume Age of Reagan wrote for the Washington Times in July of 2009, to mark the 30th anniversary of the perigee of both Jimmy Carter and postwar America itself:

It was 30 years ago this month that Mr. Carter reached the nadir of his presidency with his famous “malaise” speech in which he criticized the American people for their materialism and “crisis of confidence.” To be fair, Mr. Carter never used the word malaise in his speech (an aide used “malaise” in characterizing the speech to the media the next day), but the label stuck because it so accurately conveyed the substance of his message. Having run for president in 1976 on a slogan of giving us “a government as good as the people,” Mr. Carter essentially was saying the people were no good.

Today the malaise speech is being revived as a totem of Mr. Carter’s unrecognized greatness and profundity. Writing a few days ago in the New York Times, Gordon Stewart, one of Mr. Carter’s speechwriters responsible for the text, argued that “the speech was extremely popular” at the time, which is not entirely wrong. Initial polls showed positive public response, but it wilted within days.

Mr. Stewart thinks this was because “it was just too hard to compete with Ronald Reagan and his banner of limitless American consumption.” Over in Politico, Princeton professor Julian E. Zelizer also argues that Mr. Carter had it right, that “many Americans, especially those in the middle and upper income brackets, live in homes, drive cars, and consume resources in ways that are not environmentally sustainable.”

In the midst of an energy crisis that was largely the result of bad government policy, Mr. Carter embraced the “limits to growth” mentality at the core of modern environmentalism and told Americans they should get used to making do with less. Mr. Carter resisted every change in policy that would have ended the energy crisis (such as decontrolling energy markets) and indeed made the problem worse over the long run by locking up huge oil and gas reserves in Alaska, where they remain closed off even as our oil imports continue to grow, and creating a web of subsidies for “renewable” energy such as wind and solar power that still can’t provide more than a sliver of our energy needs.

Criticisms of American materialism and self-indulgence certainly have merit and are a staple of the American character stretching back to the Puritans in Colonial days. This is one reason Mr. Carter’s speech at first received public favor — the Puritan strain in Americans likes to be scolded, preferably on Sunday by men of the cloth.

But the presidency is not a pulpit, and Americans rightly figured out that they were being blamed for Mr. Carter’s own failings, especially when the hypocrisy of the speech was so easy to see. When, a year before, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had made a similar critique of American materialism and spiritual drift in his infamous Harvard commencement address, the Carter White House had joined liberals in denouncing him. First lady Rosalynn Carter had strongly criticized Mr. Solzhenitsyn, saying Americans did not suffer from “unchecked materialism” and adding that “the people of this country are not weak, not cowardly and not spiritually exhausted.” Her remarks were considered to be the administration’s semiofficial response to Mr. Solzhenitsyn. But now her husband was saying much the same thing as Mr. Solzhenitsyn. Americans notice those kind of self-serving inconsistencies.

A Democrat president who blames the American people for his own failures? Whew — good thing that’s never happened again in our lifetimes. Here’s Ace of Spades yesterday:

In other words: You were never going to keep your old policy. Even as regards grandfathered policies, you were always going to have something new: Steeply increased premiums, which represent a hidden tax to redistribute wealth to Obama’s constituents.

So the only people allowed to change your policy were… Obama’s HHS officials, by jacking up your premiums.

He flat out lied. And lied and lied and lied. And now he’s lying some more.

More on the fallout from the Newest If You Like Your Plan Lie at Hot Air.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the below clip from Morning Joe is worth watching. They point out that Obama sounds exasperated that he’s forced to explain his lie. But then Scarborough points out Obama also sounded exasperated, as if he was dealing with children, when he was lying in the first false promises.

That is, he sounded like an exasperated parent dealing with children when he was lying to the public, and now that he has to explain why he lied, he also sounds like an exasperated parent dealing with children.

He was exasperated lying to you, and now he’s exasperated lying to you about why he lied.

Either way, you have greatly disappointed Him.

Welcome back Carter — but then, arguably, from the implosion of the doomed Great Society onward, liberalism, progressivism, leftism, Obamaism — whatever it chooses to call itself this week — has never recovered from its own seemingly permanent crisis of confidence, simply because its own FDR-LBJ-style cargo cult view of the glories of big government is itself unachievable, as with all forms of magical thinking.

Related: Roger Simon’s latest column on “Liberalism, the Decline of an Illusion.”

Update:  In National Journal, Major Garrett, the chief White House correspondent for CBS also makes the connection. “‘Crisis of confidence.’ The last time that phrase was memorably uttered was in 1979. It did not turn out well for President Carter:”

“The president shares Senator Mikulski’s frustration with the problems that we have seen,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

When I asked if Mikulski’s rhetoric was unduly alarmist, Carney said it was not. There you have it: White House confirmation that its signature legislative achievement now suffers from a crisis of confidence.

Heh. As Garett goes on to note, it’s “Time for triage. Not for Healthcare.gov but for the fundamentals of the law Mikulski identified. If young people don’t sign up, the system crashes. Hitting Ctrl+Alt+Delete won’t fix it.”

Read the whole thing.