On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation about what he called, “a crisis of confidence.” He described this crisis as “striking at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.” In a speech that became infamous as the “malaise speech,” Carter said, “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.”
Wow…I am no fan of Jimmy Carter but I find those words hauntingly prophetic in light of the cultural and political climate we see in America today. Carter’s speech actually contributed to his own downfall because Ronald Reagan was able to capture the hearts and minds of Americans with a message of hope that America’s best days were ahead and not behind us. Today, both Barack Obama and John McCain are attempting to tap into this “crisis of doubt” that has crept back into the American psyche. On the Left, you have Barack Obama’s message of hope and change that has ignited an almost spiritual response among voters. It appeared that the Right had nothing to counter the revivalist fervor of Obama until Sarah Palin swept down from Alaska throughMinneapolis and right into the heart of middle America. Palin’s ability to identify with and connect with the American people ignited the Right and made what looked like an Obama cakewalk into a political fight reminiscent of the finale of a Rocky movie.
There is no question the American people are angry and confused about what they perceive as the lack of the ability of government to act in any way except for its own benefit. High gas prices, economic meltdown, virtually open borders, and the threat of enemies from just about every corner of the world has led us to a point in history where we are dangerously close to grasping at straws in this election cycle rather than grappling with the facts and gravitating toward a solution.
Prior to the speech, President Carter spent ten days at Camp David listening to a group of ordinary Americans as they aired their concerns about the country. One person summed up the thoughts of many who attended the meeting saying, “Mr. President, we are confronted with a moral and a spiritual crisis.” If that was true then it is certainly true today. The pressure we feel, the great sadness we seem to have embraced as a nation has been brought on by our unwillingness to operate at any level according to a shared set of moral standards. Our economic meltdown is not merely the result of greed on Wall Street as many would like for us to believe. There is certainly greed to spare on Wall Street but if we are honest, we will have to admit we all have had a part to play in our current situation. The average American is maxed out on their credit cards with little or no savings to fall back on. While it is true banks and other lending institutions are guilty of pushing unsustainable loans on people who had no business borrowing beyond their means to repay, it is also true that individuals chose to step willingly into a morass of debt in order to “have it all and have it now.” They borrowed assuming they could sell quickly if they got into trouble or worse, assuming they could just declare bankruptcy.
During part of the debate over the seven hundred billion dollar plus bailout passed by Congress, one of the pundits described what would happen to us if the government didn’t step in and relieve the pressure on the mortgage industry. He said credit would dry up because banks would require a down payment for loans and people would have to demonstrate they had the ability to pay back the money before the bank would lend them anything, whether it be for a car or a house. In other words, if we didn’t get a bailout we would be forced to return to sound financial policies based on logical principles. How ironic that our political leaders either refused or were unable to hear how ridiculous their arguments for the massive bailout sounded to the American people.
President Carter was profoundly wrong about many things. But if he believed the problems we faced in the mid to late 70’s that led us into a national sense of disconnect with government were caused by a lack of spiritual and moral fortitude he was right. Until we begin to face up to the fact that we have brought our current crop of problems on ourselves by abandoning our spiritual and moral foundations we will not experience a renewal of America’s confidence and greatness. From Wall Street to Main Street to your street, we need a revival of our spiritual dependence on God and our shared sense of moral accountability. I pray that as a nation, we will hear and heed the call Jesus made in Revelation to the church at Ephesus to “remember, repent, and return” to the place where we collectively embrace the Truth and live according to His will.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.