April 21, 2010

The bookishness of Presidents.

Apparently, our Presidents tend to read a lot, but not necessarily to good effect. Like, for example, Jimmy Carter:
Presidential reading backfired on Jimmy Carter.... In the summer of 1979, with the economy struggling and the presidency shaken by the Iran hostage crisis, Carter delivered his infamous speech proclaiming a "crisis of confidence" in America. It became known as the "malaise" speech and is widely regarded as a major political mistake. The address, written mainly by adviser Pat Caddell, was inspired by Christopher Lasch's best-selling book "The Culture of Narcissism." Lasch had come to the White House for a dinner about six weeks before the address, and his ideas apparently stayed behind. Two days after the July 15 speech, Carter fired several Cabinet members, adding to the sense of drift that seemed to define the era. (In 1993, during the fourth season of "The Simpsons," Springfield unveiled a Carter statue; the inscription at the base read "Malaise Forever.")
First, the obligatory foray into YouTube:



Anyway, did you read Christopher Lasch's "Culture of Narcissism" back in the 1970s when it was a best seller? If it was such a best seller, why didn't America appreciate Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech?  I just watched that speech again at the link. I heard it in real time back in 1979. I must confess that it appealed to me at the time, but it's scarily bizarre by present-day standards.

Here's the spiffy, non-lugubrious way we talk about narcissism today — a fun-loving article, not a scolding, depressing book.

28 comments:

Expat(ish) said...

Carter appealed to you? I was proud to have a Southern president but he always seemed like one of those creepy guys who used to hang around kids bible study classes.

You know, linty peppermints and slightly dirty seersucker suits.

Ick.

-XC

Sofa King said...

Carter identified the symptoms but he failed to identify the disease. Promising to use government to solve the problems of America's lack of confidence is like promising to use alcohol to cure a hangover.

shoutingthomas said...

Carter is the guiltiest guilty white man in history.

I was a lot younger then, playing the guilty liberal white guy.

What a waste that was!

As to energy: I can't imagine why we have an energy crisis, now and then. Couldn't have anything to do with banning exploration and drilling on our own soil. Nor could it possible be a result of failing to build more nuclear power plants.

Any day now, solar cells and wind farms will save us.

Can anybody tell me (I mean in a way that actually makes some sense) why we've crippled our own ability to produce energy? So that we can feel like saints?

Sainthood was always Carter's obsession. Halo wearing and smarmy sanctimony have become the defining characteristics of the white liberal.

It's not just stupid. It's aesthetically disgusting.

You can even seen the effects of this in athletics, where white men have conceded the field to blacks. White men are too sissified, and too plagued by guilty consciences, to actually kick ass.

White people seem to be shriveling up into some sort of dried prune existence.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm one of the few people who voted against Carter in 1976 but for him in 1980.

Matthew said...

If Jimmy Carter ever serves as an example of anything, it should be as an example of WHAT NOT TO BE.

He was (is) a classic example of the dictum that very smart people usually lack common sense,and often have an exaggerated view of their own abilities and importance.

Other than that, I'm sure he's a very nice man. He was just a rotten President.

shoutingthomas said...

Other than that, I'm sure he's a very nice man. He was just a rotten President.

Really?

How would you like to be sentenced a prison with Jimmy Carter as your cellmate?

I can't imagine a crueler punishment. Beaten to death with the sanctimonious babbling.

If I had to listen to that bastard every day, I'd start shooting up heroin.

Skyler said...

Our hostess is a law professor, and clearly quite smart. She can have a penetrating perception of the words people choose to use. There's a lot to like about her.

But seriously, did she REALLY think that the malaise speech was appealing? I'd like to suggest that it was "scarily bizarre" by contemporary standards too.

I think our hostess is quite easily influenced by honeyed words and wishes to believe good intentions in the most vacuous or even evil of minds. Gullibility is not a good trait in a lawyer.

edutcher said...

