If Republicans are looking for a way to compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, look no further than the President’s bizarre and dispiriting speech after today’s devastating jobs numbers were released. A turning point in Carter’s presidency is what came to be known as the “malaise” speech, where the one-term president seemed to blame the country’s problems on the American people and revealed his own troubling pessimism about the future of the country. Carter told Americans that the overall problem was our crisis of confidence and his subtext was that things were not going to get better:
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 of America.
Fifteen months later, American would prove that the problem wasn’t us but Jimmy Carter, for we had no confidence problems under Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan.
Today in Ohio, lost in all the flurry of the news about the jobs numbers, was a speech almost as strange and depressing given by our current president, Barack Obama, as he talked about his own childhood. This way of life and standard of living, he appeared to say, is the American ideal and what people should be prepared to settle for:
Nobody expected to get fabulously rich, although it was great if people got rich. But when I think about my family and Michelle’s family, what made us rich was spending time together, and the idea was that if our families were of good character and had good values and you we willing to work hard, then you could find a job that paid a decent wage. And eventually if you saved enough you could own a home. And you knew that you wouldn’t go bankrupt if you got sick because you had some health insurance. And maybe you took a vacation every once in a while. And it wasn’t necessarily some fancy vacation at some fancy resort.
Best vacation I had when I was a kid was my grandmother, my mom and my sister — we traveled around the country on Greyhound buses and on trains and we stayed at Howard Johnson’s.
Yeah, that’s right, aspire to a job with a “decent” wage and vacations at the Howard Johnson’s. Now that’s living.
Even MSNBC wasn’t buying it. Here’s Ron Insagna’s reaction, which was the exact same as mine:
I found the President’s comments neither inspirational nor aspirational. He described a childhood that I very much can relate to. From an economic perspective, it’s effectively, for lack of a better description, a lower middle class existence. If that’s the aspiration that he’s suggesting we all return to, it’s not the type of thing that excites voters.
Obama’s message effectively is that things are not going to get better and that he’s going to fight to make sure we all have enough to take a vacation on a Greyhound bus.
What the hell kind of talk is this from a sitting president?
Americans don’t dream of Howard Johnson’s and a “decent” wage. We dream of aspiring to very limits of our personal potential and effort.
We don’t settle — we fight and aspire and push and work and struggle and fail and dust ourselves off and try again and never stop trying. Some of us make it. Some of us don’t. But because we live in the United States of America, we know one thing is for sure: we just might be able to escape that “decent wage” and those Greyhound bus vacations and “get fabulously rich” so we can vacation at a “fancy resort.”
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the simple things in life. But Barack Obama certainly doesn’t. He owns a million dollar home in Chicago and regularly vacations at some pretty fancy places we call Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii. He’s not satisfied with a decent wage and a HoJo, but I guess the rest of us should be.
Who wants a president eager to turn back the clock to when he was 11 in 1971 in Nixon’s stagflation America? America wants and needs a president who tells us he’s going to do everything in his power to ensure America is always the place where you can go as far as your hard work and God-give talents will take you.
I appreciate the President is frustrated and that in moments like these it’s easy to look back to what seemed like simpler times. But it’s not a president’s job to burden us with his hang ups. If Obama wants to believe the standard of living in 1971 is the ideal then he should feel free to live like that. Just don’t condemn the rest of us.
What Obama is doing here, quite literally, is fighting for an America Americans rejected forty years ago.
Laughably, in the very same speech, Obama accused Romney of wanting to take us back to the Bush years when — gasp — unemployment was 5%.
Well, I’ll take 2005 over 1971 any day of the week, and I’m guessing at least 51% of the country will agree with me.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC