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June 15, 2010

Obama's Speech - The Carter Context

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

"The moral equivalent of war."

Tonight President Obama will talk about the Gulf oil catastrophe, and, hopefully, overall energy and climate policy. A look back at President Carter's fight over energy brings some context to this situation.

On April 18, 1977, 33 years ago, President Jimmy Carter gave a White House speech on energy and asked the country to change direction.

"Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly."

Carter said solving this energy problem would be "The moral equivalent of war." Please, please read the speech, and its ten principles. It will help set the stage for understanding where we are today.

If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.

But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time.

That is the concept of the energy policy we will present on Wednesday. Our national energy plan is based on ten fundamental principles.

The first principle is that we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.


We failed to act soon. And we face an economic, social and political crisis that threatens our free institutions.

It turned out to be a very, very hard fight. The right's new network of corporate-funded "think tanks" was setting up shop and beginning to spread their poisonous, divisive, anti-government propaganda. They didn't like the idea of government trying to solve problems. The big oil giants certainly didn't want government researching alternatives to their gravy train. We understand the right's operation today, but people did not yet understand what was going on because the country had never been subjected to a destabilization campaign of this magnitude -- from the inside.

You can really feel the effect of the right's campaign when you read a speech Carter gave two years later. On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave what is called the "Crisis of Confidence" speech. It's also known as the "Malaise" speech. I consider it to be one of the great speeches by a President. Carter again talked to the country about energy policy, pleading with people to take this seriously. He said, "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."

Well, we didn't face them. Instead the country elected Reagan who immediately took the solar panels off of the White House, killed mass transit and alternative energy programs and steered the country on a path of toward dominance by the wealthy and big corporations - especially oil companies.

Now it is 2010, we have been at war in the Middle East for years, carbon in the air is raising the planet's temperature and melting the Arctic ice cap, and ... the oil in the Gulf. President Obama is giving his first Oval Office speech this evening and all of this is the broader context. Will he take on the entrenched interests that defeated Carter and brought us Reagan and later the two oil-company executives who invaded Iraq, encouraged buying Hummers and left us with a $1.4 trillion deficit?

As Carter said, "It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them."

Energy speech:

Crisis of confidence speech:

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Posted by Dave Johnson at June 15, 2010 9:47 AM


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