Today George Bush did something that I didn't think I would ever hear him do: he took responsibility for his administration's complete and total mishandling of the Katrina disaster. "And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong," said Bush. Still just a hair shy of total accountability, but it sure gives one pause.
It put me in mind of another American president, some twenty-six years ago. Jimmy Carter was suffering through the death throes of his administration. The energy crisis, the economy, the Middle East, they were all heading south fast. On July 15, 1979 he addressed the country - giving what would become known as his "Great Malaise Speech." He had hoped to speak to the nation on the topic of the growing concerns about oil shortages and conservation. Instead he chose to talk more directly about the crisis of trust and faith the American people felt with their government: "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. The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July."
Strong stuff. This was coming from a man who campaigned four years prior primarily on the strength of his winning smile. Jimmy wasn't smiling on this summer night. It wasn't all doom and gloom. He offered some hope as well: "First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans."
He went on to make several key points on the future of United State's oil consumption. He suggested that conservation wasn't a sacrifice, but an act of patriotism, generating freedom from imported oil. He wasn't making promises - he was asking for help. And so, tonight as George Bush looks out on a world that just might be his fault, I say take it home for us, Jimmy: "In closing, let me say this: I will do my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard. Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country. With God's help and for the sake of our nation, it is time for us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our common faith we cannot fail.
Thank you and good night."