Study Guide

Crisis of Confidence Themes

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  • Dissatisfaction

    Like Mick Jagger, the American people in 1979 just can't get no satisfaction. As President, Jimmy Carter knows this. He is keenly aware of how dissatisfied the American public is, with long lines for gas, with rising inflation and declining wages, with a government that seems out of touch with their concerns.

    Here's what's at issue: what's really causing all that dissatisfaction. The American people seem to think it's right there, right in front of them in the previously mentioned list. Their president, however, disagrees. While he recognizes a dissatisfaction with government and politics as usual, he thinks the true source for all American unhappiness goes deeper than material concerns. He thinks the American people are dissatisfied with themselves.

    This psychological exploration for the root causes of American discontent get to the heart of the "Crisis of Confidence" speech.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. What's driving the American public's discontent?
    2. What does President Carter view as the source of American unrest?
    3. Extending Carter's argument, do you think the negative events of the 1960s and 70s justify American doubts about their country and its future?
    4. Which cause (the Nation's or the President's) do you think better explains American hardships? Explain your reasoning.

    Chew on This

    Despite a laundry list of real, tangible issues, President Carter's diagnosis of the problem gets to the heart of America's energy crisis.

    President Carter's explanation for the lack of solutions to America's energy crisis is suspect at best, and at worst can be seen as an attempt to shift blame away from himself and onto the people.

  • Principles

    In "Crisis of Confidence," Carter outlines what he considers to be American principles—principles like hard work, moral perseverance, and religious faith. He credits these values as being responsible for all of the baller achievements America has made, achievements like surviving the Great Depression and putting a man on the moon. (That's one small step for American principles, one giant step for awesome feats).

    Carter throws a lasso around these bad boys and hogties them to patriotism. In short, he equates working hard, demonstrating moral perseverance, and having religious faith with being patriotic. He makes them, or at least tries to make them, one and the same.

    So when he talks about a decline in these values, he's actually talking about a whole lot more. He's talking about a decline in patriotism too, and a lack of confidence in the direction of the country.

    Questions About Principles

    1. What does Carter think true American principles are? Do you agree with him?
    2. What evidence does Carter use to support his understanding of American values?
    3. Describe the change Carter believes is taking place in American culture.
    4. What tone do you think Carter creates in his criticism of changing American culture/values? Do you think this was the most effective way to express his point? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    President Carter's understanding of American values is naïve at best and at worst, misinformed.

    In addressing the nation, President Carter's criticisms come across as too insensitive to American struggles and are therefore ineffective in their effort to promote real, substantive change.

  • Sacrifice

    We tend to think of sacrifice as a bad thing: right up there with discount sushi, wet socks, and low water pressure in the shower.

    Nevertheless, President Carter does what very few politicians have done: in "Crisis of Confidence" he asks the American people, unequivocally, to sacrifice, to go with less, to take a hit in their material lifestyle so that the country as a whole might benefit.

    Also, Carter calls on Americans to change their outlook on sacrifice. He encourages them to view it as a positive thing. He asks them to use less oil, and to consider doing so an act of Patriotism.

    Questions About Sacrifice

    1. What sacrifices does Carter ask of the American people? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.
    2. Brainstorm historical examples of sacrifice. From these examples, would you agree with Carter in believing sacrifice to be an essential aspect of patriotism?
    3. Do you think the sacrifices Carter asks for were reasonable at the time? Why or why not?
    4. Do you think Americans are hesitant to sacrifice, to go with less? Why or why not? What does this say about American culture?

    Chew on This

    Considering the economic and political landscape of 1979, Carter's calls for sacrifice were largely unreasonable and therefore destined for political failure.

    A thorough analysis of American history supports Carter's assertion that sacrifice has been an integral part of American values and prosperity.

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