Friday, September 02, 2011

The Malaise Speech

Three years into his presidency, Jimmy Carter's pollster came to him with results showing that the majority of the country was pessimistic about the future. Carter went to Camp David and held meetings for more than a week to decide what should be done. This was later described as a week of "navel gazing".

Carter's eventual response was a prime-time address in which he said that the nation suffered from a "crisis in confidence". It immediately became known as the "malaise speech". Carter's defenders are quick to point out that he never used that word but many people who watched the speech are certain that he did. What happened?

While the broadcast speech did not have the line, the advance copy sent to the networks said that the President would say that "a malaise has fallen across the nation." Figuring that most viewers had never heard the word, the network anchors told viewers that Carter would say this and what the word meant.

The actual speech was fairly boring and most people didn't pay enough attention to notice that this phrase was dropped from the final version. After being told that Carter would say this phrase, most people were sure that he had said it.

Carter's approval rating climbed 11 points for a short time after the speech but, as Vice President Mondale pointed out to Carter, the country had real problems. Unemployment and inflation were rising and an Arab gas embargo caused lines at the gas stations. Four months later Iran invaded the US embassy and took the staff hostage, dooming any chance that Carter had of reelection.

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