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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.