Ol' Bucketmouth was bought and paid for by David Rockefeller to give away the Panama Canal and a few other things. Like The Zero, a totally humorless individual who brought the malaise with him. Frankly, I find it's no accident that he presided over Disco and the Decade Taste Forgot.

As are The Zero's, he made foreign policy decisions (those that were his to make) based on a worldview dreamed up in the rarefied air of academia. Like The Zero, it was an incredible disaster for which we are still paying.

Domestically, the only time I thought he might know what he was doing was during Three Mile Island. Aside from that, the word, schmuck, comes to mind.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm one of the few people who voted against Carter in 1976 but for him in 1980.

Shame on you.

Treacle said...

oh god. i snorted pop tart and coffee out my nose laughing at that clip. damn, i miss funny episodes of the simpsons.

ricpic said...

You've gotta admire the nimble footedness of so many political operatives. Pat Cadell has reinvented himself as a moderate Democrat skeptical of those far out wild eyed lefty Democrats. Of course there is no such thing as a moderate Democrat but Cadell has somehow convinced talking head show producers that there is such a creature and he's it. And he regularly reassures us on those shows in his patented avuncular manner that the Democrats have temporarily lost their way but the party is really deep-down the only friend a beleaguered overtaxed middle class shnook can turn to. Gotta love the consummate con-man.

Rumpletweezer said...

Ms. Althouse, do you remember what you were thinking when you voted against him and what you were thinking when you voted for him? I'm genuinely curious. I voted for McGovern in '72 and Ford in '76. Talk about whiplash.

Bob_R said...

I guess one lesson here is that you don't have to sell all that many books to be a "best seller." Maybe Althouse can have one with "How NOT to Vote for President."

(I actually don't have much of a bone to pick with the way anyone voted in the last election. McCain probably would have been (would be) a very bad President. I don't think he would have been quite this bad, but we'll never know.)

Richard Dolan said...

In an article about famous self-absorbed individuals who may qualify as narcissists, who would you expect the NYT writer to leave out?

Yes, indeed, the man who penned two autobiographies, the One who will make the oceans subside -- the One we were all waiting for, the veritable latter day Messiah -- doesn't get a mention.

Evidently, the NYT writer never saw Chip Ahoy's animation of O looking in a mirror. None of the NYT's examples of narcissitic personalities even comes close.

Chip Ahoy said...

Malaise, isn't that a country in Southeast Asia?

kathleen said...

Funny you should mention Lasch's book. The first I heard of it was watching this clip

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1AtwLkgyWY

bagoh20 said...

"I must confess that it appealed to me at the time, but it's scarily bizarre by present-day standards. "

Deja vu all over again.

hawkeyedjb said...

"...like promising to use alcohol to cure a hangover.


Don't knock it until you've tried it, Bub.



wv: linapo, anagram for 'lo pain'

Christy said...

According to Wikianswer, 80% of American families did not buy or read a book last year. Doesn't take much more than 100,000 copies to make a best seller. So the unwashed masses had no basis for appreciating Carter's "Crisis of Confidence." Really, should our presidents assign homework for us to understand them? I don't remember reading it, but that was a point in my life I was reading many, many of the books discussed in the NYT Book Review, so I probably did. I long ago got over that habit.

I had such high hopes for Carter - fellow Southerner, fellow nuclear engineer, fellow Southern Baptist. He did me a great favor by demonstrating that the best and the brightest and purest don't guarantee great leaders.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ms. Althouse, do you remember what you were thinking when you voted against him and what you were thinking when you voted for him? I'm genuinely curious. I voted for McGovern in '72 and Ford in '76. Talk about whiplash."

I had voted for Carter in the primary in 1976, and I thought I was going to vote for him in the general election until about a day before the election. I was disturbed by his answer to the question what would he do if he lost. He said he'd go back and be a peanut farmer. I considered that a lack of devotion to public life and considered him a little man who didn't belong in the White House. Now, I never think anyone belongs in the White House, but, I noticed, Gerald Ford was already in the White House. He'd proven at least something. On the way to the polls, I sat down at a picnic table with my husband (RLC) to discuss who we should vote for. In that conversation, we decided together to switch to Ford.

