Study Guide

Hendrik Hertzberg in Crisis of Confidence

By Jimmy Carter

Hendrik Hertzberg

One Man, Two Coasts

The son of a history professor and a journalist, Hendrik Hertzberg grew up around writing. He got his start at Harvard, editing the school newspaper The Crimson. After a brief foray out west—in which he got his hippie on covering such stories as the Grateful Dead and the last Beatles concert—Hertzberg moved back east and joined the army.

But as his objections to the war in Vietnam increased, he set sail on a different course, resuming the life of a private citizen after 1969. Taking a page out of Billy Joel's book, Hertzberg must have been feeling the "New York State of Mind," because he joined the ranks at The New Yorker magazine between 1969 and 1977.

Contemplating the Crisis of Confidence

Then things got political.

After achieving success writing speeches for New York governor Hugh Carey, Hertzberg was recruited by President Jimmy Carter to replace James Fallows as chief speechwriter. In fact, Hertzberg was one of the primary authors of the "Crisis of Confidence" speech. Despite the all the haters making their opinions known (it was hailed as one of the most ineffective pieces of political rhetoric ever written), Hertzberg continued his writing career.

Today, he still writes for The New Yorker. And he's achieved quite the literary legacy (try saying that five times fast…). Forbes ranked him 17th on its list of the Top 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media. He's also served as a fellow Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He remains a force in current politics.

But, returning the "Crisis of Confidence" or "Malaise" speech, Hertzberg penned an editorial on the subject for The New Yorker in 2009, some thirty years after the now infamous speech. (Source) Although recognizing its shortcomings—even noting how Republicans used the term "malaise" deep into the 1980s and '90s when attacking Democrats—Hertzberg very much defended the speech, which perhaps isn't surprising.

He did help write it, after all.

In the article, he reminds his readers how Carter never once mentioned the word "malaise," how the speech was, at least initially, popular, and how much of Carter's fallout with the American people was because of his cabinet firings, not the speech itself. Whether these grapes are sour from criticism or ripe with indignation is a matter we'll let you decide.