JIMMY CARTER, “CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE” (15 JULY 1979)
- Imagine that you are on President Carter’s speechwriting team and that this speech is scheduled to be presented one week from today. He has asked you to review the speech and make suggested edits or rewrites. What changes, additions, and/or deletions might you make and why?
- Reread or watch Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence speech. Circle or write down key words or phrases that stand out. What feelings or thoughts do those words or phrases suggest? Why do you think Carter chose those specific words and phrases for his speech?
- Imagine that the current President of the United States has invited you to Camp David for a domestic summit. Just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979, the President meets with you and asks for your honest opinions about the state of the nation. After consideration, what would you say?
- Was Carter on to something when he suggested that our nation’s problems are spiritual/philosophical and that we are too focused on owning things and consuming resources?
- Is Carter’s speech too idealistic? Is it impractical to ask Americans to sacrifice their personal luxuries for the whole of the nation?
- Many times, when a president gives a speech, a leader from the opposing political party gives a national response. Jimmy Carter was a Democrat. Imagine that you are a Republican and are tasked with giving a televised response to Carter’s speech, critiquing points in the speech that your party disagrees with. What is that response?
- In your view, was Jimmy Carter correct about our “crisis of confidence?” Was there a certain foresight that he had? Is our nation today on the wrong path of “fragmentation and self-interest” that Carter warned us about? If so, what civic actions can we take to correct our path?
- Locate and read a different presidential speech from any time period that addresses a national crisis. How is Carter’s speech similar? How is it different?
- Former president, Bill Clinton, attended Jimmy Carter’s domestic summit at Camp David when he was governor of Arkansas. Locate and watch a speech given by President Clinton and compare it to the video of President Carter’s “Crisis” speech. What do you notice about both men’s speaking styles, use of persuasion, and tone of their messages?
- Carter based several themes of the “Crisis” speech on Robert Bellah’s Human Conditions for a Good Society and Christopher Lasch’s, The Culture of Narcissism. Locate both books and analyze their content. Locate passages from the “Crisis” speech where Carter appears to reference both works.
- Compare Carter’s “Crisis” speech with both his Inaugural Address and his Farewell Address. What similarities, if any, do you notice? What differences?
- Locate some of the national responses to Carter’s speech (news sources, critical writings, etc.). What were some of the criticisms? Do you believe the criticisms were justified?
- Locate another presidential address in which Americans are being called upon by the president to act. What are people being called to do? What words/phrases are used to inspire the people?
- Watch President Carter’s farewell address to the nation on January 14, 1981 (https://www.c-span.org/video/?507695-1/president-carter-farewell-address). What did Carter see as the greatest threats to America’s future? Did he foresee problems that have, in fact, become greater problems today? What can his remarks teach us about the nature of power, specifically the power of the office of President of the United States?
- The prevailing sentiment about Jimmy Carter is that he was one of our weaker presidents. Can you locate sources that suggest otherwise? What, specifically, were his strengths, according to the sources?
- Watch President Carter’s State of the Union Address from January 23, 1980 (https://www.c-span.org/video/?124054-1/1980-state-union-address) and compare it with the State of the Union address of President Donald Trump from February 4, 2020 (https://www.c-span.org/video/?468549-1/2020-state-union-address). What similarities do you notice, not only between the speeches and speakers themselves but also the audience reactions? What differences do you notice?
- Search the internet for reactions or opinions of President Carter from other world leaders and nations. How, in retrospect, do those outside the United States look back on Carter’s presidency?
- Watch the presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (https://www.c-span.org/video/?33229-1/1980-presidential-candidates-debate). In your opinion, what can the general public learn about presidential candidates from such activities? Are presidential debates simply a “show” or important civic practices that help us to determine our leaders?
- Since leaving office, Jimmy Carter has had a very productive civic life, perhaps more so than any other former president. What are some of his accomplishments? Visit The Carter Center for more information (https://www.cartercenter.org).