In 1980, of course, Carter himself was already in the White House. And Reagan was the new guy I had to worry about. I considered myself a liberal Democrat. So those were 3 reasons to vote for Carter.

For reference, I started law school in 1978 and finished in 1981. Before law school, I was an aimless hippie artist.

Fen said...

Carter should be the archetype for how easy it is to become corrupted once you get inside the beltway.

ken in sc said...

I was a Carter supporter. I was in the Air Force then and stationed in Washington DC. Carter supporters in my squadron had an inauguration night party. Some of us had been required to attend the parade in uniform. Everyone had a big bowl of peanuts and were listening to or watching the inauguration coverage. When the announcement was made that he had pardoned the Vietnam draft dodgers, the party sort of petered out. All of us who had joined the service instead of running off to Canada felt like suckers. One of my buddies had been offered several thousand dollars by his mother to run, but he turned it down. Carter was the last Democrat I voted for till now, and probably the last one ever.

ken in sc said...

PS I voted for Bob Barr this last time.

RLB_IV said...

I worked for McGovern in 1972 ( working on MBA, still a socialist). I voted against Carter in 1976 because he was too southern (I grew up in The South). In 1980 I had to meet a payroll so I voted for Reagan. The rest is history, Reagan belongs on Mount Rushmore. His ideology made me wealthy and will endow my grendchildren in the european facist government to come in the future. You can laugh all you want but you voted for the majority in congress. They will make your grandchildren serfs.

The American people will get what they deserive and the rest will suffer.

RLB_IV said...

Poor typing check off, bummer as we used to say.

blake said...

I was a little young to listen to Presidential speeches but I'll never forget the opening of Miracle which starts with a montage of gas lines and other '70s phenomena, and that speech overlaid on to it.

25 years later? First my jaw dropped. Then I started laughing. This was how The President of the USA talked? Seriously? Incredible!

jvermeer51 said...

Carter was right in identifying malaise as a problem. He was totally clueless in that he did not recognize that he himself, his party and the American intelligentsia were the cause of that malaise. A large segment of American society no longer respected, appreciated or honored their own country or its place in the world.

Robert Cook said...

I did read CULTURE OF NARCISSISM years ago and I enjoyed it. Carter's speech was necessary straight talk, but Americans are so emotionally childish and so poisoned with self-flattering myths about how "special" and "exceptional" we are that we can't accept adult talk about the realities of our circumstances.

The dangers that Carter spoke of then have come back to bite us in the ass big time, and are driving our disastrous campaigns of murder and mayhem abroad. Rather than take seriously Carter's subantive remarks then, we rushed to the arms of Dr. Feelgood, Mr. Reagan, who seduced us with the same pandering con man's patter that gets us every time.

And thus began in earnest the long march to our present state of ruin.

I should say, I voted for Ford in 1976 and for Reagan in 1980. I was young then, and having been raised in a Republican household, didn't know any better. I had wised up somewhat by 1984.

former law student said...

Carter was the No. 1 Narcissist of his time. Consider his autobio, Why Not the Best?. He was a weakling, with no self-awareness, who cost me money:

Ten days ago, I had planned to speak to you again about a very important subject -- energy. For the fifth time I would have described the urgency of the problem and...

I was on vacation in Europe that summer, and when Carter cancelled his July 5th speech, the Yankee dollar dropped like a stone. Oddly, of the banks we were changing money at, Citibank offered the worst exchange rate. Perhaps they knew something we didn't.

His forte was to wear cardigans on TV and tell the American people everything was our own fault.

Can anybody tell me (I mean in a way that actually makes some sense) why we've crippled our own ability to produce energy?

Speak for yourself. My city has a spandy new electric power plant, though the neighbors complained that it was unasthetic. So my answer would be the country is run by aesthetes.

If you mean why we do not explore for oil, and why we don't exploit Colorado oil shale, my answer is that oil is cheaper from Canada, Venezuela, the North Sea, and the Middle